Category Archives: ideas

#10wos 03: Meta event (7-13 July 2014)

SNA detailFor the past few years I have been fortunate enough to attend some excellent academic conferences through the summer weeks. For 2014 I went one further and was on the organising committee for the 2014 LSA Conference, hosted by the University of the West of Scotland. My experience of conferences seems to have changed somewhat, for I didn’t leave this one with a raft of notes that I felt needed to be integrated into my modules. This time around it was more a case of hearing updates on a wide range of projects, research approaches and discussions. From David McGillivray’s (@dgmcgillivray) keynote on digital technologies and events, to Daniel Turner (@DanielTurner27) reflecting on Aberdeen’s experiences when bidding, unsuccessfully, for the 2017 UK City of Culture. Gayle McPherson (@gmp01) did a fantastic job as conference chair and it was great working with her and the rest of the team. Potential projects could follow, we’ll have to watch this space for more. Some slightly random notes from the conference follow in the bulletin points below.

Firstly though, I presented the fruits of some research the my Napier colleague Jane Ali-Knight and I have been doing with the Edinburgh International Science Festival. I’ve been talking about social network analysis for a number of years, but now have some actual data! Very exciting. The image that accompanies this post is from the resulting work: a close-up of what the SNA software (Gephi) has done to identify some communities within the overall population. I was happy with the way it went, though I probably spoke to quickly to try to cover everything I wanted to say. There were questions, interesting points raise and generally a successful proof of concept. The next step is to present the information to the Science Festival to see what they say.

Other conference contributors had this to say (with apologies if I’ve misrepresented or misinterpreted their work):

  • James Higham: 65,000 people went to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to watch Wales’s 2011 semi-final in the Rugby World Cup, even though the match was in New Zealand. The live audience was a capacity sell out, of just 60,000.
  • James Higham: challenges being faced by sports events today include the reproducibility and transportability of the event, so how can they stand out?
  • James Higham: sport has strengths in terms of authenticity – the competitors’ effort, uncertainty over the result, fans seeking unique experiences, co-creation opportunities, access to ‘back stage’ coverage.
  • James Higham: sports event administrators must make a choice between producing events which are footloose and transportable, or deeply rooted in local cultures.
  • Kath Woodward: on the topic of ‘time’ and the way events link past, present and future.
  • Kath Woodward: a sports event will look back to past records and competitions; to the present with the breaking of records and writing of new chapters; to the future with the qualification for tournaments and the accumulation of league points.
  • Kath Woodward: noted that she decided to write a text in real time during London 2012, which I did as well as it happens.
  • Debbie Sadd: reported on Bournemouth University’s FAME model for assessing events, linked to FestIM.
  • Debbie Sadd: they’ve been using social network analysis to pick out relational data in social media (Twitter) exchanges, based on Gephi and NodeXL software. Noted differences among events which manage to extend the social media conversation beyond the event itself.
  • David McGillivray: accelerated leisure in the digital age… seeing distinctions breaking down between work and leisure, with time and space no longer demarcated as once they were.
  • David McGillivray: there is a pressure on us to be connected, with digital communities increasingly focused on those we share physical proximity with as well.
  • David McGillivray: discusses the efforts of some event owners to try and protect their properties (and sponsors), alongside efforts of social media, Citizen Relay and Digital Commonwealth.
  • Daniel Turner: noting that Aberdeen doesn’t fit the bill of an industrial city now in decline, for it is wealthy; but it’s isolated with a transient population, many of whom go to London for their culture.
  • Daniel Turner: on Brighenti’s work on bidding for events (2005) – bids need to be (1) technically strong; (2) communication of the narrative is key, as is having a narrative; (3) lobbying is important to get support from stakeholders. Aberdeen suffered in these respects in its UKCOC bid, though there may be positive outcomes from defeat.
  • Dave O’Brien: ‘neoliberal’ is now a catch-all term, used by the left to describe and attack people they don’t like. As a concept it entails replacing political judgements with economic ones, manifested in monitoring, auditing and target setting.
  • Dave O’Brien: 2010… DCMS carried out a study into how it should operate, the result of which was a market based principle for justification of involvement in projects. Hard for both left and right to feel comfortable with this.
  • Dave O’Brien: so how else to value culture, other that woolly ‘it’s not economic’? 10 years of debate in UK has led to many documents and reports.
  • Dave O’Brien: ACE ‘Arts Debate’ (2006): pitched themselves as unique, with their research saying they were great! Heritage Lottery Fund: seeking to create evaluation framework… but how to measure intangible issues? Do any of these approaches produce the sort of data the Treasury wants?
  • Dave O’Brien: issues of both validity and reliability when measuring cultural value… the underlying questions are wrong and the tools available aren’t suitable.
  • Joe Aitken (GCMB; expert panel): cites ‘Strategic Major Events Forum’ as decision making forum for Glasgow. GCMB has policy of ‘people in, images out’ that underpins their work. Glasgow 2014 as part of a trend for the city, with past events over the years and much to come.
  • Paul Zealy (Glasgow 2014 ; expert panel): G2014 legacy is key and always has been. Economic legacy in contracts, apprenticeships, local training and future tourism. Regeneration also happening, though much is intangible. 10 year legacy research commitments have been made through ‘Assessing Legacy 2014‘.
  • Jill Miller (Glasgow Life; expert panel): decision was made to attract events in order to accelerate policy in a range of areas. Looks back to 1990 ECOC as helping to change attitudes. Glasgow has learnt lots from previous hosts and is passing this on to the next. Delhi handover as a dress rehearsal for working across all 32 local authorities. Anticipates £25m of value from £3.6m investment [not sure where this money is going, sorry].

