Organisation: Mapping session at the i_beta festival, Heerlen - NL.
Moderator: Liesbeth Huybrechts, Selina Schepers
On Friday 11th of June, the research group Social Spaces was invited to organize two mapping sessions at the i_beta festival in Heerlen, the Netherlands. During the two mapping sessions the participants, all coming from various disciplines, designed a Euregional fablab. They discussed how they would imagine a(n) (e-culture) fablab in the Meuse-Rhine Euregion and what key values it would represent.
The i_beta festival revolved around innovation and new trends in the world of e-culture and creative economy. The festival focused especially on the challenges the Meuse-Rhine Euregion faces today and on the role e-culture can play in solving these problems. The festival was organized by Social Beta -centre for e-culture, which (particularly) aims forcreating a place for e-culture in this international region. For more information, see:http://www.socialbeta.eu/.
The mapping sessions at the i_beta festival consisted of two rounds. There were two groups each session and each group was lead by a moderator who facilitated the sessions. In the first round of the session, the group had to indicate the (physical) form of their fablab. Next, they had to decide on the key values, key people, important spaces, knowledge and tools that they wanted to include in their laboratory. The first round ended by the group locking three things (or people, or spaces, …) they found the most important on their map. In the second round, the map and a presenter (i.e. one of the participants of the group) switched places with the map and the presenter of the other group. This group, then, had to bomb three elements of the map that they didn’t like or didn’t agree with and, meanwhile, think of possible opportunities, chances or alternatives for the elements they had just bombed. In the last part of the second round, the participants had to point out three things they really liked about the map of the other group. Finally, the groups joined each other and the two maps were presented to the whole group by each presenter.
The two mapping sessions at the i_beta festival aimed at designing a Euregional fablab (for which we focused on Meuse-Rhine Euregion, consisting amongst others of the province of Belgian-Limburg, region Aachen in Germany and the south of the province of Dutch-Limburg). A fablab, short for fabrication (or fabulous) laboratory, is a place for building prototypes and is meant to support the creation of nearly everything. Fablabs empower talented individuals to create smart devices for themselves and for others. Currently, we are exploring the possibilities of a new concept of a Euregional Fablab that supports the creation of new engaging interactive setups in which hardware and software are combined to create new artistic engaging experiences. This Fablab should be set up in close dialogue with various Euregional stakeholders and take into account the specific needs and constraints of this region. The results of the mapping sessions at the i_beta festival will be used as input for this explorative research.
In the morning we did a mapping session with approximately ten people coming from various disciplines. The mapping session itself lasted for about an hour. The two maps resulting from this session were quite different from each other, but both very interesting.
The first group of the first session thought values such as ‘openness’ and ‘flexibility’ were of great importance. The participants created a structure in which strategy (especially within the fablab itself) and several networkers (for communicating with the outside world) were joined together. In this way, a trajectory of problem-solving was created: input was immediately processed and turned into output. In the second round of the mapping session, the other group experienced difficulties with this structure. Although they liked the overall organisation of the fablab and thought that the first group had created a “clear-cut centre” within their laboratory, they found that the map lacked some form of structure inside the strategical part of the whole. As a solution to this problem, this group thought of a “beta governmental system”: a micro-government that guides and leads the fablab on an international level. Further, the group had difficulties with finding out exactly where the international aspect of the fablab was concentrated. Amongst others, they missed translators and proposed to form international teams to communicate with the public on a Euregional level (and beyond). The group also bombed the non-existing relationship between the government and the public in the map. As a solution to this problem, they proposed to open up a citizen’s (advice) service. To conclude the second round, the group made clear that they especially liked the trajectory of problem-solving and its structure that was able to present several solutions to one problem.
