Drawing on tentative results from six months work during 2009-2011, I will test the idea of “network by doing” by creating an event that takes place September 21st 2011.
This event aims at connecting different women networks by, during a couple of hours, engage in Arduino-prototyping.
It is an effort to:
- Meet and enhance that research imply that diversity foster innovation
- Explore ‘think-do’ tank in connecting formal networks
The event is also based in beta results from ethnographies at conferences, in social media and at companies, where tentative results show:
- There is an extreme multitude of events that are more or less similar in their form: talks from experts and time for informal conversation between participants. Women do not seem to be experts in digital technology.
- That social media can be a way to connect a diversity of people, and to mobilize people to action if combined with offline events.
- That companies seem to prefer collaboration in form of “doing”, to make meaning of exploring new things, not only thinking and talking. For companies different forms of formal networks are important.
Innovation and Diversity
Innovation is not an easy concept to describe. I find this definition relevant: “The concept of innovation is that of adopting the idea of process or innovative activities” (Pinto, 2009).
In innovation research recent results support that diversity foster innovation. This has grown from establishing notions of innovation as “key factor to growth and competitiveness”, that “innovation and technological change have a critical impact on economic development”, realizing that “the concept of innovation remains unclear and has been an area under discussion in different approaches” and coming to terms with that innovation is better understood as a system rather than a chain (Pinto, 2009).
So far in research, the link between diversity and innovation is something that “is mainly addressed through the descriptive notion of niche markets” where the approach has been that “efficiency relates positively and diversity negatively to various increasing returns to scale in markets”. The problem with this approach is that it “neglects the benefits of diversity in terms of realizing system improvements through recombinant innovation or spillovers.” (Van Den Bergh, 2008).
This highlights what Leiponen and Helfat (2010) show in their study:
“Innovation is a risky business. Under conditions of high uncertainty, it makes sense to ask: how can firms maximize their chances of success? In the context of innovation activity, there is a longstanding answer: safety lies in numbers and in variety of attack (Jewkes, Sawers, and Stillerman, 1958). In other words, search broadly.”
Van Den Bergh (2008) show results that diversity “fosters the necessary ‘recombinant innovation’ and ‘spillovers between different options’ that is needed for realizing system improvements; i.e. “one should cherish ones failures and innovative wastage”.
When it comes to more empirical studies of diversity and innovation, it is cultural diversity (percentage of non-nationals in the population) that is used as an indicator (see Florida, 2005). In a study of Gössling and Rutten (2007), mentioned by Pinto (2009) cultural diversity (as well as wealth, talent and density) brings “positive impact on regional innovativeness”.
Pinto (2009) discusses diversity more broadly that cultural diversity as percentage of non-nationals in the population. The meaning of diversity in innovation can also be “Network organizations, e.g. search for partners that posses competencies different from their own (Gössling et al., 2005)”.
Tsai (2009) study collaborative approaches for companies and show that “collaborative network” promotes innovation and that “The greatest positive impact on the degree of innovation novelty comes from collaborative networks comprising different types of partners.
A version of diversity and innovation, I claim is the arguments found in initiatives and research on do-tanks, focusing on the process of innovative activities.
Think and Do Tanks
A microform of innovation is present in so called think tanks. I will in this section discuss the transition from think tanks to do-tanks as including diversity thinking, in the doing of policy and networking and collaborating.
Think tanks are important initiatives for the European Union:
“The number of think-tanks in Europe has more than quadrupled in recent years, and they have become more active and inventive at disseminating policy solutions to decision-makers. But they are at risk of turning into lobbyists as they face issues related to funding, autonomy and innovation.” (EurActive, 2009)
Research on think tanks and do-tanks is not very well developed. I have only found a few, and if you have any suggestions, please let me know!
The idea of think tanks is that it should function as “a research communication ‘bridge’” for policy work (Stone (2007). Stone is quite critical of think tanks:
“The phrase ‘think tank’ has become ubiquitous – overworked and underspecified – in the political lexicon. It is entrenched in scholarly discussions of public policy as well as in the ‘policy wonk’ of journalists, lobbyists and spin-doctors. This does not mean that there is an agreed definition of think tank or consensual understanding of their roles and functions. Nevertheless, the majority of organizations with this label undertake policy research of some kind. The idea of think tanks as a research communication ‘bridge’ presupposes that there are discernible boundaries between (social) science and policy.”
For Stone do-tanks mean distinguishing between different forms of think tanks: “so-called scholarly ‘ink tank’ /…/ against the activist ‘think-and-do tank’”:
“There is also the phenomenon of the ‘think-and-do tanks’. That is, institutes initiate and support the implementation or execution of community programmes, policy trials, evaluation of programmes, monitoring, and so forth. Some institutes also engage in ethics training, delivering in-service courses, producing TV documentaries, or capacity building.”
