Tag Archives: networks

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.

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’.

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.


DREaM workshop one. (Part two of five events.)

I???m getting used to the idea that piecing together a PhD is likely to involve periods of thinking about all sections at once. Reading some expansive texts one day, which provide a theoretical context for ones ideas, is then followed by a day???s discussion and consideration of appropriate research methods. So it was that last week I attended the first of three workshops spanning the autumn to spring months under the DREaM banner: ???Developing Research Excellence and Methods???. At its heart this project is designed for Library and Information Science practitioners and researchers, but as one of my supervisors is a leading figure in the whole scheme I was grateful to have been notified of the events and very happy to attend.

There are three workshops, but they are bookended by two more conference-style events. There will be folk who attend every session, although special efforts have been made to treat workshop attendees as a cohort who will work together. Workshop one took place at Edinburgh Napier University, Craiglockhart Campus, on 25 October 2011.

I???m reluctant to write too much here when the whole DREaM project is deliberately placing a great deal of information online. Here, then, are some links:

DREaM home page, with background information about the project
DREaM online community, complete with video, slides and other material from the project
DREaM: event one (first conference, 19 July 2011; archived material available via the links here)
DREaM: event two (first workshop, 25 October 2011; archive material due soon…)

What I should write about however are the aspects of the day of greatest relevance to my research, which I???ll base around the three main visiting speakers that we heard from???

???Introduction to Ethnography???
Paul Lynch, Department of Management, University of Strathclyde

  • From a researcher???s perspectives, ethnographic techniques enable observation and analysis of a vast array of potential sources. It demands an awareness of ???personal reflexivity???, reflecting on whatever the observer brings to the table in terms of experiences, prejudices and so on.
  • The study of subcultures came into Paul???s talk and I was interested to see that they may be structured around both permanent/ongoing interests (clubs, fashions, etc.) or temporary phenomenon such as events (DREaM workshop participants, perhaps). It follows, therefore, that this has relevance for my festivals based interests, perhaps as an alternative to social capital as a binding theory?
  • As for research methods, from participant observation to documentary analysis, responses to observations are prioritised: recording comments while they???re fresh, drawing on almost anything that seems relevant to the research. There???s also plenty of merit in getting stuck in, living the life of the observed and thus gain plenty of first hand insights.
  • Data issues: avoiding contaminating the data is very important??? or at worst being aware of what???s happening if this occurs. So keep a diary for thoughts and reflections, distinguish between what???s presented as a public outcome from the research and what???s held back, consider focusing on cultures which are not too far removed from the researcher???s own.
  • When writing up key distinctions and perspectives occur: detachment / involvement; subjectivity / objectivity / insider / outsider.


???An Introduction to Social Network Analysis???
Louise Cooke, Loughborough University

  • Louise gave a very good introduction to a topic, and form of research, that I???m very interested in using. She also said that the need to perfect the maths involved is decreasing thanks to the tools now available.
  • After some definitions, about what constitutes a network and its constituent parts, we looked at some examples ??? complete with arrows to demonstrate the relationships between nodes. Those which demonstrated change over time were particularly interesting, showing how interaction over time between members of a community led to a much more complex and potentially rewarding set of relationships.
  • The ???strength of weak ties??? was drawn upon: those which help link one network to another, or provide some of Putnam???s bridging social capital perhaps. See Mark Granovetter (1973) for more on this.
  • Four key social network theories were discussed:
    • Small world phenomenon: akin to ???six degrees of separation???.
    • Strength of weak ties: from Granovetter.
    • Embeddedness: whereby a social network might be embedded in an organisation, yet not in a way that reflects the formal structure of the organisation.
    • Social capital: improve the network and you can improve the group???s effectiveness, building social capital; the particular conception of social capital being to be used is likely to be affected by the particular case you???re studying.
  • Within the conceptual discussions, some core concepts:
    • Directed and undirected network: with or without arrows.
    • Density and centrality: such as the proportion of possible ties that have actually been formed; then the centrality of a particular node in the overall network.
  • To some extent social network analysis was presented as a starting point: it can reveal relationships, but not necessarily say much about them, so more work is needed. This works well for me as I???m interested in change over time, over the course of a festival or event ??? further analysis can try to get the root of the changes that have been identified.
    • If problems are identified, what???s causing them?
    • Can SNA identify particularly effective communicators, or potential information bottlenecks?
  • As for gathering the data, online surveys were recommended, providing a nice spreadsheet for instant interrogation. That said, much data already exists, through emails, social media, group memberships and the like.
  • Software: UCINET was recommended as worthy of a look ??? it does much of the maths and it draws you some nice graphics.
    • There???s a free guide to SNA which uses UCINET, see Robert Hanneman at University of California.


