Monthly Archives: October 2008

BeeBCamp, Media Village, W12

Today at work I attended BeeBCamp, a cheerfully titled unconference. I’ve been to quite a few BarCamps in the past, which are similar in principle, but not at work so this was going to be a special experience. It wasn’t arranged by manglement, but by a few interested bods around the BBC.

If you’re not familiar with unconferences, they work by getting everyone to participate, usually by speaking on a favourite subject or taking charge of one aspect or generally helping with the running of the event.

I guess the impedus for having this was to get people together to share ideas, especially those who don’t meet and who work in different departments around the country.

Anyway, in the usual style, BeebCamp started with a welcome and an invitation (by Philip Trippenbach of News) to add talks to a schedule, split into time slots and various areas, so people could chose from up to 6 talks going on at the same time. Before I could think of my 3 word sum-up [this is BarCamp-ism where you go round the room and introduce yourself with 3 terms that sum you up – last time mine were: games, geeking and cats – which I didn’t need today, but maybe something to add to BeeBCamp2?] everyone was off and looking tentatively at the schedule boards.

Some people were more familiar than others with how unconferences work and also were more used to speaking on their favourite or expertise subjects, so they were first to fill in the gaps on the schedule. Talks were varied ranged from blogging, to gaming and ‘how to make awesome video’!

Anyway, you get the idea, so here’s a few rough notes from the talks I attended. I should add that these are my interpretations and simple overviews of discussions and definately not direct quotes, some talks I missed & these are not the views of the general BBC – or about to be made policy, strategy or turned into the moon on a stick (afaik)!

* Dave Anderson talked about his experience of MMOGs
– beta testing
– editorial policy
– partnerships
– issues to consider
– what’s a MMOG?

* I chaired a discussion about women in tech at the BBC – this was really interesting and became more about how people get into tech, for example:
– how career stereotypes at school shape who goes on to study / work in tech
– the rise of women only tech meets – is this a good thing?
– gender aptitudes for careers – are women better in ‘caring’ professions eg teachers, medicine, childcare? Devils advocate stuff!
– why would women want to code / get out of coding, isn’t it boring?
– how women find working in tech, attending conferences and meets generally – attitudes, moving up the career ladder, glass ceiling anyone?
It was quite passionate and I need to write some of this up properly when I have time!

* Jasper from Children’s led a discussion about games at the BBC
– cataloging and evaluating existing games (maybe!)
– the importance of games
– how we could use MMOGs for innovative content
– our favourite games, which turned out to be a good way of finding out about someone 😉

* Tristan Ferne of A&Mi lead a discussion on ‘what should we build next?’
– future apps
– tech shaping the future of training
– being more open / sharing
– accessibility

* Roo Reynolds, Social Media Exec chaired a discussion on ‘External blogging: can I – should I?’
– different approaches to blogging
– value of blogging
– how many people know about the different subjects / areas covered by blogs?
– role of guest bloggers
– responsibility of taking on / starting a blog
– types of blogs: team / genre / personal
– barriers to blogging eg time, self-censoring, dilemma between work / personal blogs
– prioritising time for blogging
– rules for personal blogs: disclaimers, not giving anything confidential away (notice how vague I am ;-))!

* Daniel Bennett(?) talked about News blogs
– using blogs in the news
– storytelling: linking up, weaving narrative
– reportage & citizen journalism
– barriers to blogs in the news: trust, getting things right, not being mundane
– time consuming: fact finding, moderation, checking
– microblogging
– liveblogging
– ambient intimacy
– ambient journalism

Finally, I attended a round up discussion on where to go next, facilitated by Tom van Aardt – we were overunning and about to be booted out of the conference area as the facilities team were setting up for another function!
– ‘i want my commissioner to understand…’
– finding colleagues have similar ideas and needs
– what can be done to get things done?
– be good to have a toolkit for getting things done
– a good opportunity to find out more about each other: twitter, blogs, wiki, keep in contact
– Backstage internal mailing list is a good way of keeping up with ideas
– meet again in the spring to discuss what we’ve been up to!

All in all it was a good day, lots of positive discussion from very passionate and informed people. Nobody hogged the discussions and nobody felt that they couldn’t ask a question or admit they needed something explaining.

Gosh, it’s 2 am and I need to go to bed now – I need to be up in 4.5 hours for a trip to Kingswood Warren – wish me luck getting up! What an amazing day – we even had snow in Central London in October, how bizarre is that?!


LGF08 – DS:London World Record attempt, Rocket Club, Holloway

The London Games Festival is under way and on Saturday I rocked up at the Metropolitan University’s student union for an attempt at the World Record for the most DS players playing together for 5 minutes, organised by DS:London in conjunction with London Games Fringe. The atmosphere was great and I met up with lots of friends and the mood was high. The excitement and tension mounted as we got nearer the counting time.

Downstairs an all Girl Gamer tournament was well away with 26 competitors. Meanwhile where we were, small groups of touchers sat in large huddles playing all sorts of games including our one of our multiplayer favs: Mario Kart, there were also some awesome tourneys featuring Bomberman and Tetris.

When the time came for the official count, we all walked in single file, waving our DSs at the officials from The Guinness Book of Records and there was a countdown to the result projected onto a huge screen. The excitement was too much for me and I dropped my DS – yikes! Happily my DS survived, but it’ll teach me to try and play Mario Kart whilst videoing and taking photos – meep!

Unfortunately we missed the World Record this time, but achieved a British record – hurrah! Although disappointed, everyone managed to keep smiling, as we’d had a great time. With no time for wallowing, we all pilled downstairs into the student union bar and drowned our sorrows with a few nicely priced beers and got stuck into the games pub quiz – which was a hoot and thoroughly tested our gaming knowledge – it wasn’t easy!

Well done to Joe, Dave Green, Minh, Rich, Taynor, Barry, Harrison and everyone else who made it a great day!

Virtual Worlds London, QE2

Well my morning hasn’t started very well… Discovered as soon as I’d arrived that I’d forgotten my phone with my interview slots and my work mail token, so I couldn’t check my calendar either – grrrr. Anyways, after going all the way back to retrieve them, I’m back at the QE2 and ready to rokk!

Ooook – sorry I haven’t finished this, I’ve been so busy since I got back in the orifice – will try to get it done this weekend!

FOWA: Future of Web Apps, ExCel, London

A quick hello from FOWA, I’m in the video control room stealin’ their internets as I was having problems getting onto ExCel’s wifi. I’m having a lovely time and have had lots of hugs & hellos from friends from all over the Geekdom, um I mean world, which is always good – especially when you can’t find any vegan food so are having a low blood sugar moment ;-P

Anyways, I’m researching some questions for our interviews tomorrow – so this is going to be short and sweet till I have time to write up my mangled notes – brb!


Okay, I’ve decided that as we didn’t get the opportunity to film interviews with any women speakers at FOWA, it was logistics rather than choice, I’ve picked out my notes from the three women speakers I saw at FOWA (I think there were 4 or 5 in total out of just under 50 speakers). I’ll probably write up my other notes at some time, but I was keen to get these ones out there first…

Suw Charman-Anderson – social media consultant

Suw talked about the psychology of email, it was a fantastic, thought provoking talk – who recognises themselves and their habits in the observations below, eh? 🙂

In Suw’s role as a social media consultant, she rapidly realised that she needs to know how people react and do things, to do her job. The way people do things is not really rational, it’s something sub-concious and out of our control. If we can understand people better we can find out out how to make better web apps.

The area of psychology is a very broad field and Suw asks two questions of her web usage:
1. ‘Why I am I addicted to’
2. ‘How can I understand why I’m addicted to

Looking and comparing two different, but similar sites – vs.
Suw thought about what it is about these sites that makes their content satisfying and compelling?

Looking at the structure of the sites, Dilbert has a narrative, so going backwards is necessary to find the evolving story and can a bit dissatisfying to go through the archive. There’s no random button – you need to make a conscious decision if you want to pick a date to go back. Though an RSS feed tells you when Dilbert changes and so when to go back.

In comparison, I Can Has Cheezeburger has about 4 to 7 new additions a week. The updates are not entirely random, but random enough to make Suw go back. There’s no linear narrative, but there is a random button. She’s seen all of them but the random button and the randomness of when they’re put up brings her back to visit the site again.

There’s clearly a compulsive behavior going on and Suw feels she checks the site more than she should…

What is compulsion?

* habitual checking – finding yourself magically there
* wondering if a new lolcat has arrived – keep checking
* feelings of anxiety when you can’t check
* when you find yourself getting your phone out to see if you can check it when you’re away from you computer

This kind of compulsive behavior is called operant conditioning and the same as what gamblers feel. You’re getting a reward for doing something, so you’re more likely to do it again Suw mentioned a scientist called BF Skinner, who did experiments with rats involving pressing a lever to get a food pellet, but once the poor animals had got used to this system they then made the pressing /reward system random. The rats then got obsessed, they kept pressing the lever to see if they get a reward. Operant conditioning is the way to get a human being to do something too. I Can Has Cheezeburger does this. A Lolcat is the reward, even though they differ in funniness, we become obsessed with checking for them.

It’s pretty easy to train a behavior, you start with a regular reward and then make the reward random to get someone hooked.

What happens when unwanted behaviors are reinforced, in an unhealthy, negative manner? Email causes significant problems in business. There have been a handful of studies into how we behave with email. It would be interesting to do this with Twitter behavior. Email is our de-facto way of communicating, studies have found that people spend more than 2 hours a day in their inbox and receive over 100 email. Fifty per cent of people claimed they checked their email once an hour and about thirty per cent claimed every 15mins, but in studies where they were watched people were checking their mail every 5 minutes.

In a business context most people have an alert on their email application. Problem with these alerts is that it makes 70% respond within 6 seconds. There is an alert cost – i.e. when we have responded to an alert and consequent email we have to figure out what we were doing before we stopped! The interrupt time for software developers is higher – average is 15 minutes as they often have to answer complex problems. We can’t predict when we’re going to get an email, so we have the conditioning / reactive thing going on again.

Our processes for trying to structure our email and to-do lists etc, is problematic – how do we react with these technologies? Our brains are interested in the emotional reward of getting the email rather than what’s it about. How do we break this cycle and reign ourselves back in again? It’s difficult. There are a number of ways we can break this operative conditioning. Breaking the cycle is hard. With email you could make sure there’s always a cool email from someone you like. Break the link between the behavior and the reward – i.e. build in a 5 minute delay. There was an experiment that tried this in an office, but it caused much consternation and there was uproar, so they went back to their previous ways.

Some more ways to break the compulsion:
* Remove the stimulus to check – i.e. the alert, so that when your in a period of flow you won’t be disturbed by an alert
* Remove free will – you can only check it at certain times – set a schedule.
* Reinforce an incompatible behavior
* Do not use your computer so much
* Remove the tools to do it

Technology is developing is faster than we can develop manners or etiquette around it. Part of our reaction to technology is around our animal instincts. Unintended reactions to technology are rife, how we change our tools to change our behavior and how we apply them become key.

Schedules are important – there’s studies to show that we have limited amounts of will power so we have to be careful how we apply it – i.e. if we stop ourselves from checking I Can Has Cheezeburger, will we just go to another compulsive behavior such as buying chocolate instead?

Email culture needs to be looked at – why are we sending so many emails? Ping-pong false politeness emails, making sure everyone knows we’re being polite.

Remember: problems get resolved by themselves – for example when you get back from holiday and find someone has solved the problem in your absence!

UPDATE: I attended a talk by a colleague, Matt Channon, on mind mapping techniques and he happened to show a mind map that he’d made of Su’s talk – fab!


Kath Moonan, Senior Consultant, Abilitynet

Kath gave a compelling insight into the world of accessibility. Her talk included video interviews highlighting the user experience and needs of people who use screen readers to read web pages.

She demonstrated Easy YouTube: an easy to use interface for YouTube that also works with screen readers.

Kath finished with a wish list of items that web producers and developers can do to ensure a better experience for all:

* Apply basic web standards
* Create a robust architecture
* Explain what your application does
* Test with a keyboard only
* Involve users with diverse needs in your scoping and testing
* Get involved in Scripting Enabled

If you’d like to get involved further there’s also an event next year called ‘100,000 Flowers Bloom’ which I’m sure I’ll find a link to some details soon. For more information on accessibilty and web issues see Abilitynet or Scripting Enabled and there’s also my blog post from the event.


Kathy Sierra, JavaRanch – ‘How to grow and nurture your community’

In a highly motivational talk to round off day two of FOWA, Kathy talked about how to empower your user while empowering yourself at the same time via a selection of top tips and observations, which included:

* Think about what your users really want to be good at – how do you help users kick ass?
* The hi-res user experience: it’s what drives people to do things, for example, people who like music say they can parse more notes
* Being better is better – we’re looking for richer deeper experiences. Kathy feels the reason geeks have taken up climbing is that if you answer you phone up a cliff you might die, so it’s one way of turning off and concentrating on being good at something else
* There are key milestones for every user – how are we helping our users with their milestones? When people have clawed their way up a curve threshold they don’t wanna go back!
* It’s not about natural talent – it’s just practice!
* Treat your users nicely – usability, treats and don’t leave anyone out – ie if you have free t-shirts have girls sizes too 😉
* Focus on what the user does not what you want them to focus on – help them to use your tools!
* if you practice your balance then you will take less cycles to stand up and have more brainpower for thinking!

Virtual Worlds Forum Unplugged, The Hospital Club, London

Virtual Worlds Forum Unplugged was an impromptu replacement event for the last minute cancellation of Virtual Worlds Forum (6-8 Oct) due to an unconnected shooting near the event location.

It was hosted in The Hospital Club, a rather swanky venue billed as a place for new media professionals to gather meet and entertain. It ran on Barcamp style unconference rules – ie you turn up and pick a slot in the schedule to talk about your given subject. It was originally a rather large conference so there wasn’t the time or room for everyone to participate in true Barcamp style, but having only a few hours notice I think the events team did well to put this together and it was a great place for all the stranded delegates and speakers to meet.

I met up with a few friends and colleagues and had a very nice day. It was certainly really cool to sit with some of the leading lights and legends of the virtual worlds community, hear them speak and discuss thoughts with them in a way you don’t get to do in a traditional conference.

Below are some notes from a couple of the talks I attended. I hope the organisers aren’t bankrupted by the cancellation of the original event and are able to restructure it at a later date.

The first talk I sat in on was about virtual hospitals and medical facilities
, apologies I didn’t get the name of the chap who was chairing it as I missed the first few minutes. There was a debate around whether health companies would use VW hospitals as a cheap alternative to the real thing.

Education was also discussed, how virtual worlds environments can be used for teaching purposes, but it was emphasised that there needs to be a separation between adult and teen access and different levels of education. Heard what I thought was some quite uneccessary worrying over kids having access to information to do/make sinister things in Second Life and also results of some data on US prosecutions for men picking up young girls on Second Life apparently said it was the girls looking for the men – hmmmm!

Anyway, the bottom line with medical areas in Second Life is not when, but how these technologies are going to change the future of medical services!

Jessie Mulligan, COO, ImaginVenture SA

Talked about trends in gameplay, firstly discussing three different markets:
* One is kids games – huge growth in kids’ games over the last few years
* Games worlds – social worlds, neighbourhoods, theme parks World of Warcraft Habbo Hotel
* Industrial parks – enterprise solutions – Second Life makes more money with corporations

Theme parks are making the most money – a 5 billion dollar turnover – China has a game which has the world’s most simultaneous users. QQ tokens became the currency of choice for gamers and got so big that the government regulated them. Apparently they were used for money laundering and even sex, so the government clamped down on them.

Games are going to grow regardless – it looks like they’re going to branch out more into Triple-A online games (games that you have to download a client to play) such as World of Warcraft. But web browsers games such as MMOGs and adult social world bridge the divide between high price condos and the ghettos – this is where gamers are dividing.

Accessibility and engageabilty – web based products are going to get very popular.

Cultural differences around the world are another consideration. Apparently Greek and Italian gamers have a history of not getting on too well with each other in World of Warcarft. Issues like whose national laws apply in virtual worlds and heavy laws such as people having to register their blogs, laws on gender such as if players are allowed to change their gender online are all things that have different rules in different countries. Huge concern over cultural indifferences in games narrative – when the US brings games into Asia they find the habits of people are different, from art direction to personalities, to technology.

In the next 6 months, apparently Brazil is going to be the third largest owners of installed PCs in the world. Someone asked about metrics for India, apparently they don’t have good enough graphics cards for a lot of games and virtual world play and it’s also an unknown territory as no one has any gaming stats for India. In china MMOGs dominate – because they’ve been so good at monetising gaming in lots of small games – this means they don’t need to have a huge take-up to make money. They’ve been firing off lots of run of the mill MMOGs because they know they can make money really quickly even though the graphics are outdated and in terms of story line they’re nothing new. The money comes in because kids in China are willing to pay to upgrade to a bigger sword whereas mostly in the West people don’t tend to do this because it’s seen as cheating.

For collecting money in Asia the trend is toward micro-transactions because it’s a low barrier to kids and it’s very social – in internet cafes kids show off and interact. They’re very susceptible to new trends. The West is more subscription based.

Games based worlds are going to keep going strong for next 5 years the key words are accessibility and engageablitly and be more web based.


Mark Simpkins lead a discussion on tracking world issues that encompassed virtual worlds, role-play, ARGs and exhibitions.

Mark talked about ‘World Without Oil’ an ARG from Canadian Public Broadcasting Corp and designed by Jane McGonigal. It simulated the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis and anyone could join in by tracking events, writing stories and sharing solutions. He then went on to tell us about the very recently launched Superstruct game. It’s a massively multiplayer forecasting game based on world threats and how to fix them, in a world set in 2019. It encourages people to think about how they would live with threats such as population explosions, pandemics, power struggles and more – building a virtual world. When you sign up for the game, you can create profiles and imagine structures around how you think the world will be, and submit stories of what you imagine the social structures will be – a bit like a live action role player game – it’s text based, so low tech.

It launched at 4am this morning (6th October) and people are generating stories already with a serious edge.

Last Friday there was a photography project launch – an effort to tell the world about the story of an extremely drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, XDR-TB. Through photographs taken by James Nachtwey. The aim of this project is to raise awareness – it’s curable if you catch in time and people stay on their medication. He created which contains slideshow of his work to break this story globally on blogs, etc and breaking the story of pandemic that is happening now.

The Institute for the Future, based in Palo Alto, California is an independent think tank with 40 years of forecasting experience who work with organisations to help them make more informed decisions about the future. They are going to produce reports from Superstruct.

We discussed how we could deal with a pandemic right now if we thought about it and documented it on a platform such as Superstruct. It was proposed that we could use structs to document all our stories, posts, etc about issues that are important in the world right now. and also thinking ahead that when we are presented with the results of Superstruct we can compare them to other peoples ideas – creating a parallel metaworld on top of Superstruct.

We agreed that Superstruct and was a very interesting project to generate social ideas – promoting the general public to think about real world problems for the future. The question is what should people think about in particular? The credit crunch and other issues of the moment could be social ones such as knife crime and public health issues are a good examples of things we should be considering solutions for now rather than thinking about how to cope with them in the future.


David Burden of Daden showed me Charlotte a virtual chat bot that he’d made for BBC Backstage a couple of years ago, which was a nice coincidence 🙂

Future of Technology in Education, Imperial College, London

I’m at Future of Technology in Education, Imperial College, London. It should be an interesting day the line up of talks certainly looks like it’s going to be informative and thought provoking. Here’s some of my notes, they’re very rough…

Ian Forrester, BBC Backstage – Why portability matters

Ian started off by telling us about a book that he’s been reading called ‘The Future of the Internet and how to stop it’ a scary book, discussing a dark and controlling future of the web – I must read this!

Ian talked about data portability and the importance of web users being able to control their profiles and data. Controlling our identity online is very difficult and a subject not to be approached lightly!

The Bill of Rights for social web users – asserts that a user has rights online:
“We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:
Ownership of their own personal information, including:
* Their own profile data
* The list of people they are connected to
* The activity stream of content they create;
Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.”

For more see:

He warned of us of casual phishing that goes on from within innocent looking social websites, for example many sites ask you if you want to import your friends, which is a ruse to get hold of your friends data and use it for their own means, usually advertising & spam.
Identity is difficult, it’s a complicated area – OpenID is one way to control your identity online – see

Ian talked about sites that collect and shares your data e.g. Yammer for microblogging and Basecamp for project management, all these sites and services have potential security issues. Basecamp allows you to export your data when you’ve finished with it, but what happens when you shut down your account – where does this data go? Does it get wiped or does it get stored somewhere and who has access to it? Another issue with relying on this kind of server is downtime – for example if your data is stored on a US service and they do their maintenance when they’re asleep it’s fine for them, but in the UK we’re awake and wanting access!

So who owns what? We should all be using sites that allow distribution to our content via Creative Commons licence – it’s a flexible way to control the rights and freedoms to use your work – if you’re using a site that doesn’t use CC – you shouldn’t use it!

ULAs – user licence agreements – Ian asked who reads these, I don’t think many people put their hands up! He talked about the new Google Chrome ULA and how in the first instance it was said how it owned all your content, but they soon changed it when there was an outcry. He added that Chrome is open source and does have its good points.
You should be able to delete your data – Facebook wouldn’t let you do this for a long time. Facebook was overruled. Ian warned that there’s a lot more going on in Facebook than you think – especially in terms of using your data to target advertising, and other products and services.


Philip butler, University of London computer centre – Personalisation

In his opinion the future of technology is going to be about gadgets that just do what they’re supposed to do – he’s not a technologist himself and doesn’t need to know how technology works.

He’s very busy and doesn’t have much time to spend with his students, he usually gets to see a student for 15-20 mins a term and has to look up his students notes beforehand to remind himself.
With this in mind, he feels the challenge is how do we make effective learning tools to suit the pedagogy. Learning culture is shifting it’s no longer about passive learning, but utilising the tools available to us placing the learner at the centre.

ILP – They’ve created a personalisation framework visualisation of what the UI could look like, personalised and branded, which allows students to add their goals, what their barriers to learning are and more. He mentioned that this was inspired by the BBC’s learning websites.


Miles Metcalf – Campus of the future

They’re building a new campus for Ravensbourne College in Greenwich…

Miles talked about the challenges of IT in colleges, about user-owned- technology and how empowering it is. His vision of the future included using some of the money spent on computer labs to subsidise personal technology. Provide higher-end resources and integrate with user-owned workflows. He mentioned how not long ago that software was designed where user experience didn’t matter – his has changed. He says what IT departments aren’t used to is users taking over their ports with their P2P stuff. What is tomorrow’s IT department? Is it a defender of scarece resource and arbiter of fair use? Are we in an age of enterprise transformation?

He says it’s about the pedagogy – it’s a cohereant pedagogy where today’s students can become the practitioners and a negotiate public identity, Integrating extra-institutionall practice into their institutional-bound learning – it’s a personal learning environment via a social stack of software.


Tim Marshal – CEO JANET(UK)

He opened with asking how can the people who are presently teaching keep up with evolving technology fast enough to train the next generation? It’s a big challenge! He talked about seeing a Quantel Paintbox at a car boot sale. Once upon a time this was the cutting egde of digital imagery technology 20 years ago. He gave a brief talk about the evolution and TV formats from 405 line black and white, to the present.

Tim talked about Ultra High Definition TV and the recent groundbreaking SHV live link with London and the IBC in Amsterdam, which featured an interview with Erik Huggers.

Future of hi-definition – uses:
* Communication
* Sharing – our stuff
* Teaching – great for learning eg medical
* Learning
* Research – hi-def cameras on sea bed – collecting data for analysis
* Creating – creative industries opportunities
* Innovating – all sorts


* Financing considerations – hi-def is an expensive bit of kit at the moment, but there’s ways of mitigating this – ie sharing kit
* Don’t let the people who want to stop you from doing things stop you from innovating
* Be inventive and work in multidisciplinary teams – ie use the resources we have
* Leadership, UK has a lot of talented people, but needs to be more collaborative and joined up.
* Don’t forget to make sure our students have the very best – don’t forget them when planning and thinking about technology in education


The art of innovation report, NESTA, London

On Monday I attended the launch of ‘the art of innovation’ report at NESTA, they’ve been looking at how fine arts graduates contribute to innovation throughout their working lives. The research was conducted via a survey and one-to-one interviews with over 500 graduates from the University of Arts London from the 1950s to the present.

Chris Powell – Chair at NESTA, introduced the event, he said this research was commissioned in an area ‘where there aren’t any facts’ – the question is what becomes of fine arts graduates after they leave education and how they contribute to innovation. It was mentioned how creating art is one of the only careers where the innovation has to be unique. It’s an important area and as in turn artists feed the creative industries and the creative industries feed the world with ideas.

The study looked into what happens to fine arts graduates and how this disseminates into the wider realm of innovation.

Professor Kate Oakley, writer and policy analyst, specialising in the creative industries, cultural policy and regional development at University of the Arts London and City University talked about investigating the changing careers of fine arts graduates.

She mentioned that this project was a genuine pleasure to be involved with, how people in arts love talking about their work and she heard lots of stories from students of the last 50 years. There are a lot of arts graduates, but not that many go on to carve a full-time career out of fine art – so if there is an oversupply, where are they going and where are they being employed?

They were investigating 3 hypotheses

1. Fine arts graduates are highly skilled in innovation: there are two approaches to innovation – one is a rational approach and other is willingness to take risks. They say that the second approach is highly developed in artists.

2. There’s an argument that the way artists work and cultural innovation is the way we’re presently heading: there’s more casualisation of work, more project or portfolio work. Question: do the way artists’ work resemble other ways of working?

3. Notion of aesthetics is now everywhere: lots of products have a high aesthetic component, from running shoes to what you drink. For example, people buy a particular brand of shoe because of their aesthetic taste.

How does artistic labour get into the economy and take its place in innovation? They had a notion of where people were absorbed in other careers – right across the board. They didn’t find that many people had given up their artistic work, but were supplementing it with other work – the artists felt very strongly about this. Is culture everything and ‘work’ changing? The notion of culture being everywhere, which is especially portrayed through the media: arts graduates strongly resisted this – they regard a strong distinction between products and art work – for example they didn’t regard designer running shoes as cultural pieces. Ex art students make a distinction between work and their personal work – they don’t see the fruits of their day job as art. Many of them work in casual, portfolio and project work. The reason for this might come down to arts graduates having transferable skills.

Some policy could help fine arts graduates feel more confident about their skills and prepare them to consider options in the wider labour market, as well as encouraging businesses to think of them when recruiting.

Some snippet observations about fine arts graduates and innovation pulled from the survey:

* Work in a interpretive, innovative way
* Are adaptive, risk taking and problem solving
* Are likely to be lifelong learners
* Characterise themselves as brokers across disciplines
* Use process of discovery, aided but not directed by experts
* Willingness to change, adapt or try new things
* Keen to keep their personal art going as well as career
* Those who list their primary occupation as within the arts, 40% have a second job
* Are adept at switching jobs between sectors

Matthew Collings, writer, critic, artist and TV presenter
Hasn’t taken part in the survey, but feels like someone who is a specimen who went to art school, survived and is in some ways still innovating. His experience of art school was unstructured and art some times frightening and difficult to cope with. He had an experience like a lot of art students, of an unstructured existence – i.e. you’re left to get on with your work. His experience was not negative, but found this out only after leaving and he feels this experience gave him permission to be himself. Some people go to art school because they’re not very good at the other stuff, certainly in the 70s – but it’s very different these days with very business orientated art students emerging from schools such as Goldsmiths.

Panel Q & A session with the audience

Q: Who is the audience for this research? A: Apart from the fine arts grads themselves, it is the innovation policy people in the context of how art links with work. How the flow of creative services flows into work.

Q: Is there any crossover? A: If you look at something like video games, music – you see art school graduates in abundance here. They saw lots working in the broader creative industries. Didn’t find many working outside this, they bend over backwards to stay in the creative industries

Q: Chap from St Martins School of art asked how different do you think your findings would be if you’d engaged with designers instead of fine artists?
Yes, we would have found different answers, but we wanted to do a specific survey with fine arts graduates because they’re the most far removed from the generic work ethic and in some terms are considered ‘the most useless’ graduates and who weren’t being trained for anything specific.

Q: An independent researcher asked: you said that fine art needs originality, but all areas have originality – there’s a difference between invention and innovation.
A: Not many interviewees use the word ‘innovation’ when describing how they work – you have to look at how they are describing their own innovation and inventions.

A lady from Goldsmiths made a point of saying: don’t romanticise the art schools! They’re state funded institutions. People who have excelled due to exceptional pedagogy. Some have a fantasy they hope they will get famous or it’s a brand or a way of bringing uniqueness where they are competing for work. Confused about policy objective – what are we trying to create?

Reflections from another fine arts graduate…

As a fine arts graduate, I found this research really compelling. During my student days, fine art wasn’t going to get you a career unless you had a contact in the galleries or were one of the tutors’ favourites and got a push. Some went on to be art teachers, but not many. We didn’t have any careers coaching anyway! For those who went on to do MAs, artist in residencies, etc, I feel that favouritism played a huge part in who got introduced to the right people or got the best grades. All the tutors over my 3-year degree, bar one part-time female were male, and there was a tension over what was regarded as ‘proper’ art.

I definitely feel that there’s a connection between fine arts graduates and innovation. One my first day of my fine art BA I was given a studio space and left to get on with it for three years, so although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it did make me schedule my time and efforts to become an independent worker.

It’s interesting the survey went on to find that many fine art graduates go into the broader creative industries. I remember very well that graphic design was frowned upon in a very snobbish way by fine arts students. When I left my BA, I worked for a couple of years teaching art, but it wasn’t really for me and I ended up going back to university to study multimedia. This lead me to a career in making interactive multimedia and exploring my personal creativity though digital artworks. Oh yes, I still paint too!