Civic Lab

What is CivicLAB?

CivicLAB is based at the University of Derby, a UNESCO City of Life Long Learning and home to World Heritage Sites. It has been designed to support academics, creative and cultural industry professionals and freelance creatives to share their insights on research and practice through a place-based approach to knowledge generation. There have been three CivicLAB Conferences, hosted by the University of Derby in partnership with Derby Theatre, Derby Community Trust and Artcore. 

The CivicLAB is led by Dr Rhiannon Jones, Associate Professor (Civic) at the University of Derby. CivicLAB is located centrally to the University's core business, within the Provost of Learning and Teaching. The work of CivicLAB supports the six academic themes, with close alignment to Cultural and Creative Industries. It is an interdisciplinary group that cuts across research and innovation, and teaching and learning. 

Established in late 2020, it has created opportunities for 1763 staff, students and external stakeholders and members of the public. We have designed and led 35 research sessions, developed eight projects, delivered two sold-out symposiums with 100% satisfaction rates. It has a core membership of ten staff from academic and professional services with representation from all four colleges and the postgraduate research community driving activity. 

The CivicLAB provides a thinking space to bring together participants from academia, creative and cultural industry, third sector and freelance practitioners. This is done through presentations, keynotes, workshops, networking sessions. Together, we will discuss approaches to building civic practice, research and community capacity as a means of addressing long-standing social issues. 

The programming of CivicLAB is designed to explore the following themes: 

CivicLAB is a driver for change through participation and collaboration. It also emulates the University's promise as an institution to deliver projects, programmes and research that support our commitment as a civic institution. Providing an opportunity to hear from world-leading experts, industry professionals, practitioners, theorists and academics - and time to learn together and network as colleagues. 

CivicLAB is an agent to drive positive societal change, to increase civic impact, and connect universities, stakeholders and communities together. To this end, we have invited three specialists to deliver keynotes, each will attend to the challenges and opportunities of civic and community-based practice; through the lens of creative place making. 

Keynote speakers have included:

Our public facing programming helps CivicLAB to explore the relationship between higher education institutions working with communities on co-produced activities at both the hyper-local and global. 

As a civic university, we are committed to supporting Derby and Derbyshire, our place, our people and its rich and diverse community. And to understanding what civic engagement really means - by enacting and enabling imaginative communities to flourish and support creative cultural ecosystems and strategies to grow. 

Get in touch

CivicLAB would be delighted to welcome you here, to get to know you, your work and your vision to build an inclusive, social and civic future. For more information about CivicLAB please get in touch at:


If you would like to find out more about our Civic Agreement and Goals please visit the CivicHUB - our one-stop for all things Civic and the best place to find out about all the fantastic projects and initiatives we're involved in. 


Black and white images of students mapping out projects on a wall. On top is a bright green Systems and Services logo
Design Lab: Systems and Services project, led by Adela Glyn-Davies, Lecturer in Design.
Conference image of woman in crowd clapping


The Third CivicLAB Annual Conference took place in Derby, a UNESCO City of Life Long Learning and home to World Heritage Sites. This conference had been designed to support academics, creative and cultural industry professionals and freelance creatives to share their insights on research and practice through a place-based approach to knowledge generation. This event was the third CivicLAB Conference, hosted by the University of Derby in partnership with Derby County Community Trust and Artcore.

The CivicLAB is led by Dr Rhiannon Jones, Associate Professor (Civic) at the University of Derby.

The two-day conference explored this through a series of presentations, keynotes, workshops, networking sessions and an (optional) community meal. 

The conference setting provided a thinking space to bring together participants from academia, creative and cultural industry, third sector and freelance practitioners.

Together, discussions took place in relation to approaches to building civic practice, research and community capacity as a means of addressing long-standing social issues. 

'Designing for Civility and Cultural Impact' - 7 - 8 July 2022, Derby, UK

CivicLAB Symposium called for participation from practitioners and academics who centre their research and teaching practice on participatory culture, creative dialogue and experiential design for social impact.

CivicLAB Symposium explored, discussed and reimagined the value of creative practice to the public sphere with a special theme on ‘Designing for Civility and Cultural Impact’. The Symposium explored how we build civic communities and how practitioners and academics create the conditions in which those communities can sustainably develop, innovate, and thrive within the social, economic, environmental, health, wellbeing and cultural challenges of the 21st century.

The online Symposium: CivicLAB presents the work of researchers, artists and creative industry colleagues from across the UK, including international colleagues from Venice, Finland, USA. Speakers were from European Cultural Academy, Tate Exchange, Derby County Community Trust, Derby Theatre, Derby Cathedral, University of Manchester, East Street Arts, Space and Place Lead, Council for Higher Education Art and Design (CHEAD), Fashion Academics Creating Equality (FACE), University for the Creative Arts, Cumulus Association, University of Swansea, Mighty Creatives, University of Nottingham, University of Derby.

