Archives for category: CIKTN

For so many reasons, 2015 was a watershed year for Turner Hopkins. It’s certainly been an enormously busy one, and one inevitable consequence of that has been that we’ve not been posting here as regularly as we’d previously done. A couple of years back we might have panicked a little about that; after all, a strong social media presence and an active blog are surely part of the toolkit for self-respecting digital media specialists, right? Too true, but we’ve come to cut ourselves a little slack on the issue, and accepted that living through interesting times often means you don’t have much time – or energy – to write about them. We’ve also been spending more time communicating through our newsletters – which if nothing else puts us on-trend! Anyway, enough post-rationalising, and on with the review.

It’ll be more than apparent to regular visitors here that Angel Academe, in all its guises, has been the dominant force in our lives for the last year. Here’s the 2015 round-up Sarah included in her most recent AA newsletter:

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Wow, what a year! We’ve made 7 investments with several other deals in the pipeline. The amount raised so far this year is nearly double our 2014 total and from double the number of investors. Many of the women and men investing were making their first angel investment, so congratulations to them as well as everyone else taking part. 

We received and reviewed well over 500 applications to pitch to us this year from a very wide range of women-led technology businesses: from big data to healthtech, fintech and ecommerce. Of these, 15 passed our 3-stage screening process and then pitched at one of our “Studio” events attended by more than 80 angelinvestors over the course of the year.

We also ran 2 Investor Academe sessions, our half day investing workshops, with 25 of our angels as well as bite-sized Tax and Legal Academes prior to the last 2 Studio events.

Our second Entrepreneur Academe cohort has just graduated, taking the number of women founders we’ve mentored to over 50. We ran 12 mentoring sessions this year and, now that the City of London has confirmed sponsorship for next year, we’re in planning mode for 2016. 

In the summer we were honoured to received the UKBAA’s Angel Syndicate of the Year and last month we picked up Funder of the Year in the TechCities Awards.

But it’s not all been about Angel Academe, as we continued our broader-based strategic work for a range of both new and returning clients. Here are some highlights.

The BBC Academy invited Simon to curate two whole days of workshops for the organisation’s leadership, looking at various aspects of the digital landscape. We took on a pretty wide perspective, looking at issues as diverse as managing teams through disruption, “intrapreneurship”, new ways of conceiving and delivering concepts and the role of data in content personalisation and recommendation. We were particularly pleased to able to draw on our wider network to bring new faces into to the BBC, including Friday’s Anno Mitchell, Ramona Liberoff and Abundance Generation’s Louise Wilson. Our thanks to everyone who gave up their timely freely to make these days so successful.

As part of the sessions, Simon delivered a two-hour masterclass looking at his pet topic of the last few years (one which he’s since reprised for the BBC College of Journalism): how to become more personally and professionally effective in the face of potentially constant digital distraction. The sessions mixed theory with practical application and were of course highly interactive, and it’s fascinating to see the degree to which many highly experienced, capable and often brilliant people are really struggling to avoid distraction in their work.

We continued our ongoing relationships with several governmental groups, including UKTI, Innovate UK and the KTN, with work ranging from inward investment to funding competition design and general research. And of course, we continued to work with various other areas of the BBC, including the Market Engagement Team, for whom we delivered a set of detailed case studies.

We were also delighted to hook up with a couple of old friends and former colleagues.

Simon and Marc Jaffrey, OBE, worked together a decade and a half back at the BBC. A genuine polymath, Marc is currently consulting on a fascinating project running in our home town of Brighton and Hove. Our Future City is looking at the impact of education and the arts on young people in the city and kicked off the year with a series of workshops mapping out the terrain. Marc asked Simon to come along and provide a “provocation”; the result was a 20-minute tirade outlining his worries about young people and technology. You can read Simon’s presentation in full here – if nothing else it really was a provocation. In any case, we’re delighted to say that we’re continuing to work on the programme in 2106.

It was also good to be working once again with the pioneering British internet outfit state51, on whose behalf Simon attended Forum Europe‘s Future of Digital Content and Services conference in Brussels.

We’ve read a lot between us over the year, but a handful of books stand out with regard to digital technology:

We continue to get most of our news from two principal sources (ones with mercifully international perspectives): The Economist and The BBC World Service. But of course the podcast continues its inexorable rise and rise and several have been mainstays for us over the last year, including:

And finally, cultural highlights of the year have included Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne, Brecht and Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the ROH, Purcell’s Indian Queen at the ENO, and three standout visual art shows: Magnificent Obsessions a the Barbican, The World Goes Pop at the Tate and Joseph Cornell – Wanderlust at the V&A. And we’ve been delighted to witness the thriving of Jazz in the Round, the monthly show put on at the Cockpit in Marylebone by our good friends at Jazz on 3.

So that’s been our 2015. We wish everyone a thriving, prosperous 2016 and look forward to seeing many of you throughout the year.

Sarah and Simon

 

 

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This is the second part of a lengthy and detailed conversation with Dan Simmons, done on behalf of the Knowledge Transfer Network. In the previous post, Dan discussed his background in the record industry and how it led him to conceive and then found “a record company for ideas”: Propelia. In this second half Dan talks about his work with one of the company’s roster of “pathfinders”: Robert Rowland Smith.

Constellations

Around the time that I started Propelia I met the philosopher Robert Rowland Smith, who is also a blue chip consultant and a best-selling business author. Robert had come across the workshopping process known as Constellations, a modern adaptation of a Zulu process that draws on the collective unconscious of a group and in doing so enables “a different form of knowing”. After attending sessions as a participant, had become a practitioner.

