Creative research into the digital economy

This is the second of, we hope, many posts from our guest academic, Lorraine Warren. Dr Warren is Director of Postgraduate Education and senior lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the School of Management at the University of Southampton.

I’ve just participated in the final meeting of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s cluster project, New Research Processes and Business Models for the Creative Industries.  The idea behind this cluster, headed up by the Mixed Reality Lab at Nottingham University, was to bring together interdisciplinary teams to work together across boundaries to deal with the opportunities – and of course the challenges – of the digital economy.

As a management researcher with an interest in technology, especially early-stage concept development, it’s been really exciting for me to work alongside artists, designers, performers and computer scientists to establish new links across the boundaries of different disciplines.

I did expect that some people might be suspicious of me at the start, thinking that perhaps I’d be more interested in the bottom line than the creative process, but I think they realised pretty early on that I am more interested in long-term value creation than short-term souvenir selling.   For me, this is only possible if the people involved, from whatever discipline, are able to develop their professional identity and maintain their integrity about what they do.

So, over the past six months, I’ve been working closely with colleagues in the cluster on practice-based pilot projects, learning whole new vocabularies about building interactive soundscapes and working with sound in real-time motion capture studios.   The question now is – what next?   These projects are crossing the boundaries between art and science, bringing new perspectives and producing some amazing work.  

Perhaps more importantly, new relationships based on trust and respect for different expertises have been established.   Yet while we are looking ahead to potential new business models, a leap to customer revenues is unlikely at this stage!   What we have achieved is a new combination of ideas and people that in the medium- to long-term could be developed in many directions as market opportunities arise in a fast-moving environment.  

If our ideas are to translate into some part of a robust digital economy, we need to be able to develop a trajectory – whatever our career path or discipline, we all need to demonstrate that once we have successfully carried out a small project, we’re ready for something bigger.   It’s not enough to develop horizontally and keep amassing a constellation of small projects that may or may not add up into something that makes sense one day.

We need to deepen and develop our pilot projects, build prototypes, build market relationships, keep working on new ideas.   This isn’t just the inevitable cry for more funding – the EPSRC’s Digital Economy initiative is ongoing – but let’s make sure we can maintain momentum on what we have already achieved. We have some great new groups now, but inevitably if we can’t find vehicles to work on together soon, this will erode, as people find other things to do.

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