Tag Archives: thersa

The Ragged University Library and my contribution: ‘Connected’ by Christakis and Fowler

Alex Dunedin from @raggedtalks asked me to contribute a volume suggestion to the Ragged University Library. …it’s easy enough to write that, but worth a little more explanation. Alex is someone I met through The RSA, that most well connected corner of civil society with its 260 year history as a ‘think and do tank’. As for the Ragged University, to quote from their site…

‘The idea is to update the philanthropic history of the Ragged Schools and aim to bring about the same pragmatic changes that helped build the social fabric of the United Kingdom. Technically, the Ragged project seeks to create and reveal inclusive forms of Social Capital using free knowledge exchange and building as a lens.’

Please follow the link for more – not so much to read my small contribution as to look through the wealth of information, events and resources available to all via the site:

David Jarman, Edinburgh Napier University suggested Connected as a book.

Then spread the word!

The RSA Scotland 2013 annual conference: 26 September, Scottish Parliament

Over the past few years I’ve benefitted a great deal from being part of The RSA and am now on the team that coordinates much of the Society’s activities in Scotland. This includes the annual conference, which took place on Thursday 26 September 2013 in the Members’ Dining Room at the Scottish Parliament (a very nice space indeed). A Storify of the evening’s activities follows, as compiled by @JamieACooke.

(Should the embedded Storify not display properly you can find it here.)

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.
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?
Image: ‘Connected: Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives’

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.


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.

Open innovation.

Inspace, housed within the University of Edinburgh, has hosted a number of events that I’ve enjoyed over the past year – from mushroom-inspired improvised music to film screenings. On Wednesday 23 February I attended an ‘openness’ discussion: open innovation, open data, collaborations, etc. Lead organisations were Amb:IT:ion Scotland and the Festivals Lab. The event was also streamed live online, to people such as David McGillivray who has posted a thorough and thoughtful response on his blog.

Maybe you didn’t have to be there, man.

The venue is a few yards from Appleton Tower, which hosts Fringe Central during August and therefore the Fringe Society’s AGM. There was a tangible shift in attitude towards opening up data between the two events, with lead contributors to the more recent discussion much more enthusiastic. Of course, that also reflects the different relationships that exist between the people concerned and the data at hand: one lot are ready and willing to get stuck into playing with the numbers, locations, bits and bytes; the other have business decisions to make, bills to pay and stakeholders to satisfy.

I left the meet up with optimism that more organisations will take hold of the opportunities that freeing up their data makes available to them, so long as it is managed and controlled to their best advantage. David’s subsequent blog also applies these ideas to the Higher Education sector, including the idea of ‘Learning and Teaching Innovation Labs’ within institutions: I think this is a fantastic idea, but would caution that it may need to have its roots at a very local level, so that academics can see what’s being done by their immediate contemporaries. Nicholas Christakis has taught us of the power of networks, so the best way to do something really innovative and open in education is to seek out those who have already picked up the ball and started running.

Image: ‘The Secret Sounds of Spores Spectacular! – Fri 21 January 2011 -0339’


London dispatch: proposal feedback.

Travel chaos has blown a cool breeze through Britain’s festive spirit of late, with folks trapped at Heathrow and many more forced into extended circumnavigations of broken railway paraphernalia.  I suffered from the latter on my way down from Edinburgh, but this barely put me out and gave me a chance to catch up on podcasts during the way down to London: I’ve made it through worse.

And after a 24 hour stay in snowy Kent I’m now at RSA House: my premiere, some say inaugural, visit to the home of the Society.  Very smart it is too, from the perspective of the Fellows’ Library, several feet below ground level.  I’ll come back when there’s an event on to take in the splendour of the upper floors.  (There’s a bar too, you say… oh, well, if I must.)


Last week was my chance to present some PhD ideas to colleagues and generally it went OK.  There were technical issues to start: we changed rooms, fiddled with projectors and such like.  But I spoke, people stayed around and listened, and suggestions were put forward.  The need for greater focus and a solid theoretical base were recognised by one and all it seemed, with the following floated as possible avenues for further thought:

  • consumer behaviour > leading to consumption
  • knowledge management
  • relationship marketing
  • co-creation
  • social media > leading to innovation
  • social capital > leading to social modelling and socialisation

Now, I made the point during the presentation that I was keen to keep this research on a broader footing than marketing… but I think this probably shows up my ignorance of what marketing means and the breadth of topics and themes it can encompass.  My written proposal (submitted on Monday this week, just making the pre-Christmas deadline) focuses on social capital and social networks, which one reader of said proposal felt came across more cohesively in the written text than anything else up to that point.  I therefore feel pretty confident that the proposal itself is sound, with plenty of potential alternatives should my supervisory team and I feel they would be more appropriate.

And speaking of supervisors there’s a chance of an external supervisor who would be very good to work with – Scottish based too.  This has come partly from the Perth conference last week (which other people have written about too) and partly because I’ve started tracking #media2012: a UK-wide effort to encourage and enable public participation with the 2012 London Games, through social/open media.

A fruitful week all told, which led to a healthy discussion on Twitter during my journey south – all power to the iPhone for keeping me connected through the snowy fields.

And with that I’m going to sign off for Christmas.  It’s been a busy year, with an increased teaching load and more students on my programmes.  More productive too I hope, with several different projects on the go.  The next 12 months will hopefully see some progress into my research themes, some pictures on the wall in my dining/spare room, and continued good times in Edinburgh and beyond.

Happy Christmas to one and all.