I was immediately, intrigued: why is this Oxford Don doing this? He doesn’t need to, it’s not exactly glamorous’ so I went to this little church hall with 15-20 people to watch a session. The participants sat in a semi-circle and Robert asked who would like to “constellate” something. Someone would bring up an issue or problem and Robert organised the group to represent different aspects of the issue. I got it straight away: you can feel the system at work, you can feel the information. Robert’s job is to orchestrate it then simply keep it moving, albeit with an agenda. But essentially, it takes on a life and form of its own.

Moving beyond ideas

This was brilliant, but how could you bring this into the innovation mix? What we’ve done since at Propelia is help develop a philosophical position for Robert: that we are going beyond the age of ideas. Everyone is now saying that ideas are no longer enough. The situation in France is not a new idea (we discussed the post-Charlie Hebdo dialogue in the last part); what Robert is saying is that we still need transition and change but it’s going to be about this interlocking forms and different assumptions. What is the new form of knowing? And how do we bring this new form of knowing into the innovation process?

The Ovation

Having helped set out Robert’s stall, we’ve launched something called The Ovation. (In the word “innovation” you’ll find the word “ovation”). The Ovation process is based on Constellations and is aimed at driving innovation by looking to ask and approach questions no-one else it looking at. It’s about finding what we call “the Ovation moment”; once you’ve have found that ovation moment, you can go back to the innovation process and you can begin to build strategy around it. Robert has actually written a book called The Reality Test which about is the limits of reality and how reality rarely meets strategy or innovation.

We spent 12-18 months writing a simple blueprint for bringing out innovation through knowing and allowing the system to tell you where that knowing is. Because that’s not always clear.  What we’re doing with Robert is trying to bring him into that space and present him as someone that can prepare you for innovation (and by extension save a lot of money, time and heartbreak).

Look at Kodak: utterly dominant in their field and unable to survive the noughties as they didn’t know what questions to ask – they didn’t know where to look for their collective knowing. Kodak could have been a travel company who helped people “find the moment”, rather than taking a picture of the moment. They could have said, we know how to find the moment, let us find it for you. Or another approach: these days people don’t have photographs that they keep, and they are losing their photographic memory; how much more valuable would Kodak have been if they’d addressed – and even owned – that problem?! What Robert is saying you have to give birth to things you don’t understand fully.

Spreading the message

We are now talking to three brand agencies that want to be involved with this type of leadership and enable it with their resources. At present we have no competitors; we have 2-3 good years in us to create a bit of magic because I know I will wake up one morning and know I can’t do it anymore: that I’ll no longer feel relevant. I always want to get out while I’m ahead. We’re doing a multi-pronged attack, going in at a very senior level where Robert will examine a breakthrough and how it has been understood and look at that as a lesson about how breakthroughs come about.

We’re also working with a magazine called Formula Life that serves a very high net worth readership. We’re using the magazine to showcase Robert and the Ovation process, through boutique, bespoke offers to their readers. For example £5K will get you three sessions in iconic locations like Abbey Road or Darwin’s House; Robert will talk about the theory and ally it to the location, and use that location as a catalyst for new thinking – for new knowing.

We also want to align ourselves with a big innovation project, with one key partner that gets where Robert is coming from. Oh and of course I want him on the cover of GQThe guy who’s thinking of and practically approaching breakthrough in a completely different way, that’s where I want him to be.

Thanks to Dan for the considerable time he gave for this interview and for taking yet more time out to check through the transcripts.

Simon

 

 

On behalf of the Knowledge Transfer Network, I’m currently doing research around cross-innovation, asking: how does collaboration between different sectors and disciplines drive innovation? And more specifically, how can Creative Industry practice provide innovation in non-CI arenas? I’ve been talking to a range of practitioners in the field, and over the next few weeks will be showing how artists, creative strategists and digital technologists are working in fields as disparate as health, transport, policing… and on and on.

This is the second of those interviews, with Dan Simmons discussing the fascinating Ovation approach to innovation. It was a pretty discursive chat and I’ve tried to preserve that spirit here. In part 1 Dan talks about the founding of his agency Propelia; in Pt 2 he discusses his work with “practical philosopher” Robert Rowland Smith and the creation of the Ovation. Here then, is part 1. Take it away, Dan.

The sui generis Marilyn Manson

It starts with Marilyn Manson, as every story should. While I was really still a kid I did loads of work experience at record labels and eventually blagged my way into a really good gig at MCA/Universal – and specifically Interscope. I got given the rock repertoire to market internationally as their artists were emerging in the States; like I say, a great gig for a 21/22 year old kid.

These days everyone talks about being a brand, but back then – ‘96/’97 – it wasn’t so common. Now on meeting Manson it was immediately apparent that this was a very smart guy who knew exactly what he was doing. I was there when the Columbine thing happened; the media and the authorities alike wanted to pin it on him. If he’d inflated it they would have really gone for him, but he handled himself superbly. Anyway I was there as his shows grew from small venues to stadiums and I saw his art grow and grow.

I also got to work a little bit with Tony Wilson, a guy who carried his history with him, of course. But whatever worked for him the first time round wasn’t going to work the second. It was quite sad because people really wanted it to work; this was Tony Wilson after all. Interscope paid a fortune for his label (the Factory reboot “Factory Too”) so they were invested, but it ultimately it wasn’t worth it.

