TalentLab, a co-creation project with teachers and researchers

Talentlab is a project where the main focus is to co-design online educational resources for the classroom

The project is based on co-creation workshops that explore life sciences, environmental chemistry, earth sciences and artificial intelligence concepts. The registration period is now open!

CSIC, through its Science Culture Unit in Catalonia and some of the CSIC research centers, and la Mandarina de Newton SL, have set up TalentLab, a project conceived as a co-creation laboratory of online educational resources for the classroom.

TalentLab mixes professionals from the scientific and educational community in order to add ideas, efforts, abilities and talents, and co-design science education resources. It is aimed at teachers of upper primary, secondary, further education and vocational training.

TalentLab foresees the completion of four workshops, each of two sessions each of it, on different scientific disciplines. The registration period for these workshops is already open. You can register through the project website: http://talentlab.csic.es.

The first workshop takes place on October 19th. It is called Living Experiments and it will take place at the Genomics Research Center (CSIC-IRTA-UAB). This workshop goes around the theme of model organisms, or laboratory organism. During the workshop, which will continue in a second session on November 2nd, we work in groups in order to co-design an online educational resource.

Following the same structure we have organized three more workshops: React with the Environment is based on chemistry and environmental issues. Its is going to be held at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (CSIC), on the 23rd and  the 30th of November. Hearing the Earth is about the dynamics of the Earth. It will be held in the Ebro Observatory (CSIC-URL) on the 25th of January and the 8th of February 2012. The last workshop is Around Intelligent Machines. It deals with research on artificial intelligence and it will be held at the Institute of Artificial Intelligence Research (CSIC), on the 7th and the 21st of March 2012.

Educational resources resulting from these four workshops will have been co-created by members of the science research and the education community. The idea is to produce high quality products that satisfy both researchers and teachers.

TalentLab is an innovative project that aims to generate debate, dialogue and innovative products in order to foster scientific creativity in young people. It is an initiative of the Culture Unit of the Scientific CSIC Delegation in Catalonia, in collaboration with various research institutes of the CSIC in Catalonia and la Mandarina de Newton SL. It si financed by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and has the support of the Educational Coordinating Council of the Municipal Institute of Education of the City Council.


Products and processes open to participation

Products vs processes

A product can be any object that can be offered in a market and that satisfies a wish or a need of a given consumer. Products can be understood as industrial products, that is, the results of a process of fabrication. But we cannot take for granted that products are physical objects. Products can haven a very ethereal reality: a touristic route, a massage, a show, a lesson, and advice…

On the other hand, processes are sets of operations, reactions, calculations or the steps that are needed to change some given initial features. What is relevant for a process is its ability to induce change or transformation.

We live with products and processes every day in a very natural fashion. Creating a product requires a process. The realization of a process ends up with the development of products. A process can be a product. This is not a problem, in principle. If times were not changing as they are, we wouldn’t event bother to talk about products and processes. Where do dissonnaces occur?. Let’s go step by step. Let’s try to unveil the mistery of the process of writing this blog entry, which is our final product.

Processing dissonances.

The word “process” became very important during the second half of the XXth century, very probably because of cibernetics, computation and systems theory. For a long time, our focus was set on the results of our actions. We lived in “product times”. Cibernetics, computation and systems theory made visible the difficulties of programming changes and transformations. In doing so, they suggested the need to be more attentive to processes. We live in “days of processes” but products are still on the market!. What has changed?

Nowadays we don’t only give value to results but also to the path followed towards this result. In fact, we have learnt to see these paths, when, in the past, we usually forgot about them. With this learning also we have been made conscious of the fact that, although the focus is on the process (enjoy, have experiences, etc.), we still put it on the product (clothes, books, swimming pools and many other surrounding objects). In other words, even if most processes and products live together in harmony, most of the times one is more relevant than the other. This difference can have important consequences.

The XXth Century: the century of openness!

