Using digital technology to support EPSRC activities

EPSRC wishes to use innovations in technology to help us work smarter.

Technologies such as Collaborative 3D Virtual Spaces could support more efficient and cost-effective ways of working for EPSRC, for example offering significant savings on meeting costs, on travel costs and also in our carbon footprint. Removing physical restraints in the design and planning of events would allow working without geographical / time constraints, potentially opening activities to a wider audience. This supports our efforts to operate ever more efficiently in a time of budgetary constraint, including finding new ways of working.

Piloting the technologies

At a recent EPSRC Thinkfree Retreat, the attendees discussed how EPSRC might use such technologies to facilitate the commissioning and development of novel cross-disciplinary research ideas. EPSRC listened and is now commencing a pilot activity with members of the research community, exploring how we might use these technologies, in particular collaborative 3D virtual spaces.

The pilot activity is being delivered in partnership with the Horizon Digital Economy Hub at the University of Nottingham. Horizon will provide a scientific trial and evaluation of the effectiveness of the technology in delivering our aims, building on their experience in the area and the RCUK investment in Horizon.

Professor Andy Neely, University of Cambridge, who participated in the Thinkfree Retreat, said "The technologies and social processes being explored here have the potential to open up and create new and innovative forms of inter-disciplinary and inter-community collaboration."

Potential activities supported

Digital technologies could be used to support a wide range of EPSRC activities, from strategic governance meetings and cohort management to IDEAS Factory Sandpits, networking workshops and even to facilitate peer review meetings. This pilot activity concentrates primarily on their use in supporting and enhancing creativity, in other words could facilitated creativity activities be conducted with participants remote to each other, supported by digital technologies?

Professor Miles Padgett, University of Glasgow, who also participated in the Thinkfree Retreat, said "Although the role of face-to face meetings to share and explore new opportunities is central to the process, the ever changing face of Information Technology, as typified by social networking and similar developments creates new ways of sharing our ideas and discussions. These new ways of working will enable academics (as well as EPSRC) to embrace new opportunities by allowing us to work smarter with our time and resources. Perhaps the mechanisms this pilot will develop will change the way we collaborate together not just in a remote sense but face to face too."

For more information please see "Can virtual spaces help create real world research?".