So I began to mull over this idea that there are some groups that cannot do it again: look at McCartney. But for a while, these stars burn really brightly. This is when I hit upon the notion for a record label for ideas. What would happen if you took the alchemy of a record company and applied it to ideas? What kind of magic would emerge? But for while, this remained just an idea.

Moving on from the record industry… and into digital

This was also the time the web was starting to happen and is was obviously an interesting place. I spoke to a small number of people at Universal to put some budget towards as this was the future. I spent a year doing that but struggled to get traction so then moved on. I helped set up an early music search system (remember, this was before iTunes). But what really fascinated me was how you could open up new market spaces and how a small group of people could create really big things. Again: it might not last long, but if you get it right you can have a massive impact.

On Blue Ocean Strategy

I worked with just two others to set up an email service. Our whole thing was: “why aren’t emails branded?” So from here on out I had a career effectively running my own little marketing agency’ which then went on to help form the Email Marketing Association. And over and over I was dealing with the same issues: the right timing, the right market, the right brand, and the right IP. I really got into Blue Ocean Strategy. In fact I think that it’s formed 90% of my thinking. In a nutshell, most companies try to innovate within a red ocean: price, incremental innovation, positioning, and so on. The blue ocean is where you burst through all of that that and you change the parameters so much that your product exists in its own space. Take Cirque du Soleil. The circus is tried and tested with hundreds of years of tradition, right? Along comes CDS: it has its own space, its own audience, its own price point and it completely blew circus apart with changes in demographics, pricing, you name it. Again, that’s what Manson was trying to do, to move into a category of one.

I tried to bring that kind of thinking into areas as diverse as festivals, agriculture, leisure, brands and music. I lived in Australia for a time and I took a massage company into pubs and clubs with a pay-what-you-want model. The company went from the front room of a flat to being one of the biggest providers of massage in Australia! I like that environment, that kind of growth: it always fascinates me.

That “record company for ideas”

So I’d been doing this and running my little agencies; and I’d developed a social media platform, showing how to use social media to be a micro broadcaster. And then my sister -Rachel Botsman – was asked to write her first book for Harper Collins. As she was completing the drafts she realised she wanted to unpack it into a brand and launch strategy and asked me to become involved, which I did and got her to the first TED talk on what became the currently £9bn valued Sharing Economy.

Anyway, the first book came out and it went nuts. I saw my sister break like an artist, going from being sustainability consultant to a public speaking superstar in just a few months, and that’s when my mind went “hold on a second, this record label of ideas is happening with my sister!”

So at that point I wrote to TED and asked them how many talks they did and it turned out is was about 20,000 a year! That’s just one provider – think about all the other platforms for lectures and presentations – for ideas! And yet all these people with big ideas don’t have agencies. No-one is servicing them like a record labels or publisher would, or for that matter as a modelling agency would. Someone needs to identify the best in the market, help develop them conceptually and then commercialise them.

That’s why I founded Propelia. I was fortunate to be introduced to the founders of a big speaker bureau who gave Propelia its first investment and from there on out it happened really quickly as they also helped Propelia get its first clients.

What we needed to work out was how you take individuals at the top of their game – We’re not looking for the leader who shouts the loudest – and find a consistent journey for someone who is (necessarily) continually changing and growing. We’ve developed a process to look at this journey and help analyse it.

Looking for new kinds of (thought) leaders

What’s interesting to me is that the model – and the look and feel – that weirdly I thought would be at Universal (and wasn’t) is here, not least in the diversity of people with whom we work.

One of the pleasures of the work is consistently meeting fascinating people at the top of their field or sector. For instance, this week I was with an activist called Lisa Ma. It was only our first exploratory meeting with her but she is looking at activism in another way. We discussed everything from Occupy to the Charlie Hebdo protests and she has a view that chimes with me: that these movements contrast with a complete lack of leadership in modern political, academic or business life. We live in an age clearly of uncertainty and transition; leaders need to be highly flexible but this tendency is restricted by our class and the political systems.

We also need leadership in “digital” – things need to be lead and indeed be steered. I think it can all be morphed into a new type of leadership that can handle the ambiguity of modern life. This isn’t built on theory; I’ve spent my last 15 years immersed in it, I’ve invested in it, I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve learned from them. So to me I it’s fascinating to see the shrinking of one style of leadership on one hand and the emergence of a new one on the other.

We call these new kind of leaders pathfinders. A path finder is a thought leader who is able to ask for help. We’re working with leaders who see an opportunity to morph and see that this needs a whole team of people to bring this about. It goes back to Marilyn Manson for me: the creation of a punk ecosystem that’s compelling and interesting, dynamic and relevant and complex and not in any way patronising. So all of our clients, who as I say all come from divergent bases, and might appear random, nonetheless all reflect this ethos. We’ve never done any PR on it, but the interestingly they all talk to each other because they’re all woven from the same cloth, looking for people to take us over a transition.

In part 2, Dan discusses his collaboration with Robert Rowland Smith, the Ovation.

Simon

On behalf of the Knowledge Transfer Network, I’m currently doing some research on around cross-innovation, asking: how does collaboration between different sectors and disciplines drive innovation? And more specifically, how can Creative Industry practice provide innovation in non-CI arenas? I’ve been talking to a range of practitioners in the field, and over the next few weeks will be showing how artists, creative strategists and digital technologists are working in fields as disparate as health, transport, policing… and on and on.