Other points of note from the week included the conference dinner (taking place while Germany took Brazil apart in their World Cup semi-final) and the post-dinner ceilidh (which was very warm). Then conference drew to a close in time for me to get through to Edinburgh for a very enjoyable Creative Edinburgh ‘Glug: Haptic‘ event. All that’s left, as we progress towards Sunday evening, is to see if Germany can overcome Argentina in the World Cup final… quite a prospect for those travelling to Berlin the following day.

BUICE: International Conference on Events and AEME forum, Bournemouth University, July 2013


For three days in the hot July sun of Bournemouth event studies researchers, academics and industry professionals gathered for a broad and diverse mix of presentations, discussions and the occasional trip to the beach. You can read up on the BU conference coverage here (featuring a rapt audience listening to yours truly!), with further resources available via the conference Twitter feed. Many of the talks are on YouTube.

I’m going to publish four posts from the event, with three taken directly from the notes that I took during each day’s keynote talks and discussions (one, two, three). This post here is based around notes taken from some of the break out sessions and papers presented by participants and delegates. This one is also special because it features a photo of the beach and some blue south coast water.


Day one papers

Nigel Williams (Bournemouth University)

Nigel spoke on ‘3D Events’ and the role of social media. Much of his research is based on using social media data, which is cheaper and a way to show evidence of meeting event objectives. Social capital themes are present in his work, based around SNA analysis of maps, nodes, connectors and so on. Chosen focal festival was #LoveLuton, which had brought together existing and new events to create a new festival. Twitter was the chosen social medium, being the ‘most democratic’ and the assumed public nature of all open tweets – it was all therefore deemed to be available for use. Data was captured using Tweet Archivist and visualised using NodeXL. It enabled groups to be found and conclusions to be reached in relation to the festival’s stated goals. For the future it was felt that more tweets are including geographical data, enabling more complex analysis. In the Q and A ethics was discussed in relation to using these data; hashtags are apparently in decline; it is difficult to extract the ’signal from the noise’.


Katja Pasanan (University of East Finland)

Katja also looked at social media, specifically the ways in which it is used by festival managers in their new service development efforts. Social media enables customers to have a role in this NSD process, accelerating the process through engagement. Few festivals were seen to have a strategy however and marketing was their main use for s/m, rather that development work. Facebook is the most commonly used platform, but very little on Trip Advisor despite its importance to the tourism market.


Matt Frew (Bournemouth University)

Matt looked at Burning Man. We’re all going to burn…


Day two papers

Jenny Flinn (Glasgow Caledonian University)

Jenny looked at the Exit Festival and its role in re-imaging Novi Sad in Serbia. The research data came from press articles written about the festival since the 1990s, tracking its connection to images of Serbia and the Balkans in that time. As the country has opened up and perceptions have changed the festival has become more mainstream and no longer positions itself as a protest movement to the same extent. Coverage of the festival is also shifting, looking less at its past and more towards its future. In the UK press Exit is often presented as a cheaper and warmer alternative to British festivals.


Matt Frew (Bournemouth University)

Matt demonstrated the importance and validity of linking events research with well established theoretical works, such as Zizek, Bourdieu and many others that regularly feature in his work. The importance of technology – both to teaching and in our experiences of the world around us – was explored with great passion. A ‘hyper-experiential’ reality, going beyond Pine and Gilmour.


Raphaela Stadtler (Griffith University, Brisbane)

In her work Raphaela spoke about knowledge transfers within festival organisations, both formal and informal. Questions of how do you manage knowledge within such organisations, creating know-how and integrating documents, staff meetings, informal meetings and so on. This is the culmination of her PhD work, based on ethnographic data accumulated through time spent working for the Queensland Jazz Festival: the lived experience of a festival volunteer. As such she has been seeking to ‘make visible’ the standard practices engaged in by staff.