If the XXth century has brought us processes, it also has brought open processes of interaction, participation and co-creation. Increasingly, more initiatives pop up that invite citizens to start collaborating with each other. We live days of “co-”: “co-creation”, “co-production”, “co-ownership”, “co-working”. The “co-” philosophy has wonderful facets and, I think, it represents a general positive trend in humanity. But it also has important dangers.

What happens when we open a process where the important part, the focus of action, is the process itself? What happens when we open a process where the most relevant part is the resulting product? And what happens when we open to participation an action whose result will be beneficious to humanity in general but there is a chance, however slight, that the result of the participatory process developed ends up in the hands of just a few?

Let’s take the case where we open up a learning process where the most important thing is that a given group, that is invited to participate, obtains new knowldge. If we start this process and we think that participation will result in greater, deeper learning, openness is justified by our goals. It is a well-known fact of learning, that teaching is learning twice. If, for a student to better acquire knolwedge about, say, fractions it is more interesting that we invite him or her to shoot a video about fractions than submitting the student to a long-winding lecture about mathematics, let’s do it!. In this case, the product, a videoclip, will be interesting, but the focus will be clearly on the process. We’d like the student to behave independently, perform information research, analysis, and process. Finally the student organizes this information as a video script, learning in the process how to translate it into the language of images. Eventually the student will be able to observe the result and even evaluate it!

If what we open, on the other hand, is the creative process leading to a new advertising campaign, with the only goal of developing a business strategy that will attract more consumers, then we, again, have a very effective method, but we don’t have a justified openness. In this case we are just lowering costs and improving efficiency. The focus is on the result, the product, but not on the process. Let’s add that if this process is presented to the public straightforwardly in its real terms and the public still wants to participat, because they feel that they will be compensated in some other way, then let’s welcome this initiative too!. Eventually, everything is an interchange. The important thing is that all sides feel compensated. Personally, I am not that confortable with participatory processes that just focus on the product.

The biggest difficulties arise when things are not white, nor black but grey!

In “twilight zones” difficulties pose even bigger challenges. Sometimes the focus is on the product but it has a positive impact on humanity. Take for example the cure for a disease o the creation of a given content. It is difficult not to agree that for these goals, the more people that gets involved, the more we open the process, the better. I am the first to be in favour of openness. I’d like to put as an example of success, a product such as Wikipedia. But I also want to flip the coin and look at its other face. In this case, The Huffington Post. All people who devote effort to create participatory processes or who contribute to collective benefits through group collaboration, have the right to attribute themselves the merit of the ideation and realization of the process but they wouldn’t be allowed let the benefits be enjoyed by a small and closed group nor allow them to exclusively enrich themselves from the co-created results. If a group develops together something to go forward together, this is something that has to be a progress for all the group not for just some part of it!

These reflections make me think that is important to understand what process are, what products are, where we put the focus of our actions, which are our goals and what is the return for the involved people, both those who created participatory processes and those who participate in these processes. It is vital that we analyze each case in turn. Not only because I believe that these processes should created collective benefits but because if we don’t understand the difference between product and process we will miss the advantages of opening up. I just want to end by bringing these considerations to the world of museums. What is more important for a museum: to have objects, collections and exhibitions or to promote culture and induce social change? Does this correspond to a product or a process? Can we all benefit from these paradigm changes?



Credits of photographies:
- Rowdy Kittens
- Seychelles 88 

From Interaction to Co-Creation

Some days ago we had a long discussion among several members of A+C+C CoCreation about the differences between the various projects that we have been reviewing.

It helped us to ask ourselves about what characterizes the different labels that are being used by several projects and cultural institutions where new forms of relationship with the public are experienced. We also wondered how the public is no longer a passive element and to what extent each institution or project dares to change.

Each one of the used terms has its difficulties and ambiguitie. Certainly each one can evolve on a different scale. But for the time being, the scale of co-creativity that we present helped us in thinking about several projects and cases. Somehow, we have simplified the scale of participation that can be found in “The Participatory Museum“. We tried to introduce our own vision to go a little beyond participation. At least if participation is understood mostly as the promotion of social relations between the members of the communities around a project or a cultural institution. That is, we go a little beyond the concept of contribution, contributory projects and try to see how to characterize co-creation.

