Monthly Archives: December 2011

Top 10 places for New Year’s Eve traditions (courtesy of The Guardian)

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For those who like to see a town or city animated through the careful application of a planned event or two here are a few new year’s eve celebrations to keep an eye on. Some have been handed down from one generation to the next, others from the seat of local government and public funding it would seem. Fire is a regular theme, as you might expect, as is Scotland.

Click the little ‘guardian.co.uk’ link under the photo for more.

Networks: readings, notes and links

I’ve been soaking up quite a bit of social network literature recently as it is becoming the central theme in my PhD planning. As a focus for analysis it can often be found sharing space with discussions on social capital, yet the events literature tends to favour the latter – there is plenty of scope to consider the networks that exist around and between festivals and events.

As Christmas readies itself to claim the hearts and minds of the nation for a day or two I’m using this post to aggregate a few links, tucking them away for future reference.
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Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler’s excellent Connected (@connected_book) is required reading. Thorough, lively, full of great stories and keen to demonstrate that a better understanding of social networks may help us explain a vast array of habits, practices and cultural norms. Here are some links to their website and the book itself on Amazon.co.uk. Those with little to do over the festive season could fill some time looking through the array of videos, links and lecture slides on their site. If you’d rather some content to pick up on the go, here’s a podcast lecture from The RSA.

Speaking of The RSA, a recent post – Networking by numbers – from Gaia Marcus (@la_gaia) on the RSA site flags up a current project ‘to measure the social impact of public services and civic interventions and to allow people to see their own personal networks’. As part of an empowerment agenda the plan is to move away from traditional forms of social research, with their attendant inconsistencies and problems, towards something more personal, verifiable and up to the minute. It is a project to keep an eye on.

Moving the conversation closer to my preferred stomping ground of arts festivals, The Guardian has published a couple of pieces under the banner ‘Digital culture: hierarchy to network’: part one and part two. Written by Patrick Hussey of Arts & Business (@PatrickRiot) they feel like the very outer dermis of what he has to say, but they contain plenty of links to further work and projects. They are also a sign that the networking theme is now entering the mainstream of cultural management, gaining momentum as a topic demanding attention and resources. It also suggests some pretty solid foundations on which to build my own research in the months ahead.

Finally, with some of the most appealing images going, a post from Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) on visualising the Twitter archive of an event (in this case a conference). Some 3,000 tweets have been brought together – I must confess that I’m somewhat in the dark about this has been done, despite the guidance notes provided by Martin! (There’s much more for me to learn about this.) I do know that it’s good fun playing around with this

My recent PhD discussions and thoughts are focusing me towards trying to describe the social networks that exist around the production of a festival. The tools and the maths exist to make this possible, whether virtual or real. Where does power lie in these networks, how closely do they reflect the stakeholder maps that underpin the modern trend for partnership delivery, and what can festival producers do to support a healthy social community around their events? Taking this a step further, albeit a big step, what characteristics does a festival city like Edinburgh have – what are implications for individual events, the wider festival economy/ies and policy makers?
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Image: ‘Connected: Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives’

Rhodri Thomas and the politics of events evaluation

Edinburgh Napier welcomed Leeds Metropolitan’s Prof Rhodri Thomas for a handful of sessions last week. Rhodri sits within the UK Centre for Events Management at Leeds Met, hosts of 2010’s Global Congress that I wrote about in these here posts.
Without repeating too much of the talk, the title ‘The Politics of Events Evaluation’ alluded to the role of academics and others in evaluating the apparent success of festivals and events. That while the terms of the debate have shifted towards measures of success that are often sold as objective, dispassionate and methodologically rigorous, the terms used are inherently political. ‘Investment’ is a loaded term and politicised at that, with the decision-making process often opaque.
The evaluation of events is now a justification of policy decisions by those in positions of power and those doing the research can be complicit in this.
There was discussion within the group of the ways the current orthodoxy within the literature promotes a particular agenda: that events are good for growth and good for development, these being defining objectives of the neo-liberal project. Academic texts which subscribe to this model are often very effective and well produced, though there will be some who don’t subscribe to the message being retold, who don’t share the same underlying presumptions. To many observers this is the language of the private sector being imposed on the public sector, in order to make sense of the awkward cost-benefit decisions that funnel money into circuses when others are losing their jobs.
My favourite line from the afternoon was that ‘this isn’t evidence-based policy it’s policy-based evidence’. The evaluation of events is shaped and guided by the need to support the decisions of those in positions of power and responsibility. Potentially a murky business.

England riots: an interactive timeline (guardian.co.uk)

The Guardian today released the first findings of its investigation into the riots which swept through some cities in England during the summer of 2011. More is to come, as they drill down into the data with a team of academics and other partners.

