The Research Team

Alex Bowyer

I’m Alex, and I’m the main researcher on this project. I’m working towards a PhD in Digital Civics at Open Lab, and this project is my Masters dissertation. I am a Computer Scientist. I graduated from Sheffield University in 2000, and after that I worked as a software engineer for over 15 years in big companies like IBM and Open Text, as well as some small ones. Most recently I worked with Oxford University, running experiments on the Zooniverse, the world’s largest citizen science platform. My passion, and the focus of my research here, is to help people to get more from computer systems – in work and in life – through smarter interfaces and well-designed technologies.

You can email me at

Dr. Madeline Balaam

I’m Madeline, and I’m the supervisor on this project. I’m an interaction designer interested in public health and women’s health. I really enjoy working with people to develop design ideas, but you’ll rarely see me running a focus group. Instead, I really like to develop playful, provocative and fun methods to help people share experiences, talk about their needs and values, and be creative about how technology might solve a particular problem – blow-up doll body-mapping has to be the most ‘out-there’ method I’ve worked with to date, but I’m sure there’s more to come.

You can email me at

Austin Toombs

I’m Austin, and I’m a co-researcher on this project. I’m researching the impact that digital technologies have on how communities are formed and maintained. I’m particularly interested in how technology can encourage some relationships between individuals within a community while discouraging others.

You can email me at

Open Lab

Open Lab is a human-computer interaction, social and ubiquitous computing research group in the School of Computing Science at Newcastle University. The academics, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students who make up the group come from a wide range of academic disciplines, including computer science, electrical engineering, fine arts, psychology, sociology, education, clinical sciences and design. We have a particular expertise in doing research that applies digital technologies to real-world problems ranging from health and social care, to the creative industries, education, and local democracy. At the heart of all our research, though, is a commitment to the making digital technologies that fit people’s real-life experience and enhance rather than diminish our experience of the world. This project is being undertaken as part of Open Lab’s Digital Civics research agenda. The research team are all employed by Open Lab.


Our partners on this project are The Newcastle University Institute of Health and Society and Arjuna Technologies Ltd, as well as Open Lab’s partners in the Digital Civics Centre for Doctoral Training, in particular Northumberland County CouncilGateshead Council and Newcastle City Council. We do not share any recordings, transcripts or personal data with local authorities and research partners, only design materials and anonymised research findings.