Day three papers

Robert Kielty (Glasgow Caledonian University)

Robert fronted a presentation that had been developed between a number of people, including Jenny Flinn. At its core is a story of the professionalisation of rugby union and the shifts in power, policy and politics that have accompanied it. The power of the ‘top eight’ nations is clear to see, leading to discussions about ‘scalar relations’ between the core and the periphery. Economically there is much to be said about the ways these top nations are seeking to keep the profits from the Rugby World Cup between themselves, so it will be interesting to see what happens with the upcoming Japanese RWC. Are they doing enough to keep the game visible after the Cup has been and gone?


For my own part I presented on the theme of social networks at cultural festivals. A PDF of the slides follows…


ICE2013 JARMAN Presentation PDF by davidjarman

Dutch lessons


In early July 2013 I did my first spot of external examining. For the uninitiated this practice is embedded in Higher Education: someone from outside the institution is invited to cast judgement on the methods and standards employed in the assessment of students. At Edinburgh Napier we ask our external examiners (who generally all work at other universities) to look at the module packs which underpin our modules (weekly topics, assessments, etc.), then to review a sample of the work which is produced by the students. All being well they will offer some comments and suggestions on the former, and agree the marks given to the latter. My inaugural experience of being the external was somewhat different however, with a variety of points worth picking up in case they have merit for others embedded in the UK system.

NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences is an institution with whom I’ve built up links over the past few years, as reported on this blog. They asked me to play a part in their end of programme assessments and flew me out to Breda for a couple of blissfully warm summer days to do so. I was involved in the assessment of four students who were at the end of their four year programmes. The closing assessment, worth 10 ECTS credits (one sixth of a year) worked like this…

  • The focus of the assessment was a one hour interview session, featuring the student, their thesis supervisor, the marker of their thesis and perhaps an external.
  • In advance of the session the student was asked to prepare four documents:
    • A short paper (perhaps 1,500 words) based on their thesis
    • A recent vacancy for a graduate level job that they feel capable of getting
    • A covering letter for their application to that job
    • A cv to go with the application
  • These documents are submitted well in advance of the interview and distributed to the panel.
  • At the start of the session the panel chair asks the student to get themselves set up, then to leave the room for a few minutes while the panel has a quick chat about the format of the session.
  • The student returns and gives a five minute presentation covering a wide variety of topics: their development over the course and some key ideas from their thesis predominate.
  • The student leaves again, there is a short discussion and often a provisional mark is awarded for what’s been seen thus far.
  • The student returns and a 30-40 minute interview-discussion is carried out, with different members of the panel having particular interests and perspectives. Themes from the written work and the presentation are developed further and the student is asked to develop a range of points.
  • The student departs again and the panel spends a few minutes reviewing the session and finalising the mark that’s to be awarded.
  • The student returns, reflects on how it went and is given their mark. If they passed then there are handshakes all round and the student has successfully completed their degree – they can only reach this stage if everything else is already under their belt.

The Dutch system has a ‘competencies’ based approach, with module through the course of the programme designed to develop different competencies from this list of ten. The closing session is therefore the student’s opportunity to demonstrate and argue that they are ready to enter the professional workforce, that they have identified their strongest competencies and can convey that information to others. From an industry perspective they therefore have a number of strings to their bow when presenting themselves for jobs and vacancies. They are also driven to contextualise the learning that they are doing within industries with which they are interested and familiar, and this applies across all four years of the programme.

Within the context of recent developments at Edinburgh Napier this has relevance to the more ‘programme focused’ approach that is being advocated from the university’s senior executive (and others). The students are encouraged to see all parts of their course as ultimately leading towards their employability, links are drawn between different modules, students are required to reflect upon their own development and they can see a final point towards which their degree is headed. That this whole process is credit bearing and a requirement for the successful completion of the degree is very important: their efforts are rewarded.

I enjoyed my time at Breda and I hope they ask me back next summer to do it again! The staff are engaged with the progress of the students and have a clear idea of where their strengths and weaknesses lie. I think it has benefits for the students, staff and the institution itself – maybe some of these strengths could be exported to Edinburgh in due course.


Another nice touch that I picked up from Breda related to dissertation supervision: as at Edinburgh Napier they have a system that in theory allocates a limited number of hours to each student for supervision, so why not put the onus on the student to decide how those hours are to be spent? How many meetings and of what duration; how many drafts and what level of detailed comments?

IMG_0752 IMG_0758 IMG_0760

The images are from the NHTV campus, showing some of the spaces in which both students and staff work. The exterior shot is of some expensive Dutch apartments nearby!

Culturing our Creativity: Edinburgh, 17 June 2013


Back in June 2013, some six weeks ago, I attended a one day conference for the creative industries, held at the lovingly restored Assembly Rooms on George Street, Edinburgh. This same venue is currently at the heart of a transformation to get it ready for the Fringe, which will also see most of the street closed off to traffic and given over to al fresco hedonism. We await the results of the bacchanalian town planning revolution.