For Valaskakis (2010) “‘think tanks’ have to be followed by ‘do tanks’ that come up with appropriate action plans”; thay act at different levels:
“At the think tank level, it is very important to connect the dots, discover patterns, uncover unsuspected links and, conversely, to note explicit and implicit uncouplings, turning points, which are often not discernible to the naked eye, yet very real. Based on this idea, we must look for cross-cutting currents and not just investigate vertical silos. At the ‘do tank’, strategies must be based on a realistic assessment of what can be done and in what time frame. As such, they must be distinguished from mere ‘wish lists’ or vague recommendations in defence of motherhood and apple pie. In light of the above, the most important question ahead is not identifying the myriad challenges ahead, but how well we, as Homo sapiens are equipped to face them. In my view, this boils down to one question which is likely to become the central issue for decades ahead: How can we explore better ways of managing our world and seeking alternative methods of global governance?”
Saturated in the do tank-level is the line of thinking from Dewey on Learning by doing: that we learn from putting ideas into action. I also see strands from action-research, design-research and practice-based research (both from art and from social work).
Initiatives using the concept “do tank” look very different. Medea, the research center I am active at, has been doing do tanks here, in form of different co-production projects. One can also see Medea’s initative for a FabLab, Fabriken, as an effort to create a do tank. At School of Arts and Communication, where I do my teaching there has been several experiments with for example sewing circles for SMS embroydering.
One well-known do tank is this from The New York Law School:
“The Do Tank strives to strengthen the ability of groups to solve problems, make decisions, resolve conflict and govern themselves by designing software and legal code to promote collaboration. Tools alone cannot create a culture of strong groups. Hence Do Tank projects address the role of legal and political institutions, social and business practices and the visual and graphical technologies — what we term the “social code” — that may allow groups, not only to foster community, but to take action.”
Creating an Event
In the study by Pinto (2009) results point to the need to “originate actions adapted to each specific context”. The event, Network by Doing, is an example of exactly this. The context is Medea, where we experiment with different forms of thinking and doing.
This event is focusing on exploring the aspects of networks and collaborating by doing digital prototyping.
The event has grown from different established personal contacts. Me, Charlotte Uhler and Anna Oscarsson have met at Geek Girl Meetups in Malmö. The networks involved in organizing are: Nätverket Göran, Geek Girls, Medea.
Geek Girl Meetup is a network focusing on “geek girls interested in web, technology and innovation”:
“Geek girl meetup is an un-conference for geeky girls interested in web, code and business development. Our goal is to create new netwoks and elevate female role models in the industry. And have fun of course. We do that by letting each participant share there knowledge with others. That’s how you create great conditions for exchanging knowledge.” It is the local for Öresund that we cooperate with, and who invite this network.
Nätverket Göran is an “an informal network for women who want to share experiences and get tips on how to achieve balance in life, between leisure and work”. The network aim to “can help each other, both with practical tips and by creating a platform for exchange of ideas”.
Medea, is a research center focusing on collaborative media. The formal Medea network consists of a list of organizations that we collaborate with. At Medea the imeediate network is collegues. Like Geek Girl and Nätverket Göran, Medea is involved in different social networked activities. Facebook, Twitter, email lists etcetera.
Social networked media has been used to connect a diversity of people, in inviting people to the event. During the event we will learn from Clara Leivas, a female student, through a facilitated lab on making Arduino prototyping. It will be group work where competences will be mixed.
Expectations of “Network by doing” is the same as for The New York Law School’s do tank: to close the “capability gap” by inspire to take action. For me it will also mean creating more insight to how do tanks kan be understood in relation to innovation and networks. More will be written on this matter after the event.
Leiponen A and Constance E. Helfat (2010) Innovation objectives, knowledge sources, and the benefits of breadth. Strat. Mgmt. J., 31: 224–236.
Pinto, Hugo. “The Diversity of Innovation in the European Union: Mapping Latent Dimensions and Regional Profiles.” In European Planning Studies 17, no. 2 (February 2009): 303-326.
Stone (2007) Recycling bins, garbage cans or think tanks? three myths regarding policy analysis institutes. Public Administration Volume 85, Issue 2, pages 259–278, June 2007
Tsai, KH (2009) Collaborative approaches for companies, See Collaborative networks and product innovation performance: Toward a contingency perspective Original Research Article Research Policy, Volume 38, Issue 5, June 2009, Pages 765-778
Valaskakis, K (2010) The case for global governance. Technological Forecasting and Social Change Volume 77, Issue 9, November 2010, Pages 1595-1598