Innovation Grounds 1.0

This mind map lays out a framework for thinking about “innovation grounds” — spaces where people can come together and generate ideas, solutions, knowledge, culture, and relationships.

The map emerged from perceiving coworking spaces are next-generation telecentres; seeing connections between telecentres, coworking spaces, hackerspaces, and libraries; and being somewhat exasperated at how libraries are often overlooked as key actors in community development — despite the fact that they’ve always been places where people convene, learn, and create. (More on this note: Wayan Vota, Chris Coward, Meaghan O’Connor, Patrick Tanguay, and Christine… I’m sure you could send us more examples!).

The map is supposed to articulate how public-access venues (libraries, telecentres, cybercafes) and co-location/working/production spaces are connected. We were trying to go beyond access to technology while acknowledging its role and ubiquitousness, and to highlight the importance of access to people in innovation and development.

We’re hoping that this framework can help us think about both the theoretical and practical aspects of innovation grounds (design, support, research, policy, etc.).

Development agencies and practitioners should take a closer look at innovation grounds. Figure out how you can make them work for you — and how you can build on existing efforts. Similarly, national and local governments should seek out and leverage innovation grounds: libraries, coworking spaces, hackerspaces, community wireless groups. They’re out there. Start connecting. (And remember there are resources out there. One example is the US IMPACT Study — based on their research they prepared a wonderful toolkit to help libraries document successes and build understanding and support.)

Tell us what you think. Does this framework spark anything for you?

— Christine Prefontaine & Silvia Caicedo

(Shout outs: The term innovation grounds was inspired by Karen Fisher’s concept of “information grounds“. The term “commonspace” comes from Mark Surman. And writing this included a mental walkthrough of the facilities and approach of Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation, Montreal’s Station C and Foulab, various libraries we love, and all of the wonderful people and places that we came into contact with while working at IDRC on

8 thoughts on “Innovation Grounds 1.0

  1. Chris Coward

    Excellent work! I like the four dimensions and the characteristics you list. One point to underscore, and something I’ve been thinking about as well, is design intentionality. That is, most library and telecentre spaces are not designed with this sort of activity in mind. What’s happened is that people have co-opted these spaces for coworking purposes, regardless of