First up, the Jo White of Rhythmix in Brighton introduces the work of Wishing Well, bringing muic and sound design into hospitals across the region. What follows is a lightly-edited transcription of a long and in-depth conversation Jo and I had a couple of weeks back, touchin on her background, the formation of Rhythmix and then a detailed look at how Wishing Well came about.My thanks to Jo for giving us so much time.

 

jo

About Rhythmix

I’m one of the project managers at Rhythmix, a music charity based in Brighton that works across the south east. We’ve been around for 15 years evolving from a consortium of music services who wanted to figure out how to engage young people who are not in the mainstream: children and young people who may be excluded from music education, who are not engaging with their school generally, or are in care, or are excluded because of disability.

Rhythmix’ job, then, is to engage children and young people whose circumstances make them vulnerable. Essentially we’re an arts organisation that’s interested in social and personal as well as musical outcomes: increasing self-expression, self-confidence, helping young people to engage with the support available to them. A lot of work I’ve done over the years has been supporting children who have never played an instrument before or had an opportunity to write songs. Personally I’m less concerned with performance, more with inclusion. But before we go into detail, a little on…

How I got here

My background is in folk music. I don’t have any formal qualifications – music or otherwise, beyond A Level, having dropped out of university to get involved in direct action, specifically the anti-road building movement. From that time I spent 10 years living with direct action teams and travelling communities in the west country and northern France. We lived communally, aspiring to very low impact lives.

Music was a really important to us – we earned our living as buskers. So one way and another, things of the fringes, music and community became came very important to my life. I spent time in France, where there’s still semblance of a folk tradition and became hugely interested in how folk music can bring communities together.

I knew I wanted to work with young people and music and over the course of the next few years ran into people describing themselves as “community musicians”. I moved to Brighton, enrolled in the legendary “Workshop Skills for Facilitators” course at Goldsmiths University and became a practitioner. I went on to eight years or so of leading workshops, keen to work especially in creative projects for primary age and in disability settings. Gradually I became more involved in project management with Rhythmix and at the same time becoming increasingly interested in middle ground between community music and music therapy – which are related but very different disciplines.

Enter Wishing Well

Around that time I met Kate Murdoch. Kate had been working in Paris with a group called Musique et Santé – Music and Health. They’ve pioneered a way of working in healthcare, taking musicians right to hospital; bedsides, not to perform one-to-one therapy with individuals for a set period of time, but to be just on the ward and interact with patients spontaneously.

They are interested in the sound ecology of a hospital. This can be especially harsh for children, surrounded by bleeping machines, ventilators, CBeebies in the background, anxious voices, unfamiliar language and loud footsteps. Moreover, research has suggested that children in critical care are über-vulnerable to the sonic environment and become hyper-vigilant, trying to decode what each sounds means. So softening this sound has become really important.

Kate had completed a “train the trainer” programme with Musique et Santé. We knew that she was the best person to bring the approach to our own team. We selected 10 practitioners who all had some background working in SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability), good vocal skills and a good range of music experience, and we put them on a five-day foundation course led by Kate and Nick Cutts, another M et S alumnus whose organisation Opus is based in Derbyshire. I have never seen a group of people so transformed! It’s the kind of training that really turns you inside out: three days of classroom-based and 2 days shadowing interactions in the children’s hospital.

We started Wishing Well, then, very much in the mould of Musique et Santé, although the Musicians are developing the methodology in their own ways and bringing their own ideas and expertise to the table. In particular, we wanted to look at how music technology might help. We use iPads at bedsides as they can be used by children with very light touch, really enable interaction and create incredible sound worlds. We’re interested in how music technology can support a better sonic environment for patients when live Musicians can’t be present; interactive sound installations in play areas and speakers placed in pillows, personalised play lists on iPods. (Brian Eno did similar work at the Chelsea & Westminster A&E)

We made a short film about our work at The Royal Alex, during the first years of Wishing Well, funded by Rockinghorse Children’s Charity through a successful Youth Music bid; you can watch the film here.

Our current work

We work with the Royal Alexander Children’s Hospital in Brighton, and with the children’s wards Hastings and Worthing. Additionally we work with Chailey Heritage Clinical Services, who provide respite and rehab services for children with profound disabilities and acquired head injury.

There are real differences between the various hospitals, so we adapt our approach to each setting. For instance, the children’s ward at Conquest Hospital in Hastings, there is a high turnover rate and we rarely see the same child twice. By contrast, at the Royal Alex in Brighton, we target children in the High Dependency Unit who are in hospital for long and frequent stays throughout their lives. These children are at risk of developmental delay and missing out on all the normal things that childhood should bring. So that’s what we try to provide – normal things in an extraordinary environment.

Let me give you some examples of our work…

Our Musicians do a certain amount of one to one work with young people with very little movement. We use technology to create an environment where they can express themselves through music so that there “disability” is no longer an issue. We’ve worked with some incredible people who are taking the concept of triggering sounds to new levels; building bespoke digital instruments which can be played with the same level of expression as a more conventional instrument

On the other hand, an intervention can be far simpler. We had a situation recently involving a girl who had had a tracheotomy. The staff needed to insert a valve in so that she could talk, but the girl was finding it extremely uncomfortable and difficult to use. The nurses suggested getting her to sing songs she knew in order to distract from the discomfort and to learn how to articulate verbally using the valve. Simple but very effective.

Or again, just think about the environment on a hospital ward: it’s almost an entirely alien one. The beds don’t look like beds, the tables don’t look like tables; the children have no frame of reference as nothing looks like it does at home. One way we can help maintain wellbeing, then, is to bring something familiar to the hospital environments: a song that they have heard, their mum singing at home, or songs from the children’s TV they know well. We bring the outside world in.

On a different tack, we’re also working with people with advanced dementia who are being looked after on specialist wards. These patients are in the assessment ward for three to four months at a time with the hope that the Nursing and Occupational Therapist teams will be able to help them so that they can then go back home or into a specialised residential home.

Our practitioners work alongside with the OTs and move between “reminiscence repertoire”, identifying music that was meaningful to people in their twenties and creative improvisation, helping people be present and define themselves in the moment. We want to offer a new experience too; why not have new experiences later on in life? Digital technology has been a real enabler here. We had one lady using Thumbjam on the iPad who was delighted to be “playing the violin” after so many years. By taking people back into their youth we are able to bring them a great deal of comfort and help the OTs improve wellbeing.

The importance of advocacy, and getting to the right people

Everything we do is publically funded, so of course a big part of my job is writing funding applications. Beyond that, a lot of my role is about creating partnerships and about advocacy. I put a lot of time into finding the right people to speak to at a hospital, then into explaining what we do, how we do it and why it is so important. The joy of working somewhere like the Alex is that we have music champions who not only understand the work but shape and guide it. They understand completely how the soundscape of the hospital can effect children and their recovery.

Success measures

We’ve has put a lot of thinking into how to capture outcomes: we are, after all, an outcomes-based organisation. But while this is a vital field of work, the Musician in Healthcare is a new role so we’re working hard to build up our evidence base. People can interpret “wellbeing” in very different ways for example. Clinical research like Randomised Control Trials are hugely expensive and time consuming.

Much of what we capture is necessarily qualitative – and bear in mind that with a lot of our children the indicators work with are non-verbal. So we’re observing things like calm but alert states, eye contact, interactions with staff and family members and ease of going to sleep. Again, difficult to capture, but we can describe these outcomes, especially when working with a person who knows that child very well. And it’s important to record the anecdotal stuff too, things from parents and staff like “It’s the first time I’ve seen this child light up and since we have been in Hospital”.

Possible future directions

We work across seven trusts with multiple funders so it’s a bit like spinning plates. I’m trying to secure long term funding, of course, allowing us develop more sustainable programmes, with rigorous evaluation and more widespread advocacy. Building up a language and an identity around this work has been a huge process for us and is ongoing. It takes time – and therefore money – to make this work understood. In the meantime there are several initiatives either in planning or in early stages.

With the best will in the world, our musicians are only going to be at the Alex, say, twice a week. That’s six hours in total. Try telling families who’ve just had a really good interaction that you’ll be back, next Wednesday! That’s a long time to wait for the next bit of fun. I would love to work with people whose expertise is digital technology to address this. Can we have musical or sonic “play areas” at the end of each ward? Can we have speakers in pillows for children who are profoundly sick who can be comforted by immersive sound? Interestingly, we haven’t yet gone to a local external creative media company, although this is of course a town renowned for them; clearly there must be local possibilities for the co-creation of this kind of project, where technology and creativity meet healthcare?

We’re delighted to be delivering a Music in Healthcare course for 3rd year medical students at Brighton and Sussex Medical school. They choose between various optional modules at certain times of year (called student selected components). Our first module was full and it was heartening to see how the students understood the role of music in building trust with the children that they might look after.

We’re currently working with a team of creative dance practitioners and colleagues at Surrey Arts to create a Music and Movement pilot for people with dementia. I find it personally frustrating that we separate out music and movement in our work. We want to enable people to express themselves in any way they can. It’s fantastic working with creative dancers – like us they are participant led and our methodologies seem to blend seamlessly.

On Tuesday 21st I braved the apparently dire storms and broken trains to trek up to The Studio, just round the corner from Birmingham New Street station for the fourth in a series of events hosted by the KTN Company on behalf of the Arts Council and Innovate UK. Like its predecessors (in Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield), the session brought together artists, arts administrators and creative technologists to help brainstorm what kinds of projects the two organisations might be able to spearhead to bring art and technology together in a way that’s creatively, strategically and economically meaningful.

The session was hosted by Graham Hitchen of Directional Thinking and expertly facilitated by Jason DaPonte of The Swarm (and a former colleague of mine from the BBC back when we were all trying to figure out exactly what it meant to be doing “internet stuff” for the corporation). The shape of the day was pretty straightforward: an open discussion in the morning helped to identify recurring themes and to cluster them; some attendees presented work of their own in this area to bring it all to life; and the afternoon saw us break into groups to pick off some of the emerging themes in which we were interested.

Now I had gone along not in my usual KTN role, but purely out of personal interest. Readers of this blog or of my own, more personal rantings on DGMFS will know that the coming together of art and tech is both a personal interest to me and a cornerstone of our business practice. Anyway, as a result I was “stuck in” as an attendee and not taking such rigorous notes as is my wont. So what follows is more a set of recollections about the day and the themes which emerged during lengthy, and often rambunctious, discussions.

Digital art is tending towards the immersive. Now I think there’s a real spectrum here: there’s what I think of as “traditional” immersion (being deafened and smacked around in a mosh pit comes to mind, but then so does sitting in the best seats, bang in front of the proscenium arch for the performance of a great play or opera); there’s technologically enhanced immersion or Augmented Reality; then there’s screen- based virtual reality; and finally fully immersive, virtual environments of the kind the Oculus Rift may allow.

