03 May 2012

Creativity matters: The OU wins £226,000 to investigate creative citizenship

A research project is delving into the challenge of how new media can help citizens to shape their own environment. The Open University has been awarded £226,000 to undertake research on ‘community-led design’, which will establish the value of creative citizens engaged in designing their own communities including public spaces, community facilities, housing or neighbourhood regeneration.

Dr Katerina Alexiou and Lecturer Dr Theodore Zamenopoulos from the Department of Design, Development, Environment and Materials will investigate how developments in digital media are enabling people to self-organise and participate in peer-to-peer social networks that aim to create, support and sustain local design projects.

Currently, there is insufficient understanding of the way that existing media platforms and technologies support these projects. The research will look at web 2.0/3.0 technologies and how new ways to support the co-design process can be developed. It aims to uncover how valuable creative contribution from citizens can be intensified and sustained for future community-led design, and to offer potential future benefits to policy-makers and cultural and creative businesses.

The research funds have been secured as part of a £1.4million Media, Community and the Creative Citizen grant, led by Cardiff University’s Professor Ian Hargreaves. The work is based on the idea that creative individuals and community activities that develop around them play a crucial role in sustaining the vibrancy of the UK creative economy, and enhance quality of life. The other two elements of the three-pronged creative citizenship project will focus on hyper local publishing through social networking, looking at platforms such as blogs and Twitter, and everyday creativity from individuals and groups, such as amateur video production or art forms.

Dr Alexiou said: “Our core challenge is to unearth, record and support practices that promote the creative skills and potential of individuals and communities. We will look at the emerging media landscape and particularly web 2.0/3.0 technologies and how we can develop new ways to support the co-design process with local communities, help people express themselves creatively, and ultimately create a better built environment and generate social, cultural and economic value.”

The grant is jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of the Cross-Council Connected Communities and Digital Economy Programmes. Dr Alexiou and Dr Zamenopoulos will work closely with The Glass House Community Led Design (, NESTA’s public services lab ( and researchers from the Helen Hamlyn Centre.

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Notes to editors

The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.7 million students and has more than 264,000 current students, including 18,000 overseas.

The OU has been one of the top three UK universities for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey every year since the survey began in 2005. In 2010/11 it had a 93 per cent satisfaction rating. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.
In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) the Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had more than 21 million visits, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded over 50 million downloads. The OU has a 41 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Life, Coast, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.

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