Professor Paul Egglestone

Future Arts, Science and Technology Laboratory – School of Humanities, Creative Industries and Social Sciences

Collaboration, creativity and solving social challenges

From TV and digital producer to award-winning researcher, Paul Egglestone has a passion for collaborating across disciplines. His work is about exploring the potential of creative and digital technology to solve social challenges.

“I’d describe my work as an interest in developing participatory futures,” says Paul.

It builds on existing traditions such as participatory design, co-design and user-centred design.

“Regardless of the subject matter, it means moving away from expert-based, top-down decision making to bottom-up processes where the participation of stakeholders – communities, students, researchers and knowledge specialists working together – is crucial when responding to complex problems.”

His high-level goal is to provide opportunities for community and industry partners to get involved in research projects that can and will provide tangible outcomes and solutions to real-world problems very quickly.

Randomness connects ideas, technology, art and culture

Paul’s work is best explained through his involvement in FASTLab – a collective research translation hub at the University of Newcastle. It brings together leading thinkers, creatives and industry partners and injects controlled randomness to connect ideas, technology, art and culture.

The overarching mission of the collective is about pushing ideas to the limit to really see what they can turn into.

“Much of what we’re doing with FASTLab starts with our communities,” says Paul.

“In Singleton, we’ve been creating public art and researching its effectiveness as a catalyst for encouraging citizens to buy local, bringing people back into the township after the disruption from COVID-19, changing the public perception of art in a regional Australian community and using art and technology as a vehicle for community engagement in a rural setting.”

The FASTLab team has also recently won a second national award from Good Design Australia for their collaborative Internet of Things project ‘Henges’ for the City of Newcastle, researching whether art and playful digital interactions can reduce antisocial behaviour.

“These design-led innovations can be replicated, says Paul. “The civic-centred research approach to generate rich levels of engagement and feedback from local communities can be commercialised and/or offered to other smart city regions.”

They’ve also developed ‘Regain’ – a clinically designed app-based exercise program to improve the recovery outcomes for stroke patients by providing a clinically designed, user-friendly interface that incorporates human interactions and avatars.

From media production to collaboration

Paul’s pre-research background was in television and digital media production creating documentaries for BBC, ITV and Sky, among others, and making TV commercials and corporate films for a wide range of blue chip commercial clients and charities.

It was because of his work as a documentary filmmaker broadcasting people’s stories that he was drawn to the research he’s now involved in.

“When you’re trusted with representing an issue that’s deeply pertinent to an individual or a community, there’s an expectation that something will change as a result of sharing it,” he says.

He wanted to help people change things that needed to be changed by getting them airtime and having their voices heard. This is what participatory futures are all about.

“I’m drawn to it because of its commitment to using a range of creative industry approaches to involve citizens in imagining potential futures.

It encourages long-termism, recognising that decision-making needs to consider future generations.”

A decade of applied research

Most of the research Paul does is classed as applied. This means he and his collaborators typically think about its impact from the outset.

For a decade prior to joining the University of Newcastle, Paul worked at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, where he was

Director of Research and Innovation College of Culture and the Creative Industries and Chair of Creative and Digital Technologies.

While there, he established the Media Innovation Studio as an international research centre and learning hub. Its founding aim is to work across disciplines to explore the potential of creative and digital technologies to bring about positive change.

He also set up the Civic Drone Centre, which works with companies, individuals and organisations to imagine and develop remotely operated vehicles across various scenarios.

“It led to working for the UN with a group of international colleagues, led by Patrick Meier,to create a policy on the safe use of drones in humanitarian aid and rescue missions,” says Paul.

In addition, the work of the CDC continues to have real-world impact, recently receiving $4m from European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF) business support program to provide specialist drone technology and R&D support to new and existing small and medium-sized enterprises.

Redesigning the curriculum

Innovation within the curriculum has been fundamental to Paul’s academic practice over the past decade. It has led him to co-design, develop and lead three new Master’s courses and over 20 modules delivered in the UK and China.

Most recently, he worked with UCLan’s senior executive team liaising with the Ministry of Education in China to establish the HBU-UCLan School of Media, Communications and Creative Industries in Hebei, China.

An example of Paul’s approach to developing and enlivening the curriculum is illustrated by the creation of the online news website for journalism students subsequently called ‘HotPot’.

The website won the BBC Partnership Award for Innovation in 2011. HotPot is a website for students bringing together photographers, print and broadcast journalists to publish stories on the site. It has also been well used as the publishing platform for students at partner Universities in China.

The participatory research future is fast

Innovation, research and development and entrepreneurialism are happening at a rate never seen before. Importantly, these processes often don’t factor in the specific needs and wants of the end user early enough.

Paul wants to avoid situations where we end up with solutions looking for problems.

Right now, Paul is leading the Newcastle team on the ‘Connected Sensors for Health’Australian Research Council Industry Transformation hub aimed at improving the health outcomes of Australians – and ultimately those beyond our borders.

His ambition is to co-design, verify, and certify sensor technology to transform health care in Australia by enabling new approaches to diagnosis, monitoring, predictive treatment and prevention of disease.

“I love what we’re doing with FASTLab,” says Paul.

“It’s truly unique in Australia. We’re improving health outcomes for Australians. We’re creating safer nighttime spaces for people in Newcastle. We’re developing a more inclusive urban planning process. We’re using art as a means of public engagement. We’re engaging in post-human planet-centred design. We’re exploring the potential of artificial intelligence as a creative tool. And we’re understanding how blockchain changes the relationship between artist and audience.

“I’m proud of everything we do – and am always excited about what we’ll do next – though right now, I’m not sure what that might be or where it may take us.”

Research of value – and success

While Paul recognises collaborative working isn’t easy, he purports its value. For him, it’s about the work they do and the way they do it. That’s the value.

“By harnessing human interaction, empathy, cooperation, co-design, design thinking, visualisation, playfulness and creativity, we can overcome the barriers and create new opportunities to solve Australia’s most important challenges.”