Luca Simeone, ‘An ethnographic analysis of the organizational approaches of three academic labs’

Senseable City Lab

Entrance door at the old lab. Photo by Jennifer Dunnam

Luca Simeone (, PhD in Interaction Design, with a focus on design management and design anthropology, presented on the results of ethnographic investigations conducted over a 3-year period (2011-2014). As the abstract for the seminar explained, “This 50% dissertation presents a compilation of 4 papers that investigate three academic labs – MEDEA at Malmö University, MIT SENSEable City Lab and metaLAB (at) Harvard – that use design to foster collaboration with multiple stakeholders (industry, government, NGOs, citizens, …). More specifically – using concepts such as ‘multi-sited’ from anthropology, ‘boundary organization’ from organizational studies and ‘strategic ambiguity’ from organisational communication – this study adopts different interpretive perspectives to describe the organizational approaches of the three labs and how they use design as way to set up and sustain collaboration with multiple stakeholders.”

In giving an overview of each of the four papers, Simeone drew out several key findings and potential topics for discussion. These included

  • orientation and interplay: in what ways organisational components influence and get influenced by the design-based collaborative dimension of the labs
  • open versus curated forms of opening production in the “hackathon” setting
  • strategic ambiguity as management practice: paradoxical horizontal (small, independent teams) and vertical (hierarchical) structures of a lab like the SENSEable City Lab, ambiguity in engagement roles and communication
  • multi-sited design activities: questions of what happens where in multi-sited, geographically distributed design environments
  • whether to pursue a monograph or compilation dissertation format

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Bo Reimer & Jonas Löwgren, ‘Collaborative Media’

Moderator: Mads Høbye, PhD Candidate in Interaction Design

Introductory text

collab media

With many new forms of digital media — including such popular social media as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr — the people formerly known as the audience no longer only consume but also produce and even design media. Jonas Löwgren (Professor of Interaction Design) and Bo Reimer (Professor of Media and Communications Studies) term this phenomenon collaborative media, and in their book they investigate the qualities and characteristics of these forms of media in terms of what they enable people to do. They do so through an interdisciplinary research approach that combines the social sciences and humanities traditions of empirical and theoretical work with practice-based, design-oriented interventions.

Löwgren and Reimer offer analysis and a series of illuminating case studies — examples of projects in collaborative media that range from small multidisciplinary research experiments to commercial projects used by millions of people. Löwgren and Reimer discuss the case studies at three levels of analysis: society and the role of collaborative media in societal change; institutions and the relationship of collaborative media with established media structures; and tribes, the nurturing of small communities within a large technical infrastructure. They conclude by advocating an interventionist turn within social analysis and media design.
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