In order to more effectively deploy the innovative power of the creative industries to solve urgent problems facing society, design researchers at knowledge institutions are collaborating with creative professionals and parties outside the creative sector, including local governments, civil society organisations and businesses, to generate new insights and expertise. What criteria must these collaborative relationships fulfil in order to create multiple types of value? And what is the contribution and relevance of this value creation for the creative sector?

Four design research professors appointed as matchmakers within SIA and CLICKNL’s Go Creatieve Industrie (GoCI) programme examined applied design researchers’ contributions to Collaboration for Impact. This magazine describes a selection of 30 highly varied projects, including 20 funded by the KIEM GoCI call. The other 10 received various types of funding but also involved collaboration with and for creative professionals. Jeroen van den Eijnde (ArtEZ University of the Arts), Michel van Dartel (Avans University of Applied Sciences), Peter Joore (NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences) and Karin van Beurden (Saxion University of Applied Sciences) analysed the projects in terms of outcomes, value generation and cooperation.

In many of the described projects, the main goal is not so much to develop a prototype or service but rather a tool, i.e. a practical method or set of instructions. The matchmakers distinguish three main categories:

  • Tools for the creative industries, intended specifically for designers and architects. These are created for purposes such as determining sustainability (the Doughnut Architecture project) or building a construction database (the Identical Strangers project). 
  • Tools for facilitating collaboration in relation to large societal challenges.
  • Tools for interventions. These have to do with short-term activities typically designed to bring together people from a range of backgrounds (such as the Amstelpark Trees tell their Stories project).

According to the matchmakers, while these tools are interesting, it is often unclear exactly who a method is being developed by, whom it is intended for, and whether it will actually be used. While final users are frequently involved in the tools’ development, often there is no real co-creation; rather, they mostly seem to be invited to talk about use in discussions, dialogues and focus groups. Although these do provide insight into users’ living environments, performing design activities together can also bring out aspects that are difficult to verbalise or implicit in use.

Big ambitions, bold assumptions
The ambitions formulated in project applications are often lofty. “The question is how many of these KIEM projects will genuinely grow enough afterward to be able to realise those enormous ambitions,” says Michel van Dartel. “On the other hand, KIEM projects are intended as cautious first steps, so it’s OK if that doubt is there.” 

Project applications also often contain substantial assumptions, which are by no means always tested in the projects themselves, the matchmakers observed. The articulation of research questions often involves assumptions that lack any real grounding. Thus, the submitters of a research proposal involving the construction industry state that their project will completely change the construction process in the future but do not specify how this might actually happen. Another proposal states that an innovative form of textile waste recycling will solve a major environmental problem. This assumption is worded in extremely ambitious terms considering that the applicants are working on only a small partial solution.

Broad and vague or small and specific
The KIEM GoCI call provides scope to seek answers to small-scale questions, but in practice, the big ambitions that characterise many projects are translated into poorly defined research tasks. Focus can be lacking, as well as awareness of what can be achieved in a year on a relatively limited budget. “These big ambitions may result from the fact that the GoCI projects are expressly embedded in the mission areas, which is also the case with other calls,” says Jeroen van den Eijnde. “But if you set very broad, vague goals, you get broad, vague results. The question is what you do next. On the other hand, asking about all the subsequent steps up front could mean losing that seed character [kiem is Dutch for “seed” – ed.]. You have to leave room for unexpected developments, and you don't need to know everything before you start. Small projects like the KIEM GoCI ones are financially less risky anyway, and if one of these projects comes to nothing, then it's acted as a filter for bigger investments.” The matchmakers especially appreciate more modest but promising initiatives whose applicants have already thought about potentially scaling up their research.

The aim of the KIEM call is for small projects to lead to bigger follow-up projects or broad rollouts. Rather than lurching from one project grant to the next, the aim is a lengthier research process that starts with a KIEM project and grows into something bigger. Often this does not happen, however. According to the matchmakers, proposals should state more explicitly what a project is a seed (kiem) for – a larger study, a societal development, a product. Some projects do not appear to need a KIEM phase; the initiators already know what they want to create and have more than enough expertise to achieve it. Some are actually regular design or development projects that will be used to earn money for the partners. But this is not what KIEM projects are intended for.

Multiple value creation
The matchmakers distinguish different types of value: economic, social, cultural, ecological and intellectual. “A lot of projects focus on technical knowledge, but acceptance of a technical innovation within the overarching social system is at least as relevant,” says Peter Joore. Van den Eijnde adds: “The most interesting projects are holistic. They focus on different types of value at the same time. Ideally a project will generate all five types of value. It's also essential to collaborate with different partners who have diverse interests.” Karin van Beurden concurs: “A condition of successful multiple value creation is that you involve partners from the entire chain.”