So here are some adjectives that we worked with.

Interactive: These are projects and institutions that promote participation in a limited and predefined way. Much of traditional science museums that were created or renovated between the 60s and the 80s fall into this category. Clearly, this was an important step for museums at that time. A paradigmatic example in the field of science is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. In art, the concept of interactivity is perhaps wider, but it could be identified with a tradition of interaction with viewers. We can book this definition for all projects in which the user does not provide content and reacts to the content prepared by others who are not part of the group of viewers/users.

Open: These would include projects or institutions that intend to show their work processes that are needed to prepare their contents or activities. For example, the MOMA in New York is inviting the public to see the “props” of preparing exhibitions. Halfway between the observation and the collection of interests and needs of the audience, the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey has opened a part of the exhibit design process to users, who may participate in meetings of museum professionals. This could be the zero level of participation.

Participatory: The institution or group leading a project invites participation, with great variability of what is required in this participation. Here sometimes it is worth making a distinction between what is “participatory” and what is “contributory” as Nina Simon remarked in her book. Participatory actions can simply consist in giving opinions, However, they can be more than that and eventually affect the decision making process of the project itself (event, exhibition, etc.): these are the ends of the famous scale of participation of Sherry Arnstein. Contribution also evolves from the simple action of minimal interaction, provision of feedback in the form of opinion, to the contribution of content.

An possible example in the participatory category would be the exhibition organized by Barcelona Center for Contemporary Culture, CCCB, “La ciutat dels horrors” (“The City of Horrors”) where they asked viewers to contribute with photographs of their town that would show some show some “horrific” aspect of it. We have analized this case and we will discuss it in more detail on a future post.

Another example would be the exhibition organized by Mediamatic in Amsterdam around the concept of travel. Mediamatic developed several cycles of invitation and group curation. They created a website on cities around the world, imitating the typical site of a travel agency informative website. They invited local artists of the different cities to act as “guides” in their own city. Travelers scored the artists according to their proposals as guides. This was the basis for selecting an artist from each city to produce an exhibit about his or her city (which should occupy a space of 2x2x2 m in the final exhibition venue). Finally, the  global exhibition was held at Mediamatic. The process was not designed by the participants but by the institution, that is, Mediamatic. Contribution by each artist was done on an individual, apparently there was no much cooperation between artists working on the exhibit of different towns. The institution acted mostly as a promoter of the initiative and as a content aggregator. It was not clear if there was interaction between artists and the public during the process conducive to the final exhibition other than in the “tourist guide” phase.

Co-Creative: In these processes, it can be difficult to tell who is the “public” and who is the institution or the artistic or scientific leader of the project. At the top of co-creativity, the public creates as much as the institution or there is not institution to speak of (apart from the fact that the relationships between the public conducive to the project are a set of norms that can be understood as a temporary institution). The public helps defining the process, its content and its outcome. It is difficult to find fully co-creative projects either in the field of arts or in science. CoCreative processes have some similarities to the processes of meta-design (or P2P Open Design, for example) in which participants (“co-creators”) decide how the process will proceed and then, they join the project playing various roles at different levels of commitment and responsibility, building and providing knowledge in the process. In the project “From contemplation to participation and beyond,” participants co-created the exhibits, but the design process was defined by the leaders of the project. MediaLab Prado has several open formats in which the objective of the project, its process and the contributions are defined by working with the “public.” In these cases, collective creative dialogue is generated.

Traditional institutions are rethinking where they stand in terms of these categories. There is a wide range of response from those who believe that traditional forms of the museum should remain as they are to those who believe that these institutions, both in science and art, must work in more open spaces and weave co-creative relationships with the “formerly called” public. The question is whether or not each institution wants to evolve towards symbiosis (a concept of the A+C+C CoCreation Contextopedia which we will comment in the future), or explore other possibilities in between.


Credits of photographies:
- Alaskan Dude: http://www.flickr.com/photos/72213316@N00/
- La Mandarina de Newton S.L. 

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