???Introduction to Discourse Analysis???
Andy McKinlay, University of Edinburgh

  • Andy covered a lot of ground in his talk, which was somewhat truncated thanks to the extensive lunch: social networking in action.
  • He brought us back to thinking through the reasons for carrying out particular research, identifying four methods for devising research questions ??? each of which can spur considerations, thoughts, ideas for further investigation:
    • Obervation
    • Theory
    • Contingency
    • Communication
  • It was also apparent from Andy???s quick review of the Library and Information Science literature that a wide variety of topics and themes are covered within each field.
  • Discourse analysis: rich data from the media, documentary sources and primary research from the investigator. If it needs transcribing, do it.
    • To a large degree the discussion led on topics that are familiar to undergraduate dissertation research: carrying out interviews, focus groups and the like to gather data.
    • The use of ???convenience??? sampling, rather than ???randomised???, is another familiar approach.
  • Characteristics of the discourse were identified??? it may be…
    • Contextual
    • Rhetorical
    • Action-oriented
    • Constructed
    • Constructive
    • ???Andy???s slides go into depth on each of these.
  • Discourse analysis is therefore a means by which to identify and analyse what people say and some of the meanings behind it: why are they saying what they???re saying?
  • The qualitative approach helps retain more depth to the data, it gives it a voice in the research.


The workshop concluded with a discussion on research ethics, which clearly has considerable implications for the research methods listed above. This might be the decision to carry out covert ethnographic research, or the apparent need to know a lot about people in order to put together meaningful social network analyses.

I???m looking forward to the next workshop, which will be at the British Library in January. The topics covered will again be methods-focused, which is entirely appropriate as I put together the conceptual basis for my research ideas. The range of methods available, and their relative flexibility, should make for plenty of opportunities to carry out some innovative research in an dynamic field of the festival industry: engaging audiences and contributors for their benefit of all.

#SMWglasgow Social media, research, academia and industry

A week ago, while Edinburgh was enjoying one of its local holidays, I took the express train to Glasgow – partly for an Apple Store pilgrimage, partly to attend Jillian Ney’s (@jillneyblog here) session as part of Social Media Week. Glasgow was one of twelve cities to host events as part of this annual global project, the other European cities were Berlin, Milan and Moscow. As is the way of many events these days you can register your own event and join the official programme: part Fringe festival model, part unconference.

Jillian’s official blurb reads…

This event is designed to discuss the opportunities and issues in academically researching social media, and to provide a platform for fostering new research partnerships. The event is aimed at industry practitioners and final year, masters, PhD students, and researchers who are interested in driving forward valuable social media research.

That link between academia and industry is important in some of the arguments put forward:
  • Research based on social media is gaining credibility in the academic community.
  • Bringing academic rigour together with industry data and expertise can foster this.
  • There is currently a lack of academic literature which explores and develops these themes.
  • Also, there are a range of terms with competing and overlapping meanings: social media, Web 2.0, social content and so on.
  • There are opportunities and risks associated with borrowing theory from other fields, leaving ideas relatively untested for your purposes.
  • ‘The industry’ is often keen to get involved in academic research, but will come with its own agenda(s) and can quickly lose interest.

We were also joined by Prof Alan Wilson of University of Strathclyde Business School, who Jillian is working with. He focused on:
  • Establishing your perspective, for the purposes of your research: the user/consumer, or the corporate/organisation/industry side. What is it that each side is looking for? Do they really know what they’re doing?
  • Conference topics are increasingly focusing on:
    • trust – in the relationship between user and provider, between users and so on.
    • motivation – of all parties to get involved, share ideas and content, etc.
    • ethics – what sort of ethical considerations should we be having when researching social media content, using it in ways that weren’t intended by the creator?

The discussion developed from there, reflecting on the risk of researchers being exploited by industry partners, or taken off track by competing demands on their time. Likewise as the range of tools grows to extract social media content how to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ (or even identify which is which). The usual mantra applies that researchers need to justify just about every decision they make.

The event was held at the KILTR HUB, a space down a lane, opposite Stereo (and I believe managed by them and their partners). One result of my trip was signing up to KILTR, Scotland’s own social network. It’s all about the connections after all.

(I have pinched the image below from a Facebook event and I hope I don’t get into trouble for this. Also below is the reference list from my PhD proposal.)


In response to Eli Pariser and online ‘filter bubbles’.

In The Observer on Sunday 12 June, Eli Pariser sets out a vision of the web which is heavily influenced by the information we submit each time we visit a site, carry out a Google search and otherwise give away a little bit more of ourselves and our interests. In a passage from the article, which itself an extract from his new book, Pariser discusses three aspects of the ???filter bubble??? which surrounds each of us each time we go online. My comments below seek to discuss the bubble in relation to attendance at festivals and events, such that they also provide us with a distorted reality for the period in which we engage with them. The closing paragraphs seek to extract some value out of this comparison, for event producers their audiences and collaborators, and other stakeholders they seek to involve in their events.

