Q&A Erling Björgvinsson (Malmö högskola)

Erling Björgvinsson is a researcher at Medea – The Collaborative Media Initiative and an Associate Professor in Interaction design at The School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University. At Medea he is a manager of a lab that that focuses collaborative cultural production through design-lead and art-lead research where academics, professionals, and citizens co-produce.

Erling has for the last five years been engaged in developing methodologies for how innovation can move out from the university and specialized R&D labs and connect to the surrounding society with the aim of democratizing innovation. His research area is in design and art methodology and specifically on collabora­tive and participatory design-lead research. He has published articles, amongst other, in CoDesign – International Journal of CoCreation in Design, Design Issues, and Journal of Arts and Communities.

What can you tell us about Medea and what you do there?

Medea is a research center focused on collaborative media and collaborative design at Malmö University. The thematic areas that the center currently works on are social innovation and urban development, Internet of things, and cultural production. I run a small cultural lab where I work to connect cultural actors and institutions with IT and media companies and researchers to explore and develop new expressions, services and products to see if they can grow into bigger research projects full scale productions. We sometimes call it pre-projecting, as “incubators” do not engage themselves at such an early stage.

“Innovation” seems like a much used phrase these days: how do you define it?

Yes, “innovation” is a worn out word and perhaps ironically a lot of the innovation texts and talks on the subject are unimaginative and likeminded. The speaking of the future tense tends to make people forget that we are steeped in the past and build upon it. The whole new frontier rhetoric is quite colonial as it sees new territories as unpopulated, which they never are. My take on it is that it needs to be broadened and include more than just market-driven and profit perspectives that dominate the discourse today. Andrew Barry talks about how this could include to what degree a practice opens up to new possibilities. Lucy Suchman, who has greatly inspired my thinking, has written about how “future-making” can be seen as the disruption of particular arrangements of interests and that we need to acknowledge how research and development is not the making of discrete objects, but a network of relations that both contains alliances and contesters.

What are a couple of greatest/best innovations you’ve seen in the last year, worldwide?

I am bit reluctant to single out an innovation because innovations come about through collective work that happens in many places at once. The person, institution or company that gets the credit is often the one that is lucky enough to be able to pull together the right resources at the right time and leverage it. Work that I have been inspired is how Srishti, The School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore a year ago started an innovation lab with the aim to build frugal products together with the citizen innovators that “innovations scouters” from The National Innovation Foundation have discovered. Laura Wattson’s interesting study on innovation in the Orkney Islands too, as innovation is too often associated with research center situated in big cities. I also find the work on social innovation and sustainable design by, for example, François Jégou and Ezio Manzini inspiring. In Malmö, where I live, Apokalyps Labotek’s sustainable design work along these lines as their soap made out recycled falafel oil or their parquet made of recycled car tiers testify. I also find small groups working towards openness and sharing, organized cooperatives and “commons groups” such as Openwear motivating, as the growth of small enterprise is too low.

Have you been to YAIC before? 

No, it is my first time. I am expecting to hear engaging informed talks and to meet people that strongly believe in what they do. If I am lucky I will also get to meet future collaborators and co-conspirators. The conference is interesting as it has an international scope, but is also anchored in the Icelandic context. Iceland is my mother country, which I have lived away from more than half of my life. So Iceland means catching up with family and friends, hearing my mother tongue spoken, getting stacks of Icelandic literature and music, listening to the soothing weather and fishing reports while eating a good hearted meal with my parents, strolling down Laugavegurinn and on occasion going to the countryside. I love in particular staring at the sky while laying in a “bolli.”

What will you be talking about at YAIC 2012?

My talk will be on how we at Medea have worked towards moving the research and development out into the city of Malmö so that citizens, NGO’s and companies are given the opportunity to participate in making the future. Given that IT and media pervades every aspect of our life and plays an important role in the many public spheres that makes up society, we have tried to find ways to create a more democratic and inclusive model so that not only the strong and mighty, but the diversity of the city has a say. My talk will be about the qualities of such a work, but also some of the difficulties and shortcomings. As I have worked with cultural production the examples will concern, film, music and literature.