A key part of our role as researchers on Creative Informatics is to reflect on and respond to the diverse range of projects funded through our programmes. For example, by looking across Creative Informatics as a whole, can we identify shared challenges that data is being used to address, or particular technologies and innovations that will shape the Creative Industries in the next decade?
As well as reflecting critically on such a large funding programme, we also wanted to identify the needs and opportunities for academic and industry research on data-driven innovation in the Creative Industries – a potentially vast, and interdisciplinary research area.
To these ends, since 2019, we have set about analysing and cataloguing the applications and progress of the first 44 funded Creative Informatics projects. The applications offer a relatively consistent and pragmatic lens through which to catalogue the aims and ambitions of all Creative Informatics projects. We can then more directly follow-up and study how projects progressed, succeeded and evolved in practice.
This process has allowed us to gain a new thematic overview of, for example, the key technologies employed by projects, and the primary challenges they aim to address.
Figure 1: Mapping challenges addressed by Creative Informatics projects through the Catalogue
We recently presented this work to our funders and colleagues at the AHRC CICP Award Holders Symposium, and we now want to share our progress with the wider Creative Informatics community.
Below, you can read an Executive Summary of the work. We would be delighted to hear any thoughts from the community on this ongoing research.
Creative Informatics is a research and development programme that supports work across Edinburgh’s Creative Industries engaging with Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) – a cornerstone of the UK’s industrial strategy for growth in the digital economy. This 5-year project supports a vast array of individuals and projects in the Creative Industries in engaging with DDI, through offering them funding and access to upskilling initiatives. The programme includes providing monetary support for individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) working in the Creative Industries as ‘Resident Entrepreneurs’ – to develop new data-driven services and products; ‘Challenge Projects’ -– where creative and cultural organisations present challenges in need of a data-driven or digital solution; and Connected Innovators – an opportunity to support emerging leaders to advance their careers and businesses through data-driven innovation.
Over its five-year lifespan, Creative Informatics plans to fund more than 100 projects that engage with real world challenges in the Creative Industries. Projects can span multiple contexts and disciplines – all of the Creative Industries and all manner of digital technology; some last only 3 months, others can take up to 2 years; some will succeed and rapidly gain external investment, others will quickly pivot away from their original ideas, or will not be taken any further after the funding period. This presents a vast and demanding opportunity for academic research. As researchers, we sought a way to make sense of this varied array through a process of cataloguing the funded projects.
Focussing on projects funded and initiated in the first two years of the Creative Informatics cluster, we have systematically catalogued 44 of the projects that Creative Informatics has funded, based on their initial (and extensive) funding applications. These applications have to be read in their original, aspirational, context – as presenting a case for receiving funding. However, there is much to learn from how such a wide range of projects envision DDI in the Creative Industries. As such the Catalogue demonstrates the potential breadth of data-driven innovation in the Creative Industries.
This report offers an overview of the various technologies underpinning the funded Creative Informatics projects, and crucially, the different forms of data upon which they rely. We are also able to map a range of application areas, and identify five overarching challenges that projects aim to address:
1) Developing new tools and interfaces
2) Supporting others’ creative practice and skills
3) Addressing societal challenges through creative work
4) Exploring new data-driven techniques
5) Building data-driven economies
Furthermore, through this coding and analysis, we identify how the projects relate to four core promises of the Creative Informatics cluster: from revealing and developing new business models, and engagement with new audiences and markets, through to unlocking hidden value in archives and data sets, and supporting new modalities of experience.
We also closely consider the unique facets of digital transformations within the Creative Industries, noting how numerous projects are centred on supporting collaboration, and building data-driven tools to support other creative practices and services. Several of the projects also foreground more creative and ethical approaches to data and technology than can be seen in other sectors. Nonetheless, our critical analysis also identifies a number of emerging tensions in the pursuit of data-driven innovation in the Creative Industries. While clearly there are numerous potential economic benefits to be realised through data-driven approaches, this appears to depend on being able to formalise, abstract and modularise creative practices and services. This can make creative work more efficient, accessible and interoperable, but may be in tension with the flexibility and generative, non-linear nature of creative practices. Similarly, we question how new technologies and a reliance on generating and managing data may shift power and ultimately change roles in the Creative Industries as they become increasingly intertwined with digital economies.
Finally, we are using the Catalogue as a starting point to surface and answer new empirical research questions for Creative Informatics, which we hope could also be used to inform broader funding priorities in the future. Specifically, these include: how new technologies are working to enable new forms of work and practice; whether there are wholly new kinds of business models being developed through Creative Informatics; and the implications, legal and commercial, of how various forms of data in the Creative Industries are conceptualised and defined.
Cataloguing Creative Informatics projects is an ongoing process as funded participants complete their projects, and new proposals are funded. We expect to produce similar reports through to the end of the Creative Informatics programme. However, we hope by sharing our progress thus far, others may benefit from understanding our methodological approach, and the numerous research questions and challenges raised in this work.