The second group of the first session tried to bring together the two key values of ‘culture’ and ‘economy’. They explained that although the Euregion is an area of opportunities, there is also a considerate out-stream of knowledge, technology, talented people and such. To keep these inside the region, this group created a fablab that functions as an open meeting space between economy and culture and is located in the exact centre of the area (near Maastricht, the Netherlands). Key people in this fablab were translators, creative people,‘trendwatchers’ and people to haul the public into the fablab. An important element in the laboratory was a big, round table (whether or not metaphorically) which functioned as a central meeting point. An interesting space that the participants had included into their fablab was a ‘dirty room’ in which (underground) artist and creative talents could draw inspiration from (the group figured that creativity cannot bloom in sterile spaces). Next, the group locked the big, round table, the creative people (such as artists) in their lab and the corporations, since the latter ones fund the fablab. In the next round, the other group bombed the ‘trendwatcher’ the group had appointed: “trends are set in a natural way”, the group explained. They also thought that the function of a ‘trendwatcher’ could be carried out by another key figure in the fablab: they claimed it to be a “double (and thus unnecessary) job function”. This latter remark was also applicable to the web-developer and to the person who hauled the public into the fablab. A final point of critique – though no bombs were thrown in this case – was concentrated on the way in which the first group represented the corporate life: they wrongfully described it as a unified whole instead ofa network of people.
In the afternoon we did another mapping session with different people. The eight participants who joined the session again came up with two interesting, yet very different, maps.
The first group of the second session centred their key values (such as ’shared practice’ and ’shared expertise’) around one main value, i.e. ‘creativity’. This group came up with a multi-annual plan for their fablab: initially, their laboratory consisted of three sub-labs located on three base locations in different parts of the Euregion. In this pilot-like phase of the process, the sub-labs allowed a community to be build around each one of them and a good collaboration to be constructed between them. Each separate lab consisted of spaces such as mobile workspaces, meeting- and exposition rooms and (‘hang out’) lounges. The group ascribe
d tools to them such as “MakerBots” and “Augmented Reality”-oriented tools. After one year, the three sub-labs are evaluated and the realistic possibility of merging them together into one large, mobile and moveable fablab is taken into consideration. The participants locked three elements which they though were essential in their map. First, the group locked the government, since they provide the “structural, guaranteed subsidy”. The group also locked their basic idea of creating three sub-labs and eventually merging them together into one, big laboratory. Finally, the group locked the flow of theory and R&D. In the second round of the mapping session the other group evaluated the map of the first group. The basic line of thought – in which the fablab first consists of three separate sub-labs and then can be merged into one, large mobile lab – really appealed to them. However, they had to bomb several elements of the map as well: this group pointed out the lack of a connection between the fablab and its public. They figured that the fablab had to entail something or someone that draws people (in)to the laboratory. Therefore, they proposed to hire a “networker” to communicate with “the outside world”. The participants also bombed the coachthe first group had appointed. They reasoned that a fablab doesn’t need a “bossy boss” who “comes into the office and tells everyone what to do”. Instead, they proposed a “people’s coach”: someone who stands above the laboratory, who cares about the people in it and focuses on collaboration. Another point of critique they had was that each separate sub-lab should hire not only one but at least two coaches instead. In this way, there is (more) room for self-reflection on how the fablabs are being managed.
The fablab of the second group of the second session was a moveable and completely mobile laboratory. The participants ascribed great value to key words such as ‘public engagement’ and ‘interdisciplinary’. Key people in this lab were a project manager and someone who was in charge of the budget. A surprising element was the presence of “pixie dust” on the map: the group used this term to describe a person who picks up problems or ideas from the outside world and turns them into something attractive and interesting to work with in the fablab. Most important however, the map of this group revolved around visualisation. In the next round of the mapping session, the other group commented on this that visualisation should not be a fixed format but should result from the experimenting process in the fablab in a natural way. A bomb was placed on the ways of communicating with the outside world: although the first group had a preference for communicative means such as video and drama, the other group proposed ways more focused on two-way-communication (such as workshops, brainstorms and design thinking). Two elements that the second group did like was that the fablab focused on visualisation and the presence of “pixie dust”.
The two mapping sessions showed interesting results. Although all of the maps differed from each other, there we also recurring themes present (such as the importance of creativity, the focus on networking and the need for financing by the government or the corporate life). The mappings on the i_beta festival made it possible to get a better understanding of how a Euregional fablab might be shaped and realized. The results of the mapping will be an important contribution to further research.
(NOTE: for the original text, see: http://www.socialspaces.be)