Contributors: Joao Ferreira, François-Xavier de Vaujany, Tobias Seidl, Cornelia Vonhof, Nour Alrabie, Viktoria Pepler and Dan Nguyen

 

 

  1. Overview of our collaborative learning expedition #Lisbonmakers2019

 

Our last collaborative learning expedition took place in Lisbon on April, 23rd-24th.

It followed the usual process of our OWEE approach: we first opened three month before our event an Eventbrite link. At this point of time, the co-production process started as we had on mind just a general topic (“Makers, DIY and DIT in Lisbon: the New Explorers?”) and a couple of contacts. We communicated the link and dates, and quickly local makers and members of RGCS got in touch with the organizers to make proposals about (their) places or ideas that could be included into the program. The OC re-wrote gradually seven version of the program before stabilizing the contents of days 1 and 2.

Our collaborative learning expedition started on April, 23rd at 10 AM at IADE, a school of design. Carlos Rosa (the dean) and other members of the local team waited for us to present the place, their BA Study program in Global Design (a key program about designing and making), also giving us a first overview of makers in Lisbon. We met at IADE a very dedicated team. People here try something new, a Project Based Learning teaching. This project ask the students to work in a collaborative way and they understood that the teachers also need to work in a collaborative way. This point is not always present in other places doing PBL teaching. One teacher also stressed the importance of restrictive rules for the creative process. In a project, students were thus asked to use only two colors (“few colors, greater creativity”).

After a last discussion and a short visit (e.g. of the lab area), we stopped for a coffee and we, OWEE participants, presented ourselves. Then we then moved to LX factory by foot (following the OWEE protocol, we walked as much as we could). Here, we visited the broad area (shops, workshops, startups) and went for a guided tour with the local community manager of CoworkLisboa.

After the visit of the coworking space, we spent again time in the building visiting floor by floor the various startups hosted by the place. We were impressed by how LX factory combined the logic of place to show things with the logic of a place to make things. The portholes, opened doors, former industrial machines exhibited in the corridors, large windows of some rooms, shops on the main street (selling sometimes products related to startups in the building) epitomized this very interesting trend. For sure, this is not always comfortable for startupers (many portholes were hidden). Tourist were sometimes too present and too noisy. But on the other hand, as testified by a person we met, this also something great. Working here with people around coming for a visit was an opportunity to have people around (no feeling of loneliness), potential customers coming, a more lively atmosphere to recruit other people, an immediate context to test ideas… Contact with society and spontaneous visitors is more than just a matter of brandcraft, but a manifestation of vision (more so than management) that is indispensable to create a vibrant healthy community that encourages spread of ideas and mutual learning.

Several of us found some similarities between LX factory and Darwin  in Bordeaux. Both places combine a kind touristic atmosphere (with restaurants, shops etc…) with a co-working/start-up area.  But in contrast to Darwin, LX factory, in particular the building we visited, kept the flavor of a squat, of something on the margin, a liminal space.

In the afternoon (at 4 PM), we went (again by foot and after a long one hour and an half walk) to FabLab Lisboa were the community manager organized a visit and most of all, presented several past or ongoing projects. We felt that we were here at the heart of our topic. The community manager also showed us the hackerspace (Altlab) hosted by the place.  We learned that Portugal had a very long history of craftsmanship and bricolage. Indeed, makers’ culture and techniques just extended a long history. It is not easy to distinguish this tradition from the fashionable vocabulary, places and techniques of makers.

After that, at 6.30 PM we went to a place (with a very global flavor) called Copenhagen Coffee lab which was an opportunity to have a general discussion about what we saw, felt, and learned during the day. Part of the group then (still by foot) found a great bistro to finish the day.

On day 2 (April, 24th), we started the day with a second visit of a makerspace (Little Makers). Again, beyond the visit of the place, this was most of all an opportunity to discover past and ongoing projects of the place. The place was privately owned and felt its management and atmosphere were tightly linked to the personality of the owner. The profitability of the place was probably very low, but it was not the ambition of the owner to make money here. The idea was much more about meaning and community building (through sharing and events such as workshops).

At 12.00, we were waited at Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics, Universidade Católica Portuguesa by  Pierre Gein. There we had a presentation by François-Xavier de Vaujany  about the very approach we were following (under the title “Collaborative Ethnography as Open Science in Practice: Walking with Jack Nicholson”). This presentation and discussion was an opportunity to explore the relationships between collaborative ethnography and collaborative learning expeditions. The presenter used a movie (The Passenger) to illustrate the potentialities of this crossed-fertilization.

Then began the improvised slot which consisted in a visit at Second home, another coworking space. This visit was very interesting… as it was a failure. We did not manage to get a tour or a stay in the space (both because of a misunderstanding with a community manager who had left the place and a culture which does not seem to leave a space for improvised hospitality). We took the opportunity of this failure to visit the food market around before another reaching a place around for our lunch and concluding discussion.

We will now come back to two key topics that have been at the heart of our walked and seated discussions.

 

  1. Topic 1: Interweaving making and showing, a Portugese success?

Our collective discussions dealt with numerous topics such as open science, libraries and makerspaces, FabLabs in Portugal and southern Europe, craftsmanship and its relationship with the maker movement beyond a global or Anglo-Saxon vision of this relationship, the different entrepreneurial places in Lisbon (beyond LX factory), the issue of community management, the business models of makerspaces, etc.

Here we would like to come back to one of our discussions: the relationship between making and showing.

In the context of other RGCS events, we already noticed an emerging trend in the convergence between showrooms and makerspaces. EY experience lab in Paris for instance is both a place to show to customers digital skills and a place devoted to making (e.g. with a real makerspace area and a room for cybercrisis management). Visiting customers can follow three different trajectories, tours and experiences to live the place. For designers, this is an opportunity to project themselves into customers’ needs (they hear them around all the time), for visitors (seeing still EY – for some – as an audit corporation), this is an opportunity to experience, feel, see, touch digital products.

In Lisbon, we felt that this convergence was strongly present. LX factory is both a great place to show skills or products and a place to make things. The main street and the broader area host shops, restaurants, graffiti, street art… but is also a place hosting hundreds of true makers and entrepreneurs. Corridors, stairs, streets are liminal spaces between these different worlds. At Mill (Little Makers) we also noticed a funny innovation interfacing the street with the inner space. On the showcase of the makerspace, two hands could be touched by walkers… which received then water on their face. Great refreshing system in the summer (see picture below)!

 

Lisbo 3

Picture 1: Interfacing the makerspace with the street, a refreshment provided by the Mill

 

 

In visitors’ shoes, we wondered how we could contribute to makers in return. Being potential customers does not apply to all people who step in as visitors or tourists. Visiting makers who are adepts of showing demonstrate interest in their work and their concept which is by itself rewarding. Visitors as well as tourists share by then words and pictures spreading the spirit and the vision of the place.

LX Factory is welcoming the world by its showrooms style, 50 restaurants, bars & coffeshops, street art and a prescription in the parking made by woor “Hello World”. This openness invites the world in and we observed tourists stepping in. Our reflection on visitors’ contribution brought us to question if growing tourist flows would influence the type of resident makers and would shape the future of the place (see picture below).

 

Pictures 2: the main street and the corridors of LX factory as a showroom

 

Another circumstance we noticed was the open and hospitable nature of the community managers of the various collaborative spaces. At the heart of the community, they have an above-average commitment to their users and are an important point of contact for questions of any kind. The lived values within the collaborative workspaces, the openness, the accessibility, the community spirit and the flexibility to react to different external effects in a friendly way – the community managers were also able to convey all this to us visitors.

In particular, it is the communicative and visual aspect from which the users of the various work spaces benefit. On the communicative level, community managers, users and the workspaces themselves try to tell their visitors an image or rather a story about their creative hotspots. Visitors will then talk about what they have experienced and what they have seen and pass on their experiences – in this way they themselves will become part of the storyteller of the maker culture of the respective location. On a visual level, the users of the creative quarters benefit from the higher visibility in their city, not only among visitors, but especially for society, business and politics.

In terms of the professionalization and increased visibility of the creative actors in creative workspaces the existing contacts within industries and administrations are given high priority. Existing knowledge and experience networks as well as used work equipment enable themselves to function as cultural intermediaries and supporters of the creative economy in their respective city or area. In this context, the increased formation of regional brands which is specifically driven by an economic region, should be indeed used as a communicative measure.

In matters of making, it was interesting to see from one side DIT in the lab area of the IADE where monitors and professors are available to deal with equipment. On the other side, Fablab Lisboa promoted DIY by explaining how equipment work without actively participating in the doing.

It is here tempting to draw a parallel between the popular culture of Fado and maker’s culture framed this way. Fado (literialy, “destiny”) is a traditional, popular type of Portuguese song. After our learning expedition, we also felt makers’ techniques as obvious, natural, self-evident in Portugal. Bricolage, improvisation, sharing, mutual help, community-based production have a long history in the country. Makers are an obvious, happy, fatality. We felt that the music of FabLabs and makerspaces will for sure continue to spread in the country and beyond…

 

  1. Topics 2: The Coworking Library – A Complement to Coworking Spaces

 

Since several individual participants were closely related to the library sector, the role of libraries as coworking spaces was repeatedly reflected upon. Therefore, in the following a few thoughts on another open and public space, which certainly many people do not yet have in mind as a place of work and communication in a city order municipality.

 The coworking spaces we saw in Lisbon showed the properties a good coworking space should have.

They should be: (1) Flexible – Offering multiple workspace options for different types of businesses and working, (2) Collaborative and inspiring – With spaces that encourage conversation and interaction between workers, (3) Affordable – Coworking is attractive to startups, freelancers and artists, groups who need pricing options that fall below a traditional office space.

All these properties can also be found in many modern public libraries. And in fact, even before the rise of coworking spaces, libraries were the de facto workspaces for office-less workers. This is by no means surprising as public libraries are a quintessential sharing institution: a place where citizens access free information and engage in lifelong learning.

 For many years libraries have been offering cubicles and tables with electrical outlets and WIFI that are perfect for getting some quiet work done. Today, more and more innovative librarians and enterprising libraries are redesigning their spaces to create coworking environments. This means that it’s not just about working quietly and alone, but about creating opportunities to interact with like-minded people, share ideas and network.

 Obviously, people come to coworking spaces specifically for interactions with other people. Public libraries define themselves as modern socio-cultural marketplaces and meeting places or so called “Third Places” where people can relax and meet other people, which are easily-accessible and non-commercial. By the way, libraries are the most visited educational and cultural institutions throughout Europe.

 Access to databases, books, eBooks or journals, either to get information or inspiration are around, which would be expected to be found in a library. But many libraries have cafes located inside them, and you also find technical equipment like audio-visual equipment (e.g. projectors and cameras). Some libraries even run makerspaces with 3D-printers etc. Libraries and Makerspaces? This would be another story!

So it might be a good idea to test seemingly old-fashioned places like libraries to discover something new.