Link: Pariser’s Observer article.

???An invisible revolution has taken place is the way we use the net, but the increasing personalisation of information by search engines such as Google threatens to limit our access to information and enclose us in a self-reinforcing world view, writes Eli Pariser in an extract from The Filter Bubble.???


1. ??????you’re the only person in your bubble. In an age when shared information is the bedrock of shared experience, the filter bubble is a centrifugal force, pulling us apart.???

Live events can help overcome this, for they bring us together and provide opportunities for discussion, dispute and agreement??? but at least all attendees are in the same space and contribute to the debate. This could be a cultural performance, a corporate conference, community festival or collaborative happening. Each person???s contribution will necessarily vary, whether delineated along the lines of performer/audience, or something more akin to the Belbin test. Whatever the form of event, whatever your contribution, the in-person event is one which individuals can experience unmediated by the cookies on their browser and the constraints of their social networking site of choice.

2. ??????the filter bubble is invisible. ???Because you haven’t chosen the criteria by which sites filter information in and out, it’s easy to imagine that the information that comes through a filter bubble is unbiased, objective, true. But it’s not. In fact, from within the bubble, it’s nearly impossible to see how biased it is.???

The bubble shapes the environment in which we navigate the web and on which we make our choices: forms of entertainment, consumption choices and political opinions. It would disingenuous of me to propose that live events overcome this when so many are openly predicated on achieving those same goals: the Virgin-sponsored music festival; the slick Apple product launch; political rallies demanding revolution. Then there are the events which belie their deeper meanings and wider implications: witness the London Olympics and the work behind #media2012 to explore that festival in all its guises.

My scratch (naive?) argument here is that these events are generally less surreptitious in their attempts to shape the audience/consumer experiences. The savvy consumer buys into a festival or event knowing that the producer is trying to elicit a particular set of responses, many of which are perfectly agreeable to the consumer ??? else why engage in that transaction? Pariser???s argument above is based on the premise that we aren???t aware of these influences online and there???s little we can do to engage in that discussion. But with the Virgin festival we can react against excessive branding; Apple???s commercial message may or may not appeal and we can vote with our wallets. In a democratic society public funding is arguably relatively transparent in its support of particular events-based projects, with funding application forms and mission statements transmitting the values and goals of government agencies. Either way, the event attendee can target the producer and their funding partners with their questions and concerns, engaging with and interrogating the event bubble.

I tempered the paragraph above with a suggestion that the views are ultimately naive, whether through poor analysis of the information available, lack of appreciation for the deeper motivations of those guiding the events industry or in the degree to which consumers are indeed savvy in their choices. An alternative set of arguments, which reflected the altered reality of events and thus the ways we let our guards down and become open to covert messages, are equally appealing. So how should these views be reconciled: through a recognition that each event has the potential to build an exploitative bubble around its contributors, but that not all do? Perhaps, but then maybe each event is in fact part of a much grander project that few of its stakeholders are aware of.

3. ??????you don’t choose to enter the bubble.???

Pariser???s third argument is that in many instances the filters we view life through are actively chosen by us, ???you can guess how the editors’ leaning shapes your perception. You don’t make the same kind of choice with personalised filters. They come to you??????. The majority of events and festivals need some of this buy-in from audiences and contributors, hence an engagement with the objectives of the event and a choice about whether or not to engage: to buy the ticket, to sign up to the workshop, to march with the protestors. Very few events demand our attention as free agents: an employer may require ones presence at a training event, but a gig in a local club can pass us by unnoticed. The exceptions include events which visit us, landing in our neighbourhood and imposing themselves on our route to work and perhaps breeching the peace of a good night???s sleep. They also include revolutions and large scale happenings which capture the media???s attention (both traditional and ???new???): choosing to ignore half a year of protest and violence in north Africa and the Middle East, or a Royal Wedding, isn???t easy to do regardless of one???s engagement with society at large. The extent that an event is a bubble, shaping the information that reaches us, is one which we ??? generally ??? choose to enter.


But why put forward these arguments here: after all, Pariser isn???t arguing about what it???s like to go to a concert or an agricultural show. It???s several months since Rohan of the Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab put forward arguments on why the Edinburgh festivals are like the web, a theme he later explored at South by Southwest I believe. In a similar vein a comparative piece on the issues identified with modern web culture, placed alongside the experience of attending festivals and events, can help identify areas where they can enhance each other and the value users derive from engaging with either. The value to event producers of this approach is that potential concerns or opportunities can be identified and managed ??? the extent to which visitors feel exploited, or the authenticity of event is questioned, perhaps.