Each speaker focuses on participatory culture, creative dialogue and experiential design for social impact. Questions asked include: How do we build communities (Manzini, 2019) and how can we create the conditions in which those communities can sustainably develop, innovate and thrive within the social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges of the 21st century?

Researchers and practitioners in the LAB amalgamate a diverse span of creative practices and perspectives across the arts and social sciences to contribute to this burgeoning field of enquiry; interrogating, extending and redefining the value of creative practice to the public sphere.

  • Welcome address by Vice-Chancellor Professor Kathryn Mitchell, CBE DL, University of Derby
  • Keynote by Dr Cara Courage, an independent arts and placemaking researcher and publisher.
    Cara is the author of Arts in Place: The Arts, the Urban and Social Practice (Routledge, 2017), the co-editor of Creative Placemaking and Beyond (Routledge, 2018), and editor of The Routledge Handbook of Placemaking (Routledge, 2021). She is also taking up a new role at MOCAD and former Head of Tate Exchange and Interim Co-Director, Learning and Research, Tate

CivicLAB Symposium convener: Dr Rhiannon Jones 
CivicLAB Symposium steering group: Professor John Steel, Dr Daithí McMahon, Jade Murden

To find out more about the 2021 Symposium, visit: 

Spotlight on CivicLAB research projects

The Social Higher Education Depot (S.H.E.D) was invited to feature as part of the Design Council’s ‘Design for Planet’ event, a physical and virtual event hosted by Design Council in response to COP26. Taking place on 9 and 10 November 2021, this landmark event championed design as a powerful agent of change and featured talks, practical sessions and design tools to help all kinds of designers address the biggest challenge of our time.

Design for Planet S.H.E.D was a collaborative creative arts exhibition involving school children, young people, artists, designers and stakeholders from across the UK. This thought-provoking installation featured artwork ranging from podcasts and videos to murals and music and offered a platform for the public to communicate their thoughts and opinions on the issue of climate change.

The objective of Design for Planet S.H.E.D was to provide a platform for people to showcase their artistic talent and for their views on the issues that matter to them to be heard loud and clear. The installation addressed themes of climate change to provide a unique space to showcase young people’s creative talent from across the UK. This exhibition acted as a catalyst for positive change, to address challenges of climate change, inequality and promote social mobility.

This project is led by Dr Rhiannon Jones, Associate Professor (Civic) and Barend Slabbert, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader Interior Design.

Find out more about the Design for Planet S.H.E.D collaboration

Creative placemaking with young people: the role of justice and protest

A S.H.E.D / CivicLAB panel in partnership with the National Justice Museum

Chaired by Matt Hawthorn, co-lead of CivicLAB Research Group at the University of Derby, the focus of this discussion is on the role of creative placemaking, the importance of co-design and innovation as an approach to engage young people with museums, civic pedagogy, design, artist and cultural practice, and issues around protest and justice.

This project is led by Dr Rhiannon Jones supported by National Justice Museum and Arts Council England.

Find out more about Protest S.H.E.D

This research lab allows students to explore, learn and apply systems thinking to a live brief as well as their developing personal practice and methodologies. Throughout the lab, students have opportunities to work with design professionals and change-makers on exiting system imbalances in the areas of social, built, and natural environments.

In 2022, students were collaborating on a brief with Nottingham Trent University tackling issues of loneliness in the elderly within the context of care homes and their circumambient systems. This entailed the mapping of actors/stakeholders and factors of imbalances within the system in order to collaboratively pinpoint leverage points for design solutions. These enquiries were underpinned by theories of systems thinking, change theories and theories of emergence.

This project is led by Adela Glyn-Davies, Lecturer in Design.

The success of events, and the hospitality and tourism sector, in general, is affected by the application of technologies. The dramatic changes in these industries, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and government restrictions speed up the process of integration of VR (virtual reality) technologies in hospitality and tourism settings, event planning and design. Virtual reality has become a new space for attendees' interaction and collaboration. The project supports the development of skills, knowledge, and attributes of graduates through the development of designing spaces such as food service outlets, customer flow state, visitor attractions, tour guides, accommodation walk rounds, event design and planning, staff training inductions and customer service delivery within VR.

This project is led by Dr Vladimir Antchak, Senior Lecturer in Applied Management.