I think these are important distinctions to draw, but it’s certainly going to be fascinating to watch new art forms develop right along the immersion spectrum.

Digital art often plays with the senses and perception. Now again, I would suggest that all art in some ways changes perception (arguably it’s the whole point), but the advent of digital is driving more direct interventions with the senses, from sensory deprivation, through binaural sound to the stimulation of traditionally overlooked senses in the arts – especially smell and touch.

There’s a strong sense of play here. This closely relates to the observation about senses above, and of course to gamification more generally. I lost count of the number of times Minecraft came up in conversation (there were, I suspect, a lot of parents in the room). I sounded a slight note of caution here. I love play – it’s a crucial part of a healthy life, and of healthy art. But there are many darker sides to humanity that art has always sought to explore or even celebrate (consider a 40,000 year arc from the Chauvet cave paintings to Norwegian Black Metal). It would be great shame – and hideously short-term thinking – if digital art got hung up overly on “fun”. (For what it’s worth, I this is just a “phase” as my mother might say.)

Production is being democritised. I don’t personally like to “D” word in this context, but I get what it means, and I think it’s hugely important. Specifically, ever-cheaper tools and the wide availability of accessible publishing platforms are allowing the re-emergence of serious amateur art making (often referred to – hideously – as the rise of the prosumer). The emergence of cheap computing, too (the Raspberry Pi, the Arduino etc) are accelerating this. But how does the traditional art world respond? And how will artistic practice be altered? For me, it’s return to normal after the blip that was art in the age of mass media. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a paradigm shift.

Multi-disciplinary practice is becoming the norm. As The Unseen’s Lauren Bowker pointed out about fashion and technology in the London Fashion Week panel I hosted last month, multi-disciplinary working is not so much preferable as essential. And this is certainly the case in art. I believe we’re going to see more and more group-created multi-disciplinary art (consider the work of 2010 Turner nominees The Otolith Group). Does this mean the disappearance of auterist art? And how will that play out? Again, this is potentially a seismic shift in how art is produced.

Shared spaces are necessary. Something that closely relates to the rise of collaborative art practice is the need for shared workspaces – spaces where radical experimentation and the sharing of ideas and practice arise naturally. There’s was considerable discussion about this, not least as Birmingham lacks a space like, say, Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio or Liverpool’s FACT. (And in case this all sounds a bit Newspeak, remember that there’s a hundred-year old precedent for a shared, multi-disciplinary space where artists and technologists can work together: The Bauhaus.)

“Art for art’s sake”. There was quite a lot of discussion about the need to think about art on its own terms. and I heartily concur. I recall a speech Sir Nicholas Kenyon gave on launching a Proms season in the early noughties. He discussed how in the Thatcher years art had been considered part of the tourist or (another hideous term) “heritage” sectors; under New Labour art had all been about regeneration. But these positions are merely two sides of the same coin, and both see art as a means to socio-economic ends. He suggested that we need to change the discourse about art, and frankly, a decade on, that still stands. Indeed, if anything, the advent of digital has only intensified the debate, with new digital art once again being discussed constantly in terms of collateral benefits, rather than considered in its own right.

Business models must evolve. Business models for the arts don’t need to be continually re-examined. Far from it. I was struck that of the day’s discussion was almost exclusively about the role of digital in the making of art. Yet from my experience of working with some major players in the UK art scene (commercial and public sector alike), the principal interest in digital media is about how it can create new business models and frankly drive income: more people through the door, more bums on seats, higher profile, online content distributed to new audiences and so on.

I’m not saying that changes to artistic practice wrought by digital technology aren’t fascinating in and of themselves (or I wouldn’t have spent 1400 words talking about them). But the new technologies offer huge business opportunities to artists and arts organisations of all statures. How those opportunities are grasped, of course, is at the heart of the disruption challenges facing not just this arena but almost every corner of contemporary life.

The series of events concluded with a session in London yesterday at Cecil Sharp House. (One wonders how the folk song collector and archivist Sharp would have responded to digital technology? Interestingly, archiving – another personal obsession – was entirely absent from the discussions on Tuesday.) I’m very much looking forward to hearing how that session pans out and how, more importantly, this little “tour” influences where ACE and Innovate UK go next.

Simon

Last week, on July 23rd, I went along to the spectacular Level39 offices in Canary Wharf for the “Connected Cities Assembly” – an evening of networking and brainstorming hosted by the TSB’s IC Tomorrow team. Now to some extent this event was outside my usual purview; regular readers will know that my professional bag is the meeting point of the content industries and digital tech. Nonetheless, I’m profoundly interested in all matters urban, as a city centre dweller myself, and someone convinced by eco-heretic Stuart Brand’s argument that cities are the last best hope for the planet. So it was great to be in the company of people thinking profoundly about issues of urbanism – and how digital technology plays into them.

The evening was a three-acter: scene setting around four key themes; facilitated round table discussion around each of those; and informal networking, of course. The scene setting stuff was fascinating; Rick Holland from the TSB discussed Connected Buildings; Richard Miller, the TSB’s Head of Sustainability talked about The Connected Environment; Beatrice Rogers, the Knowledge Transfer Network’s Head of Design introduced the Connected Communities theme; and the TSB’s Head of Transport Stephen Hart talked about Connected Services.