My notes from the conference are brief but hopefully give a flavour of the themes being discussed on the day. The event was produced by AmbITion Scotland, among others, and further details are available from them just here.


Eleonora Belfiore (University of Warwick) opened the day to discuss ‘Reframing Cultural Value’. She hosts a blog with resources on ‘the #culturalvalue initiative’. Among the points made were that ‘cultural value’ is at the heart of policy decisions relating to the cultural sector, but that the debate was based on market logic. This logic now permeates a ‘marketing society’, seeping into previously market-free areas of policy and activity. This has introduced new characteristics to relationships between stakeholders, the public sector and so on. It also throws up issues of market failure, but in a social sense rather than economy. She cited FS Michaels as an exponent of the idea that an economic narrative is now dominant, with value established a measure of return on investment.

Belfiore commented that this has seen something of a de-politicisation of the value debates relating to the arts: arguments are not being made on the basis of intrinsic values, but rather technical questions related to ‘impacts’. This puts the arts and cultural sectors into the invidious position of attempting to argue their case in economic terms, but they fail to fully engage because their passion is elsewhere and ultimately they don’t really ‘understand’ the nature of the discussion. It’s a charade and audiences and agencies recognise this as well.

How then to reframe the arguments away from economics: It is necessary to ask and establish where the value lies for the wider public, how do they perceive and appreciate the arts? To also ask where in the arts ecosystem cuts can best be made, while maintaining the key elements of that system? To also ask what the arts are for, and ultimately who gets to decide? This is a strategic discussion calling for strategic vision, thinking further ahead. Fiona Hyslop’s speech has served to create a space in which we might have such a debate, to enable difficult questions to be asked and to show that Scotland is taking the debate into new areas compared to the rest of the UK.


The Art of Living Dangerously’ was introduced, a project being conducted within Scottish Higher Education and a report due for publication later in 2013. Among its themes are: risk, collaborations, spaces, sustainability, planning and power. Among the international comparisons being made is Denmark where a welfare system exists that supports artists, without stigma, incentivising work that can be toured. Policy ideas being suggested for the UK include a voucher system that could see venues and organisations competing for artists: the intention is to see a degree of power shifting to the artists as they then bring the money with them.


Ben Cameron spoke, bringing a strong New York accent to proceedings. He advocated the importance of having a clear strategic underpinning to creative industries organisations: a vision (on which such organisations tend to be quite clear); a mission (less clarity here); values (this is an area where organisations have a choice). He called for a form of ‘arts reformation’.


Bob Last discussed the concept of the ‘creative industries’ as a legacy of Chris Smith’s time in office during Tony Blair’s years. Part of a neoliberal project perhaps? The terminology enabled the merging of more art forms into a ‘one size fits all’ solution as far as policy makers are concerned, also leading to an ‘uncreative’ wasteland? In an era that demands evidence-based analysis, what happens when you are unable to produce the sort of clear-cut answers and evidence that is more readily available to others: the arts produce emotional outputs, rather than the clearer data associated with (e.g.) medical science.

Last proposed that the debate be framed around ‘intent’ rather than outputs. He also put forward the notion of ‘collective capital’ as something that the broader industry can invest into, if a way can be found to value it.


Hannah Rudman, of AmbITion Scotland and Envirodigital, introduced an explicitly ecological thread to the day. Her resources are available here: The environmental theme was linked to broader questions of justice, civil liberties, equality and so on. As such it was argued that although the creative industries may bear only a small responsibility for today’s environmental problems they can play a larger part in their solutions. Social media plays its part here too, enabling the social network to become visible around events, festivals, cultural organisations and so on – individuals are thus enabled, engaged, given agency and able to help establish norms for their communities. As a result practical steps such as car sharing and other sustainable practices gain a foothold. Rudman also advocated that artists engage with scientists in order to tell stories.


Questions to finish the day

A round of questions to a mixed panel finished off the day. Points to emerge included the idea that ‘everything’s now in play’ when it comes to funding: Kickstarter, etc. Such tools can also act as ways to encourage engagement with your work, for some they are a way in to particular arts-based professions. When it comes to public funding the point was made that organisations and individuals need to show that they can make work independently first – the public sector needs to have confidence that it is investing with some chance of success. It was felt that although artists have little problem arguing their case for what they bring to society the policy makers and funders are less clear on such points. Finally, the theme of ‘audience engagement’ was reframed as ‘who do we need to attend in order to make this event kick off?’ – a more targeted approach with rewards that benefit the event as much as the ‘desired’ audience.


Image: ‘Ceiling features, the Music Hall’  |