This project is considering the literary value of Mills and Boon romantic novels and why they are so interesting to analyse from a literary point of view. My research focuses upon a number of authors for the company who wrote over extended periods of time, capturing changing financial landscapes amongst other aspects of social history. I am analysing the works of authors Penny Jordan, Sara Craven, Roberta Leigh and other authors for the company. Consideration of these novels written over these extended periods of time has demonstrated that they utilise a number of literary devices which render them into works of literary art. My research project considers this and discusses the literary devices these authors use in order to provide a forum for social critique of women’s positions in society.

This project is led by Dr Val Derbyshire, Impact Officer.

Realist Collage: Non-fiction film practice addressing the history and identity of ‘Welsh Wales’ through critical realism, found footage and animation.

This practice-led project lies at the intersection of documentary, archive film, animation and history. Its philosophical framework is critical realism, a position that sees reality as a plurality of interdependent structures and mechanisms operating in stratified systems. The research deploys collage as a practical form of critical realism to explore the history of ‘Welsh Wales’ (Balsom, 1985), along with the region’s political, cultural and social identity. The investigation is conducted through engagement with the film collection of the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales. Theories of Welsh history and identity are used in the analysis, interpretation and composition of the archive materials as evidence of a complex and layered culture.

In the creative mediation of factual material, the realist collage addresses the non-physical levels of reality that are not directly visible in the archive film. This is done through using temporal and spatial juxtaposition as a method of realist inference to represent the causally generative domain that determines actual events. An imaginative sense of a non-empirical, complex whole is inferred through the temporal and spatial composition of image parts.

This project is led by Marc Bosward, Lecturer in BA (Hons) Animation, Illustration and Graphic Design.

This research, which is funded by a BA/Leverhulme small research grant, focuses on the experiences of stand-up comedians in the East Midlands. The aim of the research is to understand the impact that precarity has on comedians, and how class, race and gender intersect with this. The research consists of interviews with comedians from the region and outputs will include academic journal articles as well as an industry focused report which aims to provide recommendations on how the industry can be made more equitable. The first journal article for the project, co-written with Dr Jennie Jordan has recently been submitted. As part of the project, Dr Sedgwick has convened panels at the Leicester Comedy Festival in 2021 and 2022 and has presented her research at national and international conferences.

This project is led by Dr Claire Sedgwick, Impact Officer.

Craft Works! Engaging with communities to build a sustainable future from traditional technologies.

Archaeological research and experimental archaeology practices provide insight into how past civilisations navigated their environments. Coupling this data with modern knowledge and technology can lead to the development of innovative strategies to manage a wide range of challenges faced by communities around the world today, including the climate crisis and rising prices of fuel and energy. However, achieving these goals requires public engagement to effectively communicate the underlying research and its implications to the public. True social change can only be achieved when there is a wide social understanding and acceptance of new and diverse technologies and behavioural practices. This project explores the importance of incorporating public engagement and science communication into archaeological research to connect communities through an understanding of their shared past, aiming to build societal cohesion and inspire people to apply ancient and historic knowledge and practices to change our modern world.

This project is led by Dr Lenore Thompson, Impact Officer and Researcher.

This roundtable will bring together historic site stewards, cultural heritage and museum professionals, community leaders and University of Derby faculty and students. Participants will share insights about how the Derwent Valley can connect its world-renowned industrial and natural heritage to a greater understanding of the roots of climate change and mobilize new strategies for using heritage to address present and future challenges.

Building on the work of public history and heritage at the University of Derby, and the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, the gathering will include Donna Graves, a public historian from the U.S., who focuses on how heritage sites can create human-centred climate change interpretation and inspire climate action. She will share her experience from a programme that uses storytelling to empower people to engage with difficult histories and with questions of environmental sustainability. This will be one of a series of events in May and June 2022, also sponsored by the US-UK Fulbright Commission, the University of Essex and Historic England.

This project is led by Dr Cath Feely, Senior Lecturer in History.

In partnership with the University of Derby and Derby Cathedral, this panel debate will explore issues in contemporary cultures such as Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, conflict, and how we can learn and emerge better from suffering and crisis.

This project is led by Dr Rhiannon Jones, Associate Professor (Civic).

Find out more about Crisis and Hope in Current Times

More projects in collaboration with Derby Cathedral:

Derby Book Festival is an annual event that “brings Derby’s residents together in a love of books and inspires new readers to appreciate the pleasure and power of reading”. The event is held twice over the year (spring and autumn) and features a year-round community programme with three main strands: shared reading, shared writing and schools programme.

The purpose of this collaborative project is to evaluate the overall visitor experience and satisfaction with the Derby Book Festival 2022 (20-22 May 2022). This research will enable the festival organisers to gain an understanding of current attendees' demographics, their experience, perceptions, spending behaviour and overall satisfaction with the festival.

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