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Creative Collaboration across Scotland: Building an Appetite for Innovation

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Abstract

Rural Scotland encompasses a significant proportion of Scotland’s landmass, population, and economy. However, public funding and opportunities for those living in rural locations (whether accessible or remote rural) are markedly less than those living in urban environments. Design in Action (DiA), a multi-institution knowledge exchange project, is attempting to address this balance by drawing on design thinking and design methods to enable and provoke innovation and entrepreneurial capacity across five key industry sectors in Scotland, including Rural Economies and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). This paper notes the potential of digital technologies to support and become enabling forces for economic growth in rural communities, and proposes an ethos of ‘creative collaboration’ as a means to imbue communities with a genuine sense of ownership of the digital tools they develop and harness.
XXVth ESRS Congress
29 July – 1 August 2013 in Florence, Italy!
1!
Creative Collaboration across Scotland:
Building an Appetite for Innovation
Deborah Maxwell1 and Simon Biggs2
Rural Scotland encompasses a significant proportion
of Scotland’s landmass, population, and economy.
However, public funding and opportunities for those
living in rural locations (whether accessible or remote
rural) are markedly less than those living in urban
environments. Design in Action (DiA), a multi-
institution knowledge exchange project, is attempting
to address this balance by drawing on design thinking
and design methods to enable and provoke innovation
and entrepreneurial capacity across five key industry
sectors in Scotland, including Rural Economies and
Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
This paper notes the potential of digital technolo-
gies to support and become enabling forces for eco-
nomic growth in rural communities, and proposes an
ethos of ‘creative collaboration’ as a means to imbue
communities with a genuine sense of ownership of
the digital tools they develop and harness. 1
INTRODUCTION
Scotland is geographically rural and by some defini-
tions is predominantly so, with 94% of land mass
deemed rural and around 1 million out of 5.2 million
people classed as living in rural areas in Scotland
(Rural Scotland Key Facts, 2012). Whilst there are
distinct and very real advantages of rural life (e.g.
less pollution, quieter life, easy access to country-
side, cheaper housing etc.) they come at the cost of
poorer communication links (i.e. transport and ser-
vices including network access) and community and
public funding opportunities in comparison to urban
settings (Velaga et al., 2012).
Design in Action (DiA) is a UK-based Arts and
Humanities Research Council-funded Knowledge
Exchange Hub. DiA is investigating the potential for
design as a strategy for economic growth and has
identified five key industry sectors in Scotland
(namely Rural Economies, ICT, Food, Sport, and
Well-Being) which could benefit from support and
development to drive economic growth (Follett &
Marra, 2012). DiA is currently undertaking a set of
intensive scoping studies to develop rich under-
standings of each sector identifying their needs,
concerns, and priorities. Critically, these understand-
ings are underpinned by a collaborative approach,
working with key stakeholders across industry, aca-
demia, and design. Within the remit of ICT, we are
1 Deborah Maxwell is from Edinburgh College of Art, at the University
of Edinburgh, UK (d.maxwell@ed.ac.uk).
2 Simon Biggs is from Edinburgh College of Art, at the University of
Edinburgh, UK (s.biggs@ed.ac.uk).
particularly interested in developing and supporting
work in networked collaborative environments as
mediated by digital technology; given our working
context of Scotland, there are significant overlaps
and synergies between ICT and Rural Economies.
THE VALUE OF RURAL SCOTLAND
Understanding the value of rural landscapes is com-
plex and even trying to ascribe a value in purely
economic terms is challenging (Bosworth, 2012).
Oxfam’s Humankind Index (Oxfam, 2013) attempts
to offer an alternative means of measuring the value
of living in Scotland, including social and emotive
parameters. Regardless of measurement unit, it is
clear that rural Scotland is important to the overall
country’s cultural and economic identity, and with
the rural population predicted to increase by 10% by
2035 (Skerratt et al, 2012), it will become increas-
ingly important to Scotland as a whole.
Rural businesses are very much embedded in
local communities, creating and using informal co-
operation systems and predominantly relying on
local markets (Galloway, 2012), where strategic
business decisions may be based on quality of life or
family priorities rather than wholly economic factors
(Bosworth, 2012). In addition, private businesses in
rural Scotland tend to be small or micro business
(less than 10 employees) with a far higher percent-
age of workers in rural Scotland being self-employed
compared to the rest of the country (Rural Scotland
Key Facts, 2012; Skerratt et al, 2012). Encouraging-
ly, rural Scotland was found to be more resilient
than urban areas in the recent economic downturn
(Skerratt et al, 2012) and indicators of economic
activity are higher in rural parts of Scotland than
elsewhere (Rural Scotland Key Facts, 2012), all of
which suggests that there is both rich potential and
opportunity for further development and growth of
rural enterprises.
THE ENABLING POWER OF ICT
Digital technologies can support and become ena-
bling forces for economic growth in rural communi-
ties, imbuing them with a genuine sense of owner-
ship of the digital tools they develop and harness. As
demonstrated by emerging research in IT for Devel-
opment, localised rural communities can be catalysts
for innovation re-appropriating tools as necessary,
even with limited resources (Heeks, 2012; Buré
2006). DiA seeks to support and enable such innova-
tion through the development and application of
XXVth ESRS Congress
29 July – 1 August 2013 in Florence, Italy!
2!
tools, fostering innovation and empowering stake-
holders.
Whilst it is often assumed that rural businesses
have less uptake of ICT, this is not necessarily the
case (Galloway, 2012). Although findings suggest
that rural businesses’ use of technology is less cut-
ting edgeand based more around using proven
tools, rural businesses in Scotland do make use of
the internet to facilitate local trade and, as a conse-
quence, global trade. However, broadband access
across rural Scotland remains incomplete and a
significant challenge to the ICT infrastructure. DiA is
currently exploring a range of ways to connect with
rural (and urban) businesses across communication
channels, from text-based SMS messages to Twitter
and social media, as well as physical meetings. It is
hoped that through trialling a suite of prototypes,
observations and unforeseen responses to the con-
ceptual prototypes will emerge, directly informing
our wider approach of creative collaboration and
knowledge exchange.
CREATIVE COLLABORATION
The authors of this paper recognise that technology
is not a panacea, and that the application and situ-
ated social context of tools are critical for adoption
and understanding. The challenge for HCI and de-
sign research is to extend the reach of supposed
inclusive methods such as Participatory Design and
Co-Design (Chamberlain et al., 2012) beyond aca-
demia into mainstream ethical and economic set-
tings. The challenge for Design in Action in particular
is to build an appetite for engagement with technol-
ogy in rural businesses to encourage these commu-
nities to think creatively and have the confidence
and ability to enact positive local change through
technology. By developing and running intensive
workshop environments called ‘chiasma’ that bring
individuals together from different backgrounds,
including designers, academics and business, DiA
uses design as a catalyst to frame discussions
around key issues pertinent to the rural economy,
which have emerged from our scoping studies. Chi-
asma are two or three day residential workshops
that take participants through a design process,
encouraging empathetic reflections (e.g. through the
creation and development of personas to concretise
key characteristics of stakeholders), design thinking,
and ideation using tools and inspiration from HCI
and Service Design, to lead to new products and
services that can ultimately be financially viable.
Aside from directly funding new ideas to first proto-
type, market-ready state as outputs from these
events, participants are exposed to alternative ways
of approaching problems in pressured environments
(e.g. playful physical prototyping and ideation prob-
lem solving tools) whilst networking and working
collaboratively with other participants, i.e. the crea-
tive collaboration element. It is our hope that partic-
ipants will apply these skills and new approaches in
the wider workplace and communities, creating a
virtuous circle. To date, three chiasma have taken
place for the Well-Being, Food, and Rural Economies
sectors respectively, and several projects have so far
been allocated funding. Follow up data gathering
from participants (and funded project teams in par-
ticular) around the impact of attending a chiasma is
on-going and will be disseminated in due course.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Design in Action is a multi-institution UK Knowledge
Exchange hub funded by the Arts and Humanities
Research Council and Creative Scotland.
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Rural Scotland in Focus
  • S Skerratt
  • J Atterton
  • C Hall
  • D Mccracken
  • A Renwick
  • C Revoredo-Giha
  • A Steinerowski
  • S Thomson
  • M Woolvin
  • J Farrington
  • F Heesen
Skerratt, S., Atterton, J., Hall, C., McCracken, D., Renwick, A., Revoredo-Giha, C., Steinerowski, A., Thomson, S., Woolvin, M., Farrington, J, & Heesen, F. (2012). Rural Scotland in Focus 2012, Edinburgh: Rural Policy Centre, Scottish Agricultural College.
The new measure of Scotland's Prosperity, second results (2013) Published by Oxfam GB http://policypractice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/oxfam- humankind-index-the-new-measure-of-scotlands- prosperity-second-results-293743
  • Oxfam Humankind
  • Index
Oxfam Humankind Index: The new measure of Scotland's Prosperity, second results (2013). Published by Oxfam GB, June 2013. http://policypractice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/oxfam- humankind-index-the-new-measure-of-scotlands- prosperity-second-results-293743. Accessed 15 June 2013.
Design in Action-Building a model for knowledge exchange between industry and academia, using design as a strategy for business growth in Scotland
  • G Follett
  • M Marra
Follett, G., & Marra, M. (2012). Design in Action-Building a model for knowledge exchange between industry and academia, using design as a strategy for business growth in Scotland. Leading Through Design, 141.
Published by Oxfam GB
  • Oxfam Humankind Index
Oxfam Humankind Index: The new measure of Scotland's Prosperity, second results (2013). Published by Oxfam GB, June 2013. http://policypractice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/oxfamhumankind-index-the-new-measure-of-scotlandsprosperity-second-results-293743. Accessed 15 June 2013.
Report published by the Scottish Government
Rural Scotland Key Facts 2012. (2012). Report published by the Scottish Government http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/09/7 993/downloads#res403004. Accessed 15 March 2013.