6 December 2016 09:03

The appointment of a former principal researcher at Microsoft will add a new dimension to Lancaster University’s think tank for the future.

Professor Richard Harper will become the new Co-Director of the Institute for Social Futures (ISF) from January 1.  He will also become Professor in the School of Computing and Communications (SCC)

Lancaster’s ISF aims to tackle thinking about better futures by bringing together all relevant expertise on how that future will be shaped. 

Under the directorship of Professor Linda Woodhead, the ISF has brought the best social science and humanities research to futures thinking, so that the human element of the future is taken more seriously.

By appointing Professor Harper, the Institute will broaden its footprint to include the engineering and technology sciences, especially through his role in SCC.

Professor Harper was trained in sociology, but he has spent the bulk of his life working in computer and communications engineering research and hence his joint appointment with SCC.

He has led teams in Microsoft Research and Xerox EuroParc and founded start-up technology companies. All this has involved bringing together social science and engineering in ways that create the space for innovation.

His research has received awards from both engineering and social science. In the States, the IEEE-USA (an organizational unit managed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) noted his distinguished contribution to engineering for his book The Myth of the Paperless Office (co-authored with A. Sellen) and the Association for Computing Machinery made him an Academy Member for his research on Human Computer Interaction.

In the UK, he was elected Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and to the Royal Society of Arts. He became the UK’s first Professor of Socio-digital Systems at the University of Surrey. His book, Texture, won the International Association of Internet Researcher’s book of the year.

Professor Harper has published 16 books and more than 160 articles. He has 26 patents.  His most recent book, Choice, published by Polity in 2016, looks at how new methods and techniques across the social sciences and philosophy are altering how we understand human rationality and how this is showing itself in technologies embedded in World Wide Web.

Professor Harper started his career with a research fellowship at Lancaster University.

Speaking about his new role at the ISF, he said: “I am really looking forward to returning to Bailrigg and rediscovering my old haunts. There’s a great atmosphere on campus. The new Institutes, like the ISF, are putting Lancaster at the cutting edge of research.

“At the ISF, I am looking forward to working alongside Linda Woodhead to create a new cadre of ambitious researchers who realise that their disciplines offer just one perspective on the world’s problems. By learning how to combine their perspective with those of other disciplines, these researchers will be able to really change what our futures will be.”

Professor Woodhead MBE FAcSS, a distinguished social scientist and co-founder of the Westminster Faith Debates, said: “I am delighted by Richard’s appointment. It strengthens our distinctively holistic approach to future-making in which we look at technological developments in relation to their wider social systems and ecosystems.”