Weeks 4, 5 & 6

Week 4

Dawn Shand from the Scottish Institute for Enterprise was in to run a workshop. She talked to the students about identifying trends in the market, through looking at a series of signals from a variety of innovations currently developing around the world. After the presentation, everyone was tasked in groups with combining two or more of the example innovations, to form something completely new. Having personally taken part in this workshop before, way back when I was starting up my own enterprise, I was already appreciative of how these insights can influence your own ideas and thought process.

Following on from Dawn’s workshop, the students were then back into their teams, narrowing down their challenges to a single solution. By the end of Week 4 each solution had a name, a focus to their project and a rough idea of who they need to speak to.

Week 5
Week 5 was mostly all about the groups cracking on with their solutions, and identifying potential stakeholders. Groups also had to come up with the specific questions they’d ask in meetings with these stakeholders, and were given contact details by the CityLab team to get in touch with people in the upcoming weeks. They each presented their ideas to the other groups for the first time, giving constructive feedback one another. The first thing that became apparent to everyone was how the projects could potentially fit together if they get off the ground. At this point I observed that groups were quite nervous to question others, and most of the questions came from the CityLab team. That began to change going into Week 6.

Week 6
Students acted out how their product or service would be used, through role play. Each group had a different approach- some utilised all group members and had clearly put a bit of thought into it, others just winged it. After each performance, the floor was opened up to more questioning from the other groups, as to why certain things happened and how the scenario could play out differently depending on alternative circumstances. Utilising this peer to peer feedback, as has been the case throughout the past few weeks, is a way of analysing all the projects at once, including the student’s own group, as similar issues crop up such as where data is coming from with all the solutions.

Additionally, we had a visit from a representative of Opportunity North East, the private sector’s response to the challenge times currently facing the region’s economy. They will also be there at the final presentations, and is definitely and organisation the student groups will hope to impress with their ideas. The students definitely impressed with their role playing scenarios, which bodes well for the final presentations coming up.

The weeks have flown in, and the solutions are taking shape. The diversity I’ve mentioned before within the group of students making up this Cohort is reflected in the four projects, which will make for a very interesting final few weeks.

Cohort 3 Begins

To those of you unfamiliar with what CityLab is, I’ll attempt to summarise it for you. It’s a 10 week programme where students come up with ideas to tackle some of the major challenges facing the city of Aberdeen. They are split into groups, and each group presents the foundation for a project that could be implemented to potential stakeholders at the end of the 10 weeks. Run as a joint project between Aberdeen City Council, the Robert Gordon University and the University of Aberdeen, it mixes students from both institutions in teams to come up with the solutions.

The programme is headed up by Zoe Evans from the Council, Dr. Jon Pengelley from RGU, and Dr. Bruce Scharlau from the Uni of Aberdeen. There are various people dipping in and out of the progamme helping out, including myself (Chris Burnett, Surge Aberdeen). Students meet up every Wednesday morning, more often than not at the MAKE facility on Belmont Street, in the centre of town. CityLab Aberdeen started a year ago, with Cohort 1 running February-April and then Cohort 2 September-November.

And that brings us nicely up to now: Cohort 3, which is already a few weeks in. Here’s what happened during Weeks 1, 2 and 3.

Week 1
img_5410The first week inevitably consisted of a lot of introductions, both to the programme and some of the key people related to CityLab. We touched on Human Centred Design, which is the main theoretical backdrop for the programme. It’s all about thinking about your end user when coming up with new ideas. Guest speakers included Councillor Ross Grant (also from Aberdeen Inspired) and Simon Haston (Head of IT and Transformation at ACC).


What struck me was the sheer mix of students making up this cohort; the variety of disciplines, nationalities, stages of university career, this group has it all. It’s refreshing to see such a diverse group of students interested in the city they’re studying in, and aiming to make an impact.

Week 2
Sue Fairburn from RGU’s Gray’s School of Art was along during Week 2 to talk about a project quite similar to CityLab, that took place a few years ago. It was a collaboration between art schools across Scotland, and had students working in teams deigning new innovations over the programme. Ian Watt (Digital Transformation Manager at Aberdeen City Council) was along to discuss the underlying theme of this Cohort: digital.


Then came the ideation process. Ideas were jotted down on sticky notes, which were placed under sub-categories of the overall digital theme. The students gravitated toward the theme they were most interested in pursuing a project under. And voila! Teams were formed.

Week 3
The third week was all about the User Centred Design theory, and a look at touchpoints. Students were tasked in groups to make a trip to a specific shop to buy a packet of biscuits. During their shopping trip, they had to think about and record all aspects of the journey, including the purchase transaction. It was interesting to see the groups approach the task of sharing their trips back in different ways, ranging from a simple list of touchpoints, to a storyboard, to a full on video with interviews of the group members.

Everyone then got into their project teams, and started brainstorming and narrowing down ideas towards a solution to go forward with. We had a visit from Bogdan (a previous CityLab participant and winner of Cohort 1), who reassured them that the groups who hadn’t quite narrowed down to a single solution yet they still have plenty of time.


And that, is a very condensed version of the first three weeks of CityLab Cohort 3. Things are beginning to take shape, and what’s clear to me is that despite there being this overall theme of digital within all the projects, we’re going to have a very diverse set of solutions coming from this cohort.

Register for CityLab January/February 2017

CityLab will be starting again in January/February 2017. We’ve raised the numbers we can take on the course so now is your chance to sign up before it’s full.

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 twenty students from each institution each term.