Researching digital placemaking for health and wellbeing in North East London


Digital Placemaking

People crossing the main road at Whitechapel station


The Digital Placemaking Scoping Project is an exploratory research study undertaken by Calvium on behalf of the NHS North East London.                                                            .

The research explored how digital placemaking can enhance the physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing of North East London’s stakeholder communities. In particular, it revealed how digital placemaking can be incorporated into the strategic planning of future healthcare facilities and their neighbouring public realm. 

What is digital placemaking?                                                                   .

Digital placemaking refers to the augmentation of physical places with location-specific digital services, products or experiences to create more meaningful places for all.

Increasingly, we connect with the world through the use of digital technologies. We use digital wayfinding to plan and undertake a journey, input data into location-based citizen science projects or become immersed in augmented reality theatrical productions performed on the streets – and much more. As such, location-specific digital services, products and experiences are central to the ways that many of us encounter urban environments. This relationship between people, place, digital technology and data is the concern and the practice of digital placemaking.

At its core, digital placemaking aims to boost the social, cultural and environmental value of places by using digital technology to foster deeper connections between people and the places they inhabit.

Lots of new skyscrapers in Aldgate
Population growth in Tower Hamlets is projected to be amongst highest in UK.

Why this research is needed

As the population of North East London grows over the coming years, so too will their use of location-specific digital products, services and experiences to connect with each other and with their neighbourhoods. Residents already using personal digital technologies to support their health and wellbeing, will expect to access community-based NHS services through a range of innovative location-specific digitally enabled solutions. This research starts to set the scene for what future locative healthcare might be within healthcare estates and their nearby public realm, and how to achieve it.

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Stakeholder community engagement is key

Stakeholder community engagement underpins this research. Local communities are the experts of their lived experiences and therefore best placed to explore how digital placemaking might enhance their interactions with health services in North East London. As such, this pioneering research invited a mix of healthcare staff, patients, carers, residents and Local Authority staff to imagine and help shape the future of digital placemaking for health and wellbeing in North East London.

Woman kneeling and speaking to little girl at an outdoor festival
Barking residents in a local park; exploring digital placemaking.

Adopting a care-full approach to innovation

‘Move fast and break things’ is an all too familiar and unhelpful approach to digital innovation. Instead, this research is underpinned by an ethos of care and reflection throughout.

The project consisted of three stages. The first stage sought to understand the current context related to geolocated digital health and wellbeing experiences in North East London and beyond, the second stage concentrated on stakeholder community engagement to imagine digital placemaking futures, and the third stage delivered the findings.

NHS NEL Digital Placemaking Research Structure illustration
Residents were positive about the potential for new digital technologies to support health and wellbeing in public space.

A rich set of inclusive engagement activities were undertaken, for both in-person and online interaction. The activities enabled different forms of participation, used traditional as well as experimental methods and took place at different times of day across the summer 2022. Each of the sessions aimed to be creative, welcoming and enjoyable!  

Vicarage Field Barking 2022 crop
A current masterplan for Vicarage Field, Barking, includes a new healthcare facility as well as 900+ new homes.

Next steps

The Department of Health and Social Care states that digital technologies and innovation, research and leadership are the cross-cutting enablers that underpin the delivery of its major conditions strategy. Our research findings demonstrate how digital placemaking is vital for the delivery of this strategy and for enhancing public health and wellbeing in general.

NHS North East London’s Estates and Infrastructure team and Calvium worked together closely to deliver this valuable research exploring innovative healthcare futures, and continue to collaborate.

Together, we have shared the research and its findings widely and continue to do so. For example, presenting at the European Healthcare Design Conference 2023 and Healthy City Design 2022 International Congress, informing the development of NHS Trust masterplans, and contributing to the healthcare sector at policy level by speaking with UK parliamentarians and international government departments. 

Jo Morrison and Louise Phillips stand together at a conference podium as they present
Dr Jo Morrison and Louise Phillips talk at the Royal College of Physicians, London.

“Thanks to Calvium’s excellent research – digital placemaking is now being factored into our strategy and approach to regenerating the healthcare estates of North East London”
Louise Phillips, Associate Director of Infrastructure, NHS North East London

We would like to acknowledge the specialists who joined Calvium to undertake specific research activities:                                                                                                                                                                    .

  • Obsurvant conducted an online survey focused on North East London. They specialise in unlocking high quality survey data by harnessing the latest research technologies.
  • Play:Disrupt creates playful community engagement activities across sectors in built environment, health and wellbeing and the arts to build better conversations with stakeholders.
  • Nataly Raab is a community engagement leader, creative facilitator and urban planning strategist with specialist experience in participatory projects in cities.                   .


If you would like to speak to Jo Morrison about the scoping project or how digital placemaking can support the health and wellbeing of your own locations, please email:



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