Regardless of the findings I’m interested in the time taken to explain the methodologies used, approaches adopted and the various ways in which the material is being used. Social media and its uses also feature, courtesy of researchers such as Farida Vis (who also has a book on the way on this very topic: http://researchingsocialmedia.org/ ). The resources pulled together for this are not at the disposal of independent researchers, just as it took a partnership approach for The Guardian and others to work on the large tranches of data released by Wikileaks in recent months. That said, the open approach adopted by such media organisations and others facilitates the work of others: we can all learn a lot, give a little in return through comments and wider discussion. The debate is therefore better informed and the methods discussed – ultimately gaining credibility in the process.

December catch-up: creativity applied conference (RSA, ICC, Creative Scotland, NESTA and others)

In the short lull between teaching and marking, when I should be working directly on my PhD research, I have a chance to write up some notes from a conference I attended on 21 November 2011: Adding Value – Creativity Applied. Held at the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh we heard from a  wide range of speakers, each reflecting on creativity and primarily in a Scottish context. Organisational thanks to the Royal Society of Arts MCICH and Institute for Capitalising on Creativity.
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Prof Georgina Follett (University of Dundee) spoke about the ‘Knowledge Exchange Hub: Design in Action’ that she heads up. It doesn’t appear to have its own site just yet… I’m sure that’s on its way. The agenda they’re following is to contribute to, perhaps help direct, a design-led network across the country, seeking to embed design and designers at the start of projects rather than calling them in for a lick of paint at the end. The KEHDIA project will adopt a sandpit approach, granting flexibility to contributors and hopefully facilitating connections and collaborations. This also a chance to free up intellectual property currently locked away in universities and ‘stuck in log jams’.

Jeremy Myerson’s talk, from the RCA in London, was less about the networks and more about designers. He emphasised that to a designer ‘a good problem is a gift’, something to be solved and improved. A nice quote was that designers have spent too much time thinking about their own problems, and should focus more on others. Reference was made to ‘The Problem Comes First’, an exhibition of work driven by the needs of users (such as paramedics). Time was spent looking at the globalising process of sending both the design and delivery of such ideas off-shore, meaning that designers increasingly need to pitch themselves as researchers as well. Towards the end of the talk Myerson discussed the relationship between designers and users, the advent of anthropometrics and his current drive to promote design by users. There are clear parallels here with events and festivals that are open to involvement from host communities and associated interest groups: what works for them and what are they interested in?

Roanne Dodds, from Mission, Models, Money, brought the focus onto the role of artists in creative ecosystems. She drew from work with Watershed in Bristol and recent work done by the International Futures Forum into that venue’s attitude towards innovation. What is needed to nurture these creative ecosystems? What works in particular environments? How can we break free from a society that only recognises a money economy: what of other economies, those which deal in other currencies, such as an economy of culture which uses a ‘currency of meaning’? …at the heart of such questions is the issue of value and the process of valuing creative work: 20th century methods of valuing work focus too much on financial methods. Networks and ecosystems were to the fore in this talk and are a driving motivation behind their work.

Rob Woodward, of STV and NESTA, talked about the latter’s creation in 1998 and its mission to ‘bring ideas to life and make innovation happen’. Available in the foyer were copies of their November 2010 report into ‘Creative clusters and innovation’. Woodward raised the problem of getting the creative sector to speak with one voice – although his broad definition of what constituted the creative sector made others question the likelihood, or worth, of attempting this. The problem however is the difficulty government sometimes has with relating to the sector as a result. Scotland received a good write-up from Woodward, with arts organisations north of the border seen as relatively effective in providing leadership to the overall economy in areas such as innovation: a multiplier effect for the whole economy. Edinburgh has been identified by NESTA as one of seven ‘creative hotspots’: hosting clusters of innovation that feed into the surrounding region. The potential now exists to exploit these clusters and try new ideas, such as ‘creative credits’ in Manchester. Woodward closed by emphasising that policy makers should provide the environment for such activity and ways to share knowledge.

Andrew Dixon, from Creative Scotland, drew on his time at NewcastleGateshead to talk about ‘packaging creativity’. Some of this talk reflected his lecture of this time last year. Speaking as perhaps the key public sector representative in the room Dixon emphasised the partnership approach, investment over grant funding, the acceptance of artistic creativity as a symbol of growing confidence and seeking to tap into existing expertise. The ten year aspirations of CS were focused on: Scotland as a festival nation; high levels of participation; recognition as a creative nation. Towards the end of his talk Dixon highlighted the work of Richard Florida, author of ‘Cities and the Creative Class’.
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Overall this was a packed afternoon’s work, which attracted an engaged and well connected audience. The themes of networks, cities, creativity, innovation and partnerships were present throughout, some of it with tangible research behind it while other contributions were comparatively conceptual and anecdotal. This reflects the fluid nature of such discussions and the importance of bringing people together to provide this mix – this was a creative meta network event therefore, discussing networks and creativity.

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