I won’t go through each of these themes in detail, but here are some of the observations and anecdotes that caught my ear:

  • London is the 15th most water-stressed city in the developed world.
  • 50,000 people a year die in the UK because of poor air quality. (I confess that both these points were quite shocking to me.)
  • There is no “one answer” to the problems that increasing urbanisation brings – rather we need to find solutions that address problems laterally – and smart use of data is key here.
  • And with regard to data, we are moving to a point where we “sense everything”.
  • The question is: when we do sense everything, what do we do with the data that arises as a consequence?
  • Specifically, standards and regulations around data are pretty appalling across the board (a common theme here when we’ve been thinking about data standards in the content industries).
  • With regard to design, “the technology drive often forgets the user”.
  • A smart approach to tech is about more than “the new app of the day”.
  • Transport systems the world over are “at breaking point”; how can tech entrepreneurs help address this (“what would happen if every traffic light in a city had its own IP address?”)

Following these introductory remarks, attendees were asked to circulate every 15 minutes around the four “themed” tables for something of an informal brainstorm addressing the issues raised so for. The pace across the following hour was pretty furious and the energy in the room obviously high.

The facilitators then brought us all back together to summarise the main points of the discussions they’d been hosting. I will go through these, briefly, theme by theme.

Connected Services

Stephen pointed out that the tenor of the discussion had ultimately been more about describing the problems in detail than coming up with specific solutions. Issues included:

  • Private vs open data
  • Coordination between different teams and bodies
  • Data visualisation
  • Standards

Connected Environment

Some of the themes that emerged here clearly echoed the previous set:

  • Standards
  • Open platforms
  • Data sharing
  • “It’s too much about the tech; not enough about the citizen”

Connected Communities

Beatrice’s summary touched on:

  • How can we utilise “communities of interest”?
  • Doing more with less.
  • Changing behaviour – especially among the disengaged
  • There is no one size fits all solution.
  • Digital exclusion remains a very real problem.
  • Trust is vital – but how is it “captured”?
  • Just why is word of mouth so important?
  • And, of course: the criticality of good design.

Connected Buildings

Finally Rick summarised his group’s key themes:

  • Route to market is crucial… –
  • Are property developers the right people to work with? They’re crucial for revolutionary approaches – but things can take a very long time…
  • If, on the other hand, you’re thinking about retro-fitting quick wins then you need to be thinking about who runs existing buildings.
  • Find what motivates people.
  • That is… how can we take data about energy and turn it into something meaningful and motivating for ordinary people?
  • Oh, and again: design is critical.

Listening back, it struck me that Stephen’s observation about his theme applied across the board: that what had emerged was more an in-depth discussion about the problems of urbanism than a hard set of solutions. But frankly this is among the thorniest of areas we face, not just as creative technologists – but as a species! The solutions will only emerge from a hard-headed mapping of the problem space such as tonight’s. Personally, as something of an “outsider” to the sphere, I found the evening completely fascinating and look forward to seeing what the group does next.

Simon

After our competition briefing in London on May 6th, we hit the road as ever, taking a stripped-down version of the briefing to Manchester and then on to Bristol. We were, again, talking everyone through two current Creative Industries funding competitions: Innovation in location-based services and Enhancing the value of interactions with digital content.

We did Manchester on the morning of May 8th, in the splendid Museum of Science and Industry. As in London the TSB’s Lech Rzedzicki and Tom Fiddian walked us through the EVIDC and LBS services in detail, before taking questions from the audience, along with Matt Brown. As ever, the questions ranged from the straightforward and technical (Is this single stage? – Yes. Can a Catalpult be a consortium partner? Yes – but not funded… etc) – to the more challenging (Can you give a %age of successful applications? Not really, varies from call to call).

We had a very informative case study from Dennis Kehoe, CEO of Cloud computing specialists AIMES Grids Services, who’ve received several rounds of TSB funding. Dennis’ key points included:

  • You do have to invest time and effort in this process
  • Collaboration – share the risk of innovation
  • But get collaboration agreements in place
  • Don’t do it for the money!
  • Don’t reverse engineer the call
  • Timescales are rigorously applied
  • Don’t over stretch your cashflow
  • Feedback is key
  • You do get better at this stuff!
  • Allow something like 15% for project management

Dennis then joined the KTN’s Rachel Jones, Lech and Tom for a panel discussion which I chaired. Dennis had used the wonderful line “We are all Pavlovian Dogs”*, so I kicked off with a question on the disturbing ubiquity of advertising and branding around online content. The conversation, spurred on by the audience, went on to cover the user-centred design approach, the difficulty of combining Agile methods of project management with TSB “process”, and ways in which users might start to take back control of their data.

The next day, Friday, we finished off in Bristol with a morning session at the Watershed**. The pre-break format was much the same, and was followed by a case study from Paul Appleby, formerly of the BBC and now CEO of VID Communications. Paul’s tips included:

  • Read the application very carefully
  • Establish the potential value of the bid
  • Use the language of the application
  • Get clarity on roles, especially on “who has nagging rights”
  • Avoid “Spreadsheet  Romanticism”*
  • Establish lead roles: PM, tech lead, UX lead
  • Get a central document store together
  • Get routine meetings in the diary
  • Stay in scope!
  • Keep your Monitoring Officer informed of potential changes of direction
  • Define and montor deliverables
  • Take your time on the application
  • The consortium needs history

We finished the morning, of course, with a panel discussion of the usual suspects, plus Jo Reid, of local company Calvium and Andy Proctor, Lead Technologist for Satellite Navigation at the TSB – all ably chaired by Rachel. Interestingly, of all the three discussion we had this was the most caught up on TSB process, but all in all it was a lively session and great to get fresh insight from Joe and

So, all done for now! As ever, thanks to the KTN’s Anita Onwuegbuzie for making the whole thing run so smoothly; and to Rachel, Tom, Lech and Matt for good company along the way.

