Background for the 4th Gen Expert Blog series #1-#8
by Noona Bäckgren
In this series of blog posts, our University of Helsinki 4th Generation Course research group aims at elevating the previous findings and policy suggestions from GESCI-AKE 2014/2015 “The Sound of the City” Living Lab into a concrete framework for action. Our research stems from previous work conducted by GESCI-AKE, Aalto University Media Lab, Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz and MSocSc Vesa Saarinen, and we take this opportunity to thank them for their major contribution.
To very briefly recap what has been achieved so far, let us first discuss what was the The Sound of the City Living Lab.
What was The Sound of the City?
The idea behind The Sound of the City research project was to foster institutional support for digital innovations in Kenya which has lacked this support despite its advancing digital evolution. As research is one way to build up institutional support, The Sound of the City project was set up to provide policy recommendations and ideas for new innovation ecosystems, such as novel working models in learning, teaching and creating innovation.
A Living Lab (henceforth LL) model was chosen as it allows for learning-by-doing research environment where innovation happens simultaneously with research. In the case of The Sound of the City LL, this meant that selected Kenyan participants took part in a creative media skills course where they learned skills such as building animations and music videos, as well as programming video games. The research component, conducted between November 2014-March 2015, focused on highlighting the best practices, key features, successes and challenges as well as the ways to replicate the successes of The Sound of the City creative media skills course. These were assessed through background research, survey research and thematic interviews.
The findings from The Sound of the City LL have been compiled into a policy brief and a final report, and a research blog was also used during the research process. However, we focused solely on the policy brief and final report while creating our framework for action.
Our research group unanimously agreed on that the next step to take is to develop the theoretical findings and conclusions of the policy brief and final report into very concrete models and suggestions that will help to further advance institutional support for digital innovations in Kenya. Our suggestions are based on the main lessons and results from The Sound of the City LL research final report (pp. 18-27), presented in the form of five keywords: Leadership, innovation, content, sustainability and local/global.
Main lessons and results:
In building a successful innovation ecosystem, LL environment or other model of collaboration, leadership is seen as the key. This does not only mean selecting good individual leaders, but organizing the whole system of collaboration in a way that is clear to all participants and stakeholders.
A good programme leader is also able to identify important issues in the field which – in the case of the Sound of the City – were lack of women in the field, financial constraints and understanding diversity as a resource.
Innovation should be given time and space as it comes in different forms. It is crucial to understand the importance of ecosystems that actually make innovating possible. In addition, it should be understood that innovating means both creating new ideas and concepts as well as fine-tuning and improving existing ones. The opportunity to learn through trial and error is important, and feedback and peer critique are essential.
This was split in two categories:
- educational content of The Sound of the City and
- content (themes) for future LL:s.
a) One of the main outcomes of the Sound of the City LL was that there is a need for a hybrid LL model which combines the best practices of educational and more corporate LL:s. Today, innovation professionals need to understand business skills and they should be able to market their projects and talent.
Participants appreciated both individual projects and collaborative effort, so the combination of these two is important. It should also be kept in mind that content creation needs adequate tools; the challenge of getting industry-standard hardware and software to Kenya is at the moment slowing down the new media sector.
b) Storytelling and understanding consumers needs are important to grasp in today’s market environment. Local content was highly regarded by all stakeholders.
Sustainability in this context means many things: it means bridge-building between ongoing and “past” LL:s, networking ,building alliances and partnerships, collaborating, follow-up and incentives. The idea is that there should be continuity, both on organizational and individual level.
As market are by nature local and global, innovators need to align their products with global standards. Solid foundations for intellectual property rights for global markets and collaborations should be established, and the Kenyan government should better market opportunities in Kenya as well as Kenyan innovators.
Some of the key findings stated above can be summed up as follows: There is a need for a model of collaboration for digital creative industries that brings together Kenyan cultural production on an international level, but not in “international style”; thus, it should reflect their own cultural heritage. Also, creating creative possibilities for people coming from an disadvantaged background is important.
In response to this, our blog posts will tackle the question of future visions and opportunities for GESCI-AKE through:
- Researching examples and suggesting a model for a multi-stakeholder HUB (that GESCI might become) in supporting and promoting digital creative industries in East Africa.
In our blog posts and in the following order, we will introduce:
- Background of Kenya (cultural policy, innovation policy, entrepreneurship, business, economics)
- SWOT analysis on Kenya
- Case studies analysing strengths and weaknesses on other innovation collaborations in relation to the situation in Kenya (based on SWOT analysis) in Africa
Conclusion: Envisioning examples and inspiration for GESCI in the Kenyan context.