Improving social inclusion in Townsville

| March 30, 2024

QUT researchers have collaborated with a local software solutions company on a community and participatory design initiative to address social isolation and loneliness in socially disadvantaged communities in Townsville.

The QUT Design Lab, the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) and – locally owned and operated – IT and software solutions company Daktech have come together to develop a new place-based approach for community creativity and innovation in the North Queensland city.

QUT PhD student Michael Bromage, a research intern with DakTech, is leading the project along with Professor Marcus Foth and Professor Greg Hearn, from the QUT School of Design, and Dr Kim Osman from the DMRC.

Michael Bromage said the project involved both place design and community engagement, to create a safe, accessible environment for tinkering and creative practice at Daktech’s Maker Space.

“The aim is to improve digital inclusion to enhance social and economic outcomes for participants,” Mr Bromage said.

“We flip the standard programming model on its head, and start by listening to participants’ dreams, desires and struggles to begin to deeply know someone and to help them know themselves, their relationship with community, and how to activate their creative energy.

“We then help participants form a micro-project inspired by their own values, assist them to access resources and connect with others to get their project rolling, then accompany participants in their journey as they progress.


“For me the joy of research is pursuing curiosity, to see what comes from this initiative; and it is a real privilege to rigorously explore and contribute knowledge that improves contemporary society.”

Mr Bromage said the labels ‘socioeconomic disadvantaged, homeless, lonely, low-income or unemployed’ conjured up images not often associated with ‘creativity, innovation, and aspiration’.

“Foremost, I am fascinated by the creativity of humans – many who are lost in demographic labelling that can make individuals with unique lived-experience and creative ideas invisible in our communities,’ Mr Bromage said.

“Helping people be deeply seen and activating their creativity through self-inspired micro-projects is fascinating, particularly finding ways to connect Townsville’s ‘creative underground’ with adequate resources.”

Mr Bromage said early participant Marisa Ansell’s project was to learn how to make a short video documentary about the local food pantry she is grateful for.

“That involved Marisa making a plan, using her phone (and building confidence) to interview people, and getting familiar with the high-powered design laptops, software, and internet platforms, to edit and publish video,” Mr Bromage said.

Marisa Ansell said the program had allowed her to learn much-needed skills and wisdom that were genuinely helping her achieve childhood goals of making a real difference to the community using media.

“In this case I am aiming to draw attention to how local people are helping feed people impacted by the cost of living increasing. Townsville’s ADRA Food Pantry provided me with food, and I want to give back,” Ms Ansell said.

Early participant, Oliver Jesshope, said it was really uplifting to have the opportunity to be supported in a creative project of his own in his hometown of Townsville.

“This is exactly what is needed to bridge the gap between creatives and the more business-oriented, for a flourishing culture to emerge.

“The freedom to pursue our ideas is what helps us grow as a nation,” Mr Jesshope said.

Another early participant, Estelle Hope, said working with Michael – on developing her idea for a unique tool to help people learn how to improve their drawing skills – had been a life changing opportunity and the catalyst for fulfilling long-held dreams and aspirations.

“This is the first time my ideas have materialised into a tangible product rather than an impossible and frustrating dream,” Ms Hope said.

“I have gone from being clueless as to how I would create the products I would imagine and develop within my limitations, to now feeling empowered to create.”

Mr Bromage said the cross-sector collaboration gave him hope that real change in people’s lives was possible.

“I love that all four sectors are contributing to this research project: academia, private enterprise, state government, and community,” Mr Bromage said.

“The local community here is a group of people who share a common purpose, and we are a group of diverse people (and organisations) who desire to find a viable method to understand, activate, coordinate, harmonise and augment Townsville’s creative underground.”

DakTech business owner, Daniel Kendall, said DakTech’s mission was to improve the world through technology.

“So, this opportunity to open up the Maker Space to a more diverse community that fosters creativity and innovation through technology is something we are grateful to be a part of,” Mr Kendall said.

Mr Bromage said other local organisations were beginning to understand the project’s value.

“Inspired by the initiative, Litehaus International – a non-profit charity that facilitates digital learning opportunities – has also provided 10 laptops to help participants on their journey,” Mr Bromage said.

Professor Foth said QUT brought senior research expertise in participatory design and media studies to the project.

“The idea is to address digital inclusion challenges faced by people from socially disadvantaged communities and to facilitate community engagement, skill development and connected learning and training,” Professor Foth said.

“The project emphasises everyday forms of creativity in lay people to instil pride and joy, focusing on developing purpose, social connections, and digital skills among participants.”

The project is backed by the Queensland Government through the Department of Communities, Housing, and the Digital Economy through the Communities Innovation Fund with a grant of $50,000.