Van den Eijnde adds: “The most fascinating projects try to balance those different interests and make the right choices in that context. In light of KIEM’s formulation of the task, a lot of people are juggling multiple types of value in their projects. And this is an added value of KIEM. I definitely see a role emerging for creative professionals as people who connect parties and achieve multiple value creation in a project in this way. Often, economic value is dominant in relation to social and cultural value. Some projects are about knowledge as a value, although often that value is not explicitly mentioned. As if practice-oriented research doesn’t generate new knowledge. But practice-oriented research absolutely does have intellectual value, as far as we’re concerned.”

As a good example of promising multiple value creation, the matchmakers cite the project Stories from Watertown. In it they observe a highly specific type of storytelling expertise found only in the creative industries. This is used to develop a method focused on a concrete object while discovering in a nonverbal way which stakeholders are involved in the project and what their values, ideologies, interests and objectives are. Another example of promising multiple value creation is the Amstelpark project, in which trees tell their story. Here, art is used to link two fields of knowledge – biology and law – and to engage the public in the possibilities around according nature a legal status.

All the projects described in this magazine tend to involve a great deal of cooperation between partners who would not ordinarily sit around a table together but elect to do so to address a complex problem related to the mission areas. This generates different types of value by definition. In the matchmakers’ opinion, a project can only be successful if these types of value do not remain stuck in their groups of origin but also find their way into other groups. Some projects do not appear to seek to widen the scope of value creation at all. Yet the intention is that they should. The point of the call is to enable the generation of generalisable or transferable value and knowledge, or of results that will be useful and relevant for other parties. Knowledge-sharing is the goal.

Stakeholder engagement
The degree of partners’ engagement varies somewhat by project. What is important, according to the matchmakers, is how partners are involved in a project. Sometimes researchers build on an existing network. Relatively often, they seek out new collaborative relationships. KIEM forces project teams to think about who they need. The call for multiple value creation therefore also leads to new collaborations.

In some cases, partners are brought in for a particular reason but not asked to play a role beyond commenting. “Only in a few projects do people explicitly discuss the collaboration itself, with reference to terms like calm, open communication, trust and patience,” says Michel van Dartel. “But this is a precondition for ongoing engagement and multiple value creation. It's important to keep partners engaged throughout the duration of the project, not just at the beginning and end. The reports don't say much about how the collaboration itself went. They say the parties are working together, but not how. And yet there’s so much that could be learned from that.”

Creative professionals’ contribution
Sometimes a creative party plays the role of a connector in a project. Or they may solely act as a designer. Other times, the matchmakers say, the nature of the creative’s role or involvement is unclear. Are they acting as a connector? A catalyst? The project results offer little reflection on these questions. Creative professionals normally work one-on-one. Here, they are included in a complex multi-stakeholder process, but the projects never frame this as a learning aim in itself.

A creative professional is often the one who, in taking a more holistic approach, understands that a great many elements need to work together to achieve a particular goal. This can be accomplished in an active manner, by getting the various parties around the table together, or by developing specific visual communication methods for use between partners. The art is to act on all the different types of value in order to achieve a genuine impact. 

To achieve multiple value creation it’s necessary to involve a creative party, add Karin van Beurden and Michel van Dartel. Involving the creative industries increases the chance of impact. If you have creative people on board, the likelihood of creating multiple types of value is higher. Collaborating with different parties enables you to do that. And likewise, if you want to create multiple types of value you need to collaborate with multiple parties.

“Collaboration is often seen as difficult in the creative industries, especially by solopreneurs,” Van Dartel says. “The KIEM GoCI call does reflect on the creative process, but we aren’t seeing much of that in the projects yet. How does collaboration affect creative professionals’ practice? That isn’t being explicitly shared with other parties in the creative industries yet, and it should be. In the past, the creative party was always brought in to make an impact on the other field, but now it’s the other way round. That’s going to be really important for the creative sector.”

Relevance for the creative industries
It is by no means always clear what kind of knowledge is being generated for the creative industries in the projects, the matchmakers state. Adding demonstrable value for creative businesses is almost never cited as an explicit goal. Emphasis on the missions gets in the way of thinking about other subjects of relevance to the creative industries. Multiple value creation is still too focused on the other stakeholders attached to a project. Yet projects should also genuinely serve designers’ interests and engagement. The matchmakers therefore deem it essential that any knowledge and experience relevant to the creative sector be shared within that sector. This does not always happen, and getting hold of a project’s results can be very difficult. Thus far, seeds appear to be germinating mainly in adjacent fields rather than in the creative industries themselves. The situation needs to be improved at the next stage so that more knowledge can be developed in and for the creative industries themselves. 

Karin van Beurden & Peter Joore
Michel van Dartel & Jeroen van den Eijnde