* I’m seriously thinking that “We Are All Pavlovian Dogs” by Spreadsheet Romantics has to be my next music project, a kind of early 80s agit-pop pastiche. Or maybe not.

** The Watershed is also home to the Pervasive Media Studio, which I’d not previously seen. Thanks to Mark Leaver who showed me round during a break in the day’s proceedings.

Simon

Tuesday was a busy (and long) one, then. We kicked off in Kings Place in the morning with the TSB briefing then started all over again in the same room that afternoon with the launch of the TSB’s Digital Strategy for the coming period.

The afternoon was introduced and generally hosted by Frank Boyd, one of the directors of the newly formed Knowledge Transfer Network, who briefly talked us through the KTN’s work before handing over to the TSB’s Head of Digital, Nick Appleyard who presented the organisation’s current and upcoming position on the digital industries. Some headlines, then:

  • The stakeholders in the digital space the TSB seeks to link up are the development or tech community and the businesses on whom an impact has been made by digital. The latter group often struggles to understand digital but the former group, as steeped in it as they are, struggle to find a route to market.
  • The TSB achieves this “joining up” with its IC Tomorrow team and via the KTN.
  • The principal elements of the idea cycle are conception, IP, business models and technology. But all too often the missing piece is the user.
  • So the TSB really seeks to fund projects that are user- and market-led.
  • UK is a great place to build digital technology businesses because of users’ expectations and behaviour: we’re Europe’s leaders in online and mobile penetration and the world’s leaders in terms of online transaction.
  • The TSB has launched the Connected Digital Economy Catapult in order to provide a platform and tools to help tech SME’s reach new markets.
  • Collaboration is hugely important to the TSB, and current partners include Nesta, ESRC, Creative Skillset, UKTI, and on and on…

Nick handed over to KTN’s CEO Chris Warkup whose opening remark struck a chord in the room: that the UK is great at innovation but not so good at the exploitation of new ideas. He then talked us how the new KTN was going to work. Here are some headlines:

  • The new company merges 14 previous KTNs.
  • Knowledge Transfer isn’t something that can simply be conducted virtually; rather, it’s a “contact sport”.
  • Often businesses have lots of information and knowledge to hand, but can lack wisdom.
  • The KTN seeks to drive cross-sector collaboration, join up business, technologists and funders, build multi-disciplinary teams and help the TSB in ths scoping of competitions.
  • He ended with a line of Matt Ridley’s, which I’ll paraphrase: “The future’s most limiting resource won’t be water or oil, but good brains.” (Matt, of course, is, in his own terms, a rational optimist; being rather more of a glass half full guy when it comes to civilisational development I think I’m rather more with Jared “Collapse” Diamond on the lack of water front, but still, I take his point.)

Chris was followed by the first of two talks from companies who’d received TSB funding. Jeff Clifford and Graham Jack represented Double Negative, the largest visual effects company in Europe, and often in the world. They discussed the huge changes in their field over the last decade, with the requirement for CG increasing dramatically – a real headache both in terms of logistics and the use of artists’ time. They went on to illustrate their work with a showreel of scenes from the upcoming Thor 2, which showed pre-VFX shots with finished ones; they were, of course, barely recognisable from each other.

They went on to say how innovation in workflow was absolutely essential for them, and that’s where they’d focussed for their TSB-funding work. SIM, a project run in collaboration with FilmLight and Surrey University sought to address these issues, and a project about to start is ASAP : a Scalable Architecture of Production.

Next up was Pilgrim Beart, founder of AlertMe.com, and the chief architect of Hyper/Cat, a TSB-funded project looking to create interoperability standards to join different verticals all working in the Internet of Things space. He opened with the fascinating observation that as the number of connected devices on the planet grew to outnumber, vastly, the number of people, then devices were going to have to start “looking after themselves”. And what was getting in the way of the IoT actually happening? Interoperability between verticals.

So Hyper/Cat sought to crack the problem, or at least examine how it might be cracked down the line, with a multi-party demonstrator. The outcome had plainly been successful, and Pilgrim outlined the chief drivers of its success:

  • Learning by doing
  • Strong relationships
  • An early market
  • The development of a process for coming up with a spec
  • Global potential – the UK can truly lead here.

He finished with the observation that in 10 years the very term Internet of Things would be long gone; we’ll simply talking about “The Internet”.

The day ended with a panel discussion on the challenges facing digital innovators, hosted by Jon Kingsbury, currently at Nesta but about to come over to the KTN as Head of Digital Economy. Jon was joined by Allesandro Guazzi of Sentimoto, who are developing smart wearables for older people; Emer Coleman of TransportAPI, who make apps based on public data made available through APIs; and Databarta’s Jane Lucy, a specialist in the use of digital media to deliver campaigning. The panel took questions from the floor and debated a range of issues, including:

  • The desperate lack of tech talent, especially devs and most especially Ruby devs.
  • The importance of the engagement with Europe and the Horizon 20/20 project.
  • The difficulty of actually doing x-disciplinary collaboration.
  • The value of mentoring.
  • The importance of “social”.

Jon put a final question to the panel: what could the TSB do to improve the situation. Three answers came through loud and clear: skills development; help finding the right collaborators; and a push for open data standards.

It was a nice, sparky ending to a generally lively and hugely informative afternoon.

Simon