Oblique Innovation

“James, do you know how to work the internet?” For many arts organisations (and many researchers blogging about arts organisations, let’s be honest) technology is a necessary evil, something to be endured – if it doesn’t work, it probably wasn’t supposed to, we’ll muddle through. If one laptop clogs up, use another. If the email clients don’t speak to each other, open another window. Arts organisations tend to be project-focused, not process-oriented. Technology is part of the cluttered terrain standing between us and our goals.

Technologists are more likely to look for a better method – smarter, quicker, more efficient. Some of Happenstance’s innovations have been about the organisations adopting new ways of working with technology, new software, new tools, but also a changing attitude to technology as something which enables, doesn’t just get in the way. Embedding technology into an arts organisation means reconnecting ends and means, method and product.

The quick fix – sorting out the wireless, rebooting a monitor, fixing the website – doesn’t sound like a transformative process. But a lot of the organisational change we are witnessing through Happenstance is oblique – it happens across and sideways from the point of interaction. At the start of this process, there was talk of workshops on agile methodology, drop-in sessions – in reality the learning has been implicit rather than explicit – just watching over the shoulder of the technologists, picking up some of their kit and playing with it, allows arts organisation to adopt or adapt some of their techniques, as well as a different attitude to technique and technology. The residents may not (yet) be able to fix the internet for you, but they might encourage arts organisations (and researchers) to think more attentively about the processes which go behind and before the product.

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