Register for CityLab 2016

CityLab will be starting in September. Go register at University of Aberdeen (PD3002 or PD3502), or Robert Gordon University (BS2315 Business Project 1  or BS2316 Business Project 2 – speak to Jon Penally about options) to take part this term, or in the later term to start in January. The classes meet in Seventeen on Belmont street. We take ten students from each institution each term.

The CityLab Pilot in Review

We did it! We finished our first term. Zoe and Jon were there with all the students and our guests as noted in the previous post.

We learned a lot during the pilot run of CityLab. Some parts we got right, and some parts we failed at. We ran fast and broke things, as the saying goes and learned oh so much along the way. And we had fun. Oh my, did we have fun.

The weekly session

Each week we meet the students for three hours on a Wednesday morning. After a welcome we’d present a new idea and approach in the form of a short workshop for about an hour after which they’d break into their teams to work on their ideas.

This format generally worked well, especially when we used the time to introduce new approaches, which they could use to unpack and develop their ideas further. These sessions helped also by taking the students to neutral territory that was new to all of them, as these ideas were tied back to our human centred design approach. This helped them see their group ideas in new light, and helped them translate the different perspectives within some of the teams.
We can improve these sessions with a few changes. First, we need to time box our activities more carefully. The time pressure will help keep the flow of the weekly session, and we can also make better use of the time. Second, we need to add a ‘team roundup time’ so that all teams know what the other teams are doing, and can thus critique and feed into each of the other groups’ ideas. We found later that not all teams were aware of what the others were doing, and they could’ve helped each other out too.

The teams

The teams did alright. Some worked better than others in the end, and here is where we performed the fewest interventions. We facilitated the idea generation and then helped gather people into teams around the key ideas that were generated. This worked as far as it goes because people were motivated to engage with the ideas that appealed to them the most. This was also were people followed their friends, which led to discipline clusters and therefore institutional clusters. We wanted diverse teams comprising students from both institutions and from different disciplines, and this only happened with some of the teams. This lack of diversity in some teams meant they had to work harder to develop their ideas. We could’ve done better here.

The next time we can help to develop diverse interdisciplinary and inter-institutional teams. We’ll need to develop a process that lets us guide the ideation to this result do that it doesn’t feel contrived or forceful.

The push for prototypes

We never saw prototypes of the sort that could be worked through as if they were real services. We had presentations about the ideas, and we had some useful diagrams of how ideas would work as storyboards, and all of these were useful. However, none of them had the impact that a prototype would’ve delivered. We pushed for them, but not hard enough. We also found at the end, that some if the students didn’t realise that their idea of a prototype was different from what we were expecting when we told them we wanted to see prototypes.

We need to develop thus part of the process more fully so that we have multiple prototypes of each idea at different stages of the process development. This will make it easier for teams to interact with their stakeholders, as well as explain their ideas to their fellow students too.

The assessments

The students from UoA take part via the courses PD3002 and PD3502, which are 15 credit courses. This means they have some coursework to submit during the term in the form of group and individual coursework. Both of these generally worked well, with teams and individuals submitting interesting and enlightening work.  However, there were also some issues with this, so we need to work on clarifying and developing the work more transparently so that all students approach this in a suitable manner so that they get the most benefit from what is required.

All of these issues can be resolved. These are the reason we decided to see this first iteration of CityLab as a pilot. This was our prototype, and as we tell others, prototypes are designed to fail. They are there to help us tease out the issues with the proposal. Ours did, and now we can move onto the next version if CityLab in September.

Final project presentations

At the end of April we had the final presentations by the teams. Zoe Evans arranged for us to use the Belmont Cinema, which provided a good sense of occasion as each team’s presentation was put up on the big screen. After these were done everyone went down to the bar area for cake and coffee. While they were eating and drinking they could ‘vote’ on the students ideas by leaving money at each team’s stand. The stands had a board describing the idea and the students were there too in order to discuss the idea further with visitors. This went real well, and the room was buzzing with excited voices talking about big ideas.

The guests we invited to the presentations covered a range of people from across the city. We tried to have both principals from the universities, but that wasn’t possible, and only the RGU principal came this time. We also had other staff from each university, including especially staff who’d helped deliver different sessions with the students. There were also various staff from Aberdeen City Council, without whom we’d not have achieved as much as we did. The students also invited a number of people who they’d been working with on their projects as interested stakeholders, who might be taking over their ideas later.

Fit Dish project

In the end there could only be one winning team that received the most ‘money votes’ by the visitors. This was team Fit Dish, who were developing an idea to deal with food waste by gathering this up via bicycles or a tuk tuk, and then after preparing the food, selling it on a ‘pay as you like’ model. This idea is also being explored for potential development by a local food charity in Aberdeen. This would mean our goal of developing sustainable ideas would have succeeded. Watch this space to see what happens.

You can read the press releases at: