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Happenstance: making software and making art – the Agile manifesto

June 18, 2012 1 comment

As part of the Nesta, Arts Council and AHRC Digital R&D for Arts and Culture Fund, the Happenstance project, developed by Caper, looks to fund six technology residencies at three major UK arts organisations – Site Gallery in Sheffield, the Lighthouse in Brighton and Spike Island in Bristol.

In an extract from the Happenstance blog, Natalia Buckley explores the relationship between making art and software and experiments with a more ‘Agile’ way of working.

Generally speaking, tech companies try to get good at investigating and reflecting on their own processes – often this results in exciting ideas that challenge the traditional ways of running organisations.

At GitHub, for example, there is pride in the lack of managers – or as Ryan Tomayko puts it, the fact that “everyone at GitHub is a manager… each responsible for managing a single person: their self.”

Another example, Valve, has no formal corporate structure – everyone can pick what project they work on and the desks are furnished with wheels for setting up impromptu temporary teams. Decisions are made by getting enough supporters from across the company who want to work on the project. Their employee handbook describes exactly how it works and it’s a fascinating read.

But there is a philosophy that at first doesn’t seem quite as radical, though it appears the entire software making world is practicing it: the Agile philosophy.

I can quote the entire Agile manifesto here because it’s so short:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it – through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Happenstance was supposed to help consider whether the Agile philosophy of making software could be useful to arts organisations and, obviously, there are many differences between the ways in which software and art are made. The biggest difference is in the way they are funded; arts funding is mired in bureaucracy, paperwork and relies on relatively few bodies, which grant money to projects that fit within their goals and agendas.

For a while I wondered whether an Agile approach is even useful. Lighthouse is a small team working in one room – most of the work they do is about strategy, planning and managing, rather than making things.

But as I considered it more I realised that agility comes from a specific culture within the organisation and has relatively little to do with making things or technology. The idea that face-to-face conversation is the best way to convey information surely applies outside of the software-making world.

Agility comes from not fearing change or small mistakes and learning to respond to them quickly and efficiently – it’s about responding to change.

I have recently felt like I’ve gained enough trust among the team at Lighthouse to be able to propose anything and that they would at least try it out, knowing that I’ve got their best interests at heart. So I decided to give it a go, and completely banned email as a means of internal communication.

Obviously I have no way of of checking up on everyone, but judging from the feedback and the amount of work-related discussions that are happening in the office, they decided to follow it.

I’ve also introduced daily stand-up meetings where we all very briefly describe what we were working on yesterday and what we are going to be doing today. Somehow the format stuck and we even describe what we all did on our days off as well – it’s actually really nice to be always in the loop, and occasionally hear a funny weekend story.

It made me realise how much and what kinds of work everyone does – all the boring bits: catching up on emails, reviewing things and so on. So after these things were practiced for a while, what good did they do?

I find it hard to quantify it after a short period of time, partly because I don’t actually work on any of their projects, so I can’t tell whether things are easier, better, worse or without change yet.

… I will gather more feedback and then I will report on it.

Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture

Find out more about the Happenstance project here

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Social Interpretation: Bullying Jack

January 20, 2012 1 comment

Public house debate, 1945. An American soldier is amongst the audience listening to the second speaker of the evening, Miss Crooks (not pictured), on the topic of 'America and Britain'. The original caption states that "the few Americans present were unusually tongue-tied, had nothing to say to frank discussion of their qualities".

How do you control what information is online?  In the case of Twitter and Facebook, with difficulty, as Ryan Giggs found out last summer.  But these are huge sites with a lot of organisation behind them, and they will have a fair amount of resources to fight legal claims.

So what about your smaller site?  How do you control content?  What about the issues of defamation, data protection, and, with public authorities, freedom of information?   Or just insults, bullying and heated debates getting out of hand? Read more…

Categories: Concept, Moderation

Social Interpretation: Which phone stays? YOU DECIDE!

January 18, 2012 6 comments

We’re starting to really get into the design of phase-1 of Social Interpretation, and this will the first of a few updates on various aspects of design for the in-gallery technology and signage.

As you may have seen (here, here, here, here and, um,  here) we’re in the middle of wresting with how (or if) to best use QR Codes to facilitate physical/digital interaction. We already know from our research that part of this is to really make clear, in a small space, what the code is and how to use it. Part of that is placement, part is effective written prompt – being looked at by Claire Ross, and part is visual prompting. We’re finding out that visitors are likely to respond well to a clear phone graphic, to indicate what to use the code with. But what phone?

Which do you think it most recognisable as a smartphone?

You see, I have an aversion to using the iPhone as an icon. It’s recognisable, and definitely has a cultural recognition this definitely helps as far as being an icon is concerned.

But, I worry that it does three things:

  • Alienate non iPhone users and imply that it’s an iPhone-only function
  • Contribute to the public perception that Smartphone = iPhone. It doesn’t (it’s denying the antecedent)
  • Contribute to the public perception that you need an Apple device to take advantage of basic smartphone functions

It’s possible that none of these matter – or that I’m just worrying about nothing. And we’ll be evaluating our choice anyway to see how people react.

But what do you think?

Tom Grinsted

Social Interpretation: Mouthing off on QR codes

January 16, 2012 1 comment


This is an interesting use of QR codes and print media in combination. There are a lot of ways this could be adapted to make museum objects really social. And have them, almost literally, talk. And in return have visitors join in that conversation. But you’d need a budget rather bigger than #socialinterp’s.

This Reporters Without Borders advert is a bit gimmicky. But still, fair play, as it’s a hard subject to get people engaged with.

Jane Audas

Categories: Concept, Design, QR codes Tags: , ,

Social Interpretation: Joining the Conversation: Visitors Co-creating Museum Content

January 3, 2012 1 comment

Photo UCL, Grant Museum of Zoology / Matt Clayton

The QRator project running at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology is a collaborative project between the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), and UCL Museums and Collections,  to develop new kinds of content, co-curated by the public, museum curators, and academic researchers, to enhance museum interpretation, community engagement and establish new connections to museum content. Read more…