July Research Café: from digital inclusion to the power of touch

ResearchCafe_marchphoto2As well as the usual top class presenters and presentations we have come to expect at the Research Cafés for the last in the 12/13 series we were treated to an array of cream cakes and pastries good enough to make your mouth water! Four speakers from across the university came to give presentations on their areas of research and the audience was not left disappointed.

Presenting The Voluntary Sector: Recession and Austerity, Dr. Gerwyn Jones highlighted the impact current economic conditions and the subsequent political agenda are having on the voluntary sector.  Setting the scene he showed how income to the sector increased dramatically in the decade 2000 – 2010 with Local Government contributions totaling over 50% of income. However, with the change of government in 2010 came a change in funding and while the voluntary sector was applauded and promoted it was very much within the context of recession and austerity measures.  The resulting government funding cuts came at the same time as the sector experienced a decrease in charitable giving and an increase in demand for services.  Delving deeper Gerwyn showed how the poorest areas have been hardest hit, comparing Liverpool and Bristol to emphasise the point. The impact of the recession and austerity measures has been funding cuts to the service when funding is most needed, leaving the sector little option but to reduce staff levels and service provision and close facilities. This has resulted in the most vulnerable being hardest hit when their needs are greatest.

Examining the challenge of delivering “digital by default” Professor Simeon Yates was next up to question Digital Inclusion or Digital Efficacy? Simeon’s presentation focused on the findings of a joint Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield City Council project. With the government pushing for all services to be delivered online as the default option, the driver behind the study was to determine if those who need access to services can competently access them online.  The study found that while 20% of UK households are deemed to be ‘offline’ this figure rises to 50% of social housing households.  The study also found that internet access did not always equate to competent internet users and the preferred medium of interaction with City Council services was face to face or over the phone.  Simeon concluded that until online services are as easy as a phone call they will not be fully utilised. He also emphasised that the solution to digital efficacy is not always a technical one and sometimes all that is needed is confidence and understanding.

Professor Francis McGlone from the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology
told us Touch Matters. He took us
through established research which has long recognised the importance of touch
and then explained the science behind the perfect touch. Through his research
Francis has found a second, non-cognitive, emotional response toTouch matters

touch.  And using a Robotic Tactile Stimulator has determined that the preferred rate of touch is 3cm-5cm per second.  This has taken Francis to the conclusion that just as there are two systems for pain there are two systems for touch. The research is in its very early stages but may have applications in a number of different areas, including a better understanding of some of the symptoms of autism.

For the final talk Dr Tejendra Pherali presented Understanding the nexus between education and conflict in post-conflict societies: Insights from Nepal and Cambodia. Tejendra discussed the need to protect children in schools and homes and the sense of normality education can provide to children during times of conflict. He also highlighted the second face of education, and its ability to fuel conflict where access to education is unequal, social exclusion is prevalent and classrooms are venues for propaganda. To illustrate this Nepal and Cambodia were given as examples of instances where this has taken place in the recent past. Going forward Tejendra has identified a need for the education systems in these countries to be reconstructed as increasing the number of teachers and resources alone will not solve the problems created by conflict.

The research cafés will resume for the 13/14 academic year in October. Details of venues, speakers and topics will be announced closer to the date.

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