Pariser is encouraging us to question the honesty of the web, both in terms of the companies we engage with online and the degree to which the search results we view are ???true??? or limited thanks to our web history. Can some of this mistrust be overcome by in-person meetings? He draws on Putnam???s Bowling Alone for an analogy of where ???every
body expected??? the internet to take us: to the town hall meetings that Putnam felt were important in generating the ???bridging capital??? which binds a disparate society together. Instead we are shepherding in as much ???bonding capital??? as will squeeze into an online session: we associate with folks like us and to a larger extent than before, not so much destroying the disparate and complicated public space as neglecting it to wither away. We fail to engage and therefore we and our society are diminished as a result.

Pariser???s closing paragraph:
If “code is law”, as Creative Commons founder Larry Lessig declared, it’s important to understand what the new lawmakers are trying to do. We need to understand what the programmers at Google and Facebook believe in. We need to understand the economic and social forces that are driving personalisation, some of which are inevitable and some of which are not. And we need to understand what all this means for our politics, our culture and our future.

The internet and live events bring people together as a result of similar forces, arguably fostering the forms of capital discussed here and suffering the same limitations in terms of engagement with the public sphere. To what extent does our modern culture, which champions social media and social gatherings, reinforce our predilection for bonding capital at the expense of the more nourishing bridging capital which can bring powerful benefits to the individual and society? What are the implications of this for event producers, policy makers, marketers, the third sector and socially connected individuals like you and me in the network city?

Parallel discussions.

Another week and another slew of podcasts down the wires from the RSA. Of note to me recently has been the discussions that focus on some of my favourite themes, yet apply them to subjects other than events. Two of note have been:

As it happens both of these discussions are built around religious focuses, primarily Christian as Loyd puts forward the idea that churches are the natural home of the Big Society (which others point to libraries, schools, etc.). It is while listening to these discussions and other such podcasts that I propose to myself swapping out the <place> or <faith> or <building> and inserting <event> or <festival>. The common themes of community, identity, power, network and capital are pretty clear to see. That they are often linked to online relationships and the achievement of shared goals further convinces me that there’s merit in this work.

Can I yet sum up my proposal in a pithy aim? How about an investigation into… the impact of communications technologies on the live event and festival experience, reflecting on the development of communities, social networks and social capital as a result of these forms of interaction.

Re-engaging with my research plans.

I’ve been starting to get back into the PhD mindset of late. Much as I’ve enjoyed a lot of the marking I’ve been doing of late it’s refreshing to be able to think creatively for a while: retaining a critical approach, but being less judgemental. My supervisory team is coming together in the background, but in the mean time I presented to Edinburgh Napier Business School’s annual research conference today. I found myself mixed in with some final year DBA students, but they (and the audience) were welcoming and generally kind.

First up was the latest iteration of my ‘background ideas and inspiration’ Pecha Kucha, first presented last December. As is often the case only a minority of the audience were aware of PK, so the concept of managing that amount of visual information is to some extent a novel one ??? fortunately zoo TV and ever-diminishing attention spans have us well trained. It seemed to go ok and my narrative kept pace with the pictures. I like this form of presentation and I hope it survives beyond a point where the novelty wears off, maybe only then will it be fully exploited and the truly creative work will come out.

The second part of my session was built around a one-slide ‘poster’. This was therefore a trial run for a conference presentation I hope to give in Aberdeen on 19 June: iDocQ is being hosted by Robert Gordon University and ‘is an opportunity for new researchers working in the field of information science to present their research to their peers and gather feedback on their ideas’. That all sounds good to me and was suggested by one of my putative supervisors, which is always a reasonable place to start. The idea is to produce a poster, to which each contributor will talk for 10-15 minutes… but the posters will be projected on to a screen, so there’s only so much detail that can be included. After a few iterations I have something which covers key aspects of my proposal and I hope will hold up in an environment where others have more to say. Today’s evidence suggests I should be ok, that there’s enough on the slide to talk about and for people to understand what I’m trying to do. Certainly there’s enough there for people to say afterwards: ‘nice ideas, but you need to find a closer focus’!

That’s all fine, so I’ll keep turning up at conferences with my novice hat on to pick up ideas and gather the thoughts of others. Once iDocQ has passed I’ll stick the poster up on here ??? until then it’s still a work in progress, afterwards I can work on the next draft, and the next… (repeat to fade).

The Net Works ??? 100% Open


As I’ve always said, this blog is written largely for me. A place to record thoughts, experiences and progress. But it’s also where I keep useful links with a little comment as well: a more engaging Delicious perhaps. So here’s a link, tucked under the image above, to a Roland Harwood (@rolandharwood) post on networks. My comment is to suggest that I read it again the future and if I encourage others to have a look as well that’s all fine by me.