Digital park in the sea
Title: Digital Seascapes – a co-design approach to identify new ways for communities to engage with the sea as a public space.
Funded by: AHRC Design Exchange Partnership
Duration: February 2023 – February 2024
Location: Plymouth, UK
Project partners: University of Plymouth, Plymouth City Council, The Rockpool Project 
University of Plymouth staff: Professor Katharine Willis, Ashita Gupta 
This project is funded by the AHRC Design Exchange Partnership (DEP). DEPs are three-way collaborative projects which seek to demonstrate tangible impact on local communities by stimulating the real-world application of high-quality arts and humanities-led design research to address challenges related to achieving green transition goals.

Project overview

Digital Seascapes takes a collaborative approach to design new ways for communities to engage with the sea as a public space. A community co-design process will test third-sector organisations using digital technology to engage communities around access to the sea. A key focal point of the project will be to support and develop knowledge exchange and capacity building between three key organisations in the city, that have a common aim to build resilient coastal cities.
The partnership with Plymouth City Council, as custodians of the city and lead on the National Marine Park (NMP), and The Rockpool Project (CIC) will develop a digital citizen science toolkit to be used as part of a wider set of activities to engage young people and to enable them to take action to care for their marine space. It will drive the local community to engage with and care for their coastal environment, positively impacting on the achievement of coastal resilience goals. 
The project builds on the creation of the first UK National Marine Park (NMP) and the work of the EU Green minds project which has been establishing green and blue governance in the city to develop 'a digital park in the sea'. This partnership will exchange technological knowledge and design skills to collaboratively explore and test new ways for communities to engage with the sea as a common space. The aim is to engage young people in new ways to make coastal areas more accessible to themselves and, more broadly, to create resilient and inclusive coastal communities.
Digital Seascapes primary students working in a pool of sea water
Digital Seascapes primary students working with crafts

Our aims

Outcomes and impact

The project will identify new knowledge around how a digital placemaking approach can be applied in marine environments towards building resilient coastal communities. The outcomes will address the challenge of enabling civic participation within these communities in managing and engaging with the city through a focus on marine environments – an underrepresented area of urban space by:
  • development of a series of digital prototypes around engaging with the sea as a public space
  • evaluating whether the prototypes (engagement with technology) create a stronger connection and better engagement with the marine environments
  • production of a series of design guides and examples of project outcomes that will be used to inform a new policy approach to civic governance of marine spaces in UK.
Rockpooling in the Southwest 
Theory of Change illustration for digital parks in the sea by Daniel Glover

Theory of change

The theory of change for this project is based on the following approach:
If we co-design place-based digital prototypes with residents of coastal neighbourhoods, the sea (being treated as a non-human partner) and city partners, then we aim to work towards more resilient coastal communities.

A place-based approach

Through working with other organisations and supporting people to be part of the solution, we aim to make a culture of social innovation through the project in terms of both its organisation and how it connects with community and partners. We will work directly with people from two specific neighbourhoods in Plymouth; Stonehouse and Devonport. Both communities are located less than one mile from the sea but research shows that these communities are less likely to visit the sea and are often excluded from the benefits such access brings. The co-design process will enable these engaged communities to actually visit the sea but also to create a more sustainable legacy for the wider neighbourhood. 
The project will focus on two bays in Plymouth Sound (Firestone Bay and Millbay). Both are centrally located closest to the target neighbourhoods to facilitate our work with local communities. 
Digital Seascapes primary students working on a rocky beach


Project mentor

Jo Morrison, Director of Digital Innovation & Research, Calvium LTD
Jo has worked at the intersection of people, place and technology for over 20 years. Improving the social, cultural, economic and environmental prosperity of towns and cities through innovative digital placemaking practice is a core ambition of her work. She has collaborated with a range of clients including The City of Edinburgh Council, igloo Regeneration and NHS North East London.
Jo Morrison, Calvium LTD