Researching “The Sound of the City” Living Lab

A concept drawing from an animation done in "The Sound of the City"
A concept drawing from an animation done in “The Sound of the City”

Digital evolution is advancing in many non-Western countries, creating new markets and new job opportunities. Kenya is among the countries on the rise. However, while the innovation environment in Kenya has already created some international fame, institutional support for digital innovations has not developed with the same speed.

One of the means to build this institutional support is research, which, in turn, could provide policy recommendations and ideas for building new innovation ecosystems. Such as new working models for learning, teaching and creating innovation.

I had a privilege to participate to such a research project with Dr Minna Aslama Horowicz. The research was done in co-operation with GESCI, with support from Aalto’s Media Lab Helsinki.

(UN-founded) GESCI is an international non-profit technical assistance organisation. We are a trusted advisor to governments, development agencies, academia, private sector and civil society organisations working to address key educational challenges of equity and access, relevance and quality through the innovative use of technology.
GESCI’s “About Us”

GESCI’s Africa Knowledge Exhange programme (AKE) organized a study programme/course in Nairobi, Kenya titled “The Sound of the City“, where selected Kenyan participants learned creative skills in building animations, music videos and video game programming.

“The Sound of the City” was organized as an educational “Living Lab“. While the concept of a “Living Lab” is somewhat vague, generally a Living Lab is considered to be a learning-by-doing open-innovation ecosystem, where stakeholders build (creative) artifacts or other projects together, often in workshop environment. In “The Sound of the City“, these artifacts were animations, music and games. They were presented in a showcase event at the end of the semester.

(Medialabbers: sounds familiar? Think “The Sound of the City” as a mini-Media Lab, all condensed to a one-semester programme/course.)

Researching “The Sound of the City”

Working in "The Sound of the City" Living Lab
Working in “The Sound of the City” Living Lab

The research component of “The Sound of the City” was conducted from November 2014 to March 2015. The research objectives, built together with the Aalto research team and GESCI, were distilled to two research questions:

  1. What actually was “The Sound of the City” as an educational Living Labs? Research identified the characteristics – including the participant feedback – of “The Sound of the City” as well as its best practises, key features, successes and challenges. The purpose of this research question was to gain in-depth understanding on the course.
  2. How could the successes of “The Sound of the City” be replicated? One of the pre-set goals of the research project was to take steps in building a “hybrid” Living Labs model, which could combine the learnings from “The Sound of the City” as well as other educational Living Labs with learnings from other Living Labs projects. These learnings, in dialogue with stakeholders, help in building this “hybrid” model for future Living Labs, to be prototyped in Africa at later stage.

To answer these research objectives, a multi-method qualitative research was conducted.

The research was a combination of background research, survey research and thematic interviews. In addition to these research methods, a research blog was used to deepen (and log) the research process. It can be read at http://thesoundofthecity.wordpress.com.

Some ethnographic research was also done as a part of the research process, when Dr Minna Aslama Horowicz participated to the policy forum organized by GESCI’s AKE programme in March 2014.

Research Findings (excerpt)

Building a game done in "The Sound of the City" Living Lab
Building a game done in “The Sound of the City” Living Lab

The research findings, which provide answers to the research questions and point recommendations for policy-makers,  were distilled under five thematic keywords: leadership, innovation, content, sustainability and local/global.

The keywords not only describe some general characteristics and factors of “The Sound of the City”, but they also describe some broader possibilities and challenges in building future Living Labs projects.

Within these keywords, a large quantity of detailed research findings and policy recommendations answering the research questions were made. These can be read from the final research report, to be published later in the research blog, at http://thesoundofthecity.wordpress.com.

The large number of research findings can be roughly summarized to these observations:

  1. In Kenya, there is an existing, and growing, multi-stakeholder innovation ecosystem that offers new opportunities for new collaborations and innovations.
  2. However, the industry requires building up the talent-base that can respond to opportunities. There are indications (weak signals) that local content will be in demand.
  3. The practitioners of “The Sound of the City” recognize that need and express strong interest in creating Kenyan digital media content, for local and global markets.
  4. “The Sound of the City” Living Lab project has brought about the need for a hybrid educational Living Lab model that a) combines content innovation and skills training, and b) fosters creativity as well as leadership qualities, management knowledge and practical entrepreneurial skills.
  5. To build such a model, organizer can draw from existing education-business
    collaborations, developing that into a new Living Labs model, and becoming a leader in the field.
  6. In the next phase, this model should be built, prototyped, documented and researched.
  7. Widening partnerships can be an essential source or resources, not only to collaborations with businesses but with research institutions and other Living Labs. Such future developments can and should be supported by (national) policy in multiple sectors : culture, economy, and education.

Policy Recommendations (Excerpt)

An excerpt of some policy recommendations from the research. See more  recommendations from the completed research report at http://thesoundofthecity.wordpress.com (to be published).

    1. Conducting a national-regional study on consumer markets for local digital cultural products (possibly in collaboration with other national and international actors).
    2. Supporting additional qualitative Living Lab innovation-research efforts for Living Labs involving educational components.
    3. Conducting mapping of best practices and policy solutions for well-functioning education-industry partnerships.
    4. Providing industry/market-responsive training that is also tailored by, and for, individual participants.
    5. Carefully selecting the trainees in order to form a well-function collaborative, diverse training cohort.
    6. Developing a technology-based platform to support the multistakeholder ecosystem.

Further Information

A video presentation for policy forum. The video presents the research and its core findings: