Research Design: Proposal Draft

Background & Purpose

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 10.47.45 AMThe Sound of the City, a project of GESCI – African Knowledge Exchange (AKE), is a Living Lab (LL) project that aims to encapsulate through creative practice in digital arts technology, the vibrancy and currency of the contemporary Hip Hop scene in and around Nairobi. The participant-practitioners will produce  a collaborative digital art work, while simultaneously up-skilling in three independent and relevant learning streams. 

The project also entails an academic research component. Its purpose is to gather information and insights for co-creation of a transferable and international LL model, that advocates online tools and enables international stakeholders to participate. The research part of the project is designed to run from late November 2014 to end March 2015. 

Goals of the AKE LL Research Component

Goals of the AKE LL Research Component

This blog is meant as the key hub for the collaborative research by the participants, instructors, potential users, industry representatives, as well as creative, technology, pedagogical, and other experts involved and/or interested in the project. The blog content is curated by Dr Minna Horowitz and MSocSc Vesa Saarinen of Aalto University’s Media Lab Helsinki, Finland.

Concept in Context: 3 Variables

Source: AKE Living Lab Framework

Source: AKE Living Lab Framework

The core design of the research part of the AKE Living Lab entails three basic features that frame the research design.

  1. First, the production of The Sound of the City has been designed to function as a ‘dual-purpose’ Living Lab, for education as well as for innovation. While most LL environments are based on co-discovery and co-learning, the AKE model is specifically envisioned to serve as an educational Living Lab that is focused not only on innovation but also building practical skills necessary for innovation.  The research seeks to capture both innovative practices of collaborative ICT projects, as well as educational solutions that correspond to those features.
  2. Another core aspect for any Living Lab is that of co-creation at all stages of the processes. This means a ‘spiral’ process that includes many participants, for instance users and business developers, at the very first stages of idea formation, as well as all stages of (technological) development (not only at the later stages of prototype testing, evaluation, and so on). The research aims at building in situations early on (not only at a testing phase) where this kind of co-creation and feedback happens as a part of the study (e.g., in focus groups conversations amongst practitioner-participants and potential users, as feedback from a variety of experts, and so on).
  3. The third feature of the LL concept, especially central in the context of AKE,  is that of involvement of a wider ecosystem (or, multiplicity of stakeholders). The research seeks to introduce elements that bring in insights and sometimes direct feedback from a variety of stakeholders beyond the AKE project and its direct ‘communities of practice’ and ‘communities of interest’ (e.g., the company partners, or the Ministries). Given that the ICT sector is at the outset international, the research seeks to include elements to test possibilities of broadening the network of stakeholders, for the benefit of the innovation and educational aspects of the final proposed LL model.

Research Design

(c) Minna Horowitz & Vesa Saarinen

(c) Minna Horowitz & Vesa Saarinen

The research of the AKE LL brings together three distinct elements. First, it seeks to map the contextual aspects (from resources to existing knowledge and needs) in order to suggest a framework for mapping the first stages of (any) similar LL. Second, it will aim at capturing ‘significant events’  in terms of innovative approaches to innovative co-creation AND co-learning within the project, and at assessing their generalizability for similar LL processes. Finally, it will embrace an idea/l of a broad network of stakeholders as well as develop ways in which that network can be managed and utilized.  The research is envisioned to tap into the specific network created for this research, from participant-practitioners to international industry experts, for future visions and opportunities.

The model proposed for GESCI – AKE will include recommendations for the LL approach, for research/background work needed to contextualize the model, for selection and involvement of partners (stakeholders), as well as for ICT and other resources. It will also address the question of management, ranging from knowledge transfer to intellectual property issues of collaborative innovation.

Core Methodology, Main Methods

The evident methodological solution for this effort is participatory research. The educational and innovative elements of the AKE LL may often be entailed in the very same practice, and that goes also in terms of the research components: While working, the participant-practitioners get to reflect upon their work and discuss it in various ways, with different stakeholders; while also learning and innovating.

The core methods are the following:

  1. Questionnaire to participant-practitioners, instructors, GESCI-AKE administrators, industry representatives and external professionals on mapping the context, including also their views on the core purposes, key questions, and practical approaches of the research.
    • Objective: Overview of “what is now” for the communities of practice: their needs, their definitions of collaboration and innovation, their experiences of good practice. Background for 2. and 3.
  2. On-going “working diary“, i.e., documentation and conversation of the project process via this blog. That can include anything from structured conversations, images, music, videos, to informal chats to “expert insights” by visiting bloggers and other interesting stakeholders. The content can range from depicting the working environment to describing a break-through in innovation to mapping best daily routines, to testing an idea with invited commentators.  The idea is to create a rich, curated yet informal platform for gathering material for “The Making Of… The Sound of the City”. The curation of the blog will aim at gathering material that will be used to formulate the final model, but that can also be used in a variety of other ways, e.g., for a multi-media presentation to illustrate the LL process when showcasing the final product.
    • Objective: Collaborative research of “what is happening”. Self-documentation and co-analysis of the ongoing LL process, by the core stakeholders  of the communities of practice (with some “prompts” from the research team); sharing of information and perspectives by the guest expert bloggers. Material for model, as well as the Showcase.
  3. The Showcase. The Showcase event to be organized in connection to graduation will also serve as an opportunity for researching multi-stakeholder innovation and interaction.
    • Objective: Collaborative research on “what can be”. Testing the Showcase as a potential part of the LL model; creating an opportunity for collaborative scenario-building and brainstorming about the future innovation contexts for LLs.

These three basic methods will be diversified and deepened with specific research interventions as needed.

Please see our tentative draft schedule outline below, and details, including possible methodological approaches, here.

(c) Minna Horowitz & Vesa Saarinen

(c) Minna Horowitz & Vesa Saarinen

More Information

Please see our background notes of the Living Lab concept, its application in the GESCI-AKE Context, and its implications to the research design, in this slideshow:

(and downloadable here).

More about the Living Lab methodology, see the section of the blog on Resources.


8 thoughts on “Research Design: Proposal Draft

  1. Minna and Vesa,

    Great blog – and thanks for setting it up.

    Here’s what I like about it:

    On the AKE Living Lab research: the blog really gives a good overview of the Living Lab framework and you explain it in a way that makes it understandable for everyone – researcher or non-researcher alike.

    It also provides a space for everyone to get involved and be a part of the Living Lab research – so this is a good start to use the blog as a tool for communication, collaboration, conversation about the research where everyone can contribute

    On the methods you are going to use – I think the combination of the survey questionnaire, the blog and the showcase multi-stakeholder consultation can work very well – in that you have a combination of tools/ techniques that will pick up on ‘where AKE is now’ (questionnaire) on ‘what is happening in AKE’ – what are the innovative moments of the sound of the city, what are the work in progress conversations that are happening daily, weekly etc (blog) to ‘what is the model that is emerging through AKE and where do we want to tkae it form here’ (showcasing/ multi-stakeholder review and dialogue)

    On the blog postings: my questions here who will have access to the blog? Will you be involving the AKE stakeholders? Will you do a link up to present an overview of the LL framework, tools and process to the AKE tutors and students and wider community?

    It all looks like an exciting research design – and good luck – I will be watching this space and joining in the conversation from time to time…

    Mary Hooker – GESCI

    Liked by 2 people

    • MANY thanks for your comments — very helpful! We are drafting an email for everyone, with a detailed response (and will post it here, too, for the sake of transparency 🙂 ).

      Meanwhile, a quick answer: Our idea was that this blog would be a *collaborative* tool; hence all the practitioner-students, instructors, and other GESCI faculty/staff would have ADMIN access (= they could initiate conversations, add pages, etc.). Vesa and I, as curators, would sometimes ask questions/post content specific to our research, but we would like everyone have ownership of the blog as the “Making Of the Sound of the City Diary”, if you like.

      Now, my very practical question is: If this idea makes sense, could this blog remain public (as it now) or would it be better to make it password-protected?


  2. Here are some clarifications to our research idea:

    – Blog posting: all students and GESCI folks (admin/instructors) will have an admin access to this blog. This is a collaborative tool and our joint effort. Vesa & Minna, as curators, will invite selected experts to comment/post/to contribute.

    – Concerning qualitative/quantitative research: in the specific GESCI LL case, quantitative research will probably not make sense. We intend to include secondary data that can inform us when giving recommendations (e.g. about industry innovation needs, etc), but the methods seek to look at the experiences within GESCI. To contextualize the case, to make it more generalizable, and just to get a broader picture of relevant fields, we intend to seek the help of selected experts. Apart from the GESCI-specific stakeholders (including partner companies) we intend to interview at least the following experts (and, when appropriate, invite them to contribute to the blog by guest posts or comments).

    – The questionnaire will seek to map the understandings of different GESCI stakeholders about their needs and their understanding of collaborative practices and possibilities. (And, of course, some challenges, difficulties and worries will probably be found as well.) The questionnaire, done using Google Forms, will be generic enough so that all stakeholders (educational, students, industry reps) can relate to it from their own perspective. This will be the first step in the research process, and the initial questionnaire will be ready for comments in a few days.

    – The ”Making Of” -blog diary will form the second step (which should be started ASAP as well). Partly based on themes emerging from the questionnaire, this research/collaboration platform seeks to map the processes of innovation/collaboration, from both ICT and EDU perspectives. In practice, Minna and Vesa as curators or facilitators will invite the students, instructors etc to describe their environment, daily practices, work, insights, questions, worries etc to respond and reflect to specific issues.

    – The Showcase will bring this all together in an event of collaboration that serves both educational and innovation goals. In addition to showcasing the work, the event could also include a panel of students, instructors, company representatives and maybe external creative professionals etc to address the future of the field. This would serve as research material, as well as a practice of collaborative scenario-building, and – of course – as a great way to learn showcasing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Minna, thanks to you and Vesa for this blog so far. It is coming along very well! Some feedback I have from our AKE Digital Creative Media practitioners is – is it possible to create forums on this blog? Ideally, broken up into the three current AKE clusters – animation, music & games/apps. They would like to use these forums, in addition to the general response sections, for additional peer-to-peer learning and technical assistance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! Good morning from NYC and thank you for your kind words!

      To your question:

      Usually WordPress sites allow for one blogging platform only.

      It does allow an infinite number of pages in a site that can be commented on – however, they are static, fixed; don’t accumulate posts.

      I had also created something a few weeks back, under the Portfolio function of the blog, for the 3 groups of expertise, to showcase their work-in-progress, see, e.g.:

      This function, however, is like a page, not a blog, and doesn’t allow comments.

      I’m not a web developer (just a uni prof) so I’m not familiar with the more sophisticated form of WP suggested here that would allow several blogs in one site:

      — perhaps some of GESCI folks might know that. The beauty of WP is, of course, that it’s open source so if someone knows code really well, perhaps even this site can be tweaked!

      So, my 2 cents for an easy solution:

      My suggestion is to use Categories (and Tags) for P2P group work, to indicate to whom the blog post is meant to (if not for everyone).

      The blog is easily searchable by categories; e.g. with the search function in the right corner of the main page. (The relevant category could also appear in the post title, to make things even more clear). Anyone with admin access can create a post (with comments = dialogue and sharing). That person must just “file” the post under the appropriate category for it to be searchable.

      I have now added the 3 categories: MUSIC, GAMES&APPS, and ANIMATION.

      Note that a post can have several categories (e.g., MUSIC and ASSIGNMENT) and an infinite number of tags (say, hip hop, week 6 work, unedited etc…)

      Let me know what you think! If this seems too simple of a solution, or you all feel the blog might get too crowded, we can think of something else. (I’ll consult those in the know, but I suspect a tad more complex site design would take us to project management tools instead of a blogging site.)


    • As Minna wrote, unfortunately forums as such aren’t that easily implementable to sites. While there are different forum modules intended for WordPress use, they aren’t very usable, since WordPress is built mainly for blogging and more stable sites – not for forum-like discussions.

      However, WordPress enables threaded discussions by default, so using comment section(s) of blog posts, pages etc it is possible to have forum-like discussions within this system.

      Clusters you mentioned could be set up as pages (they can be commented as well, by enabling the comment sections) or blog posts which open these topics in one way or another.

      If this isn’t sufficient for one reason or other (for example, the discussions are so broad, that comment sections don’t do), then we should look up to the add-on section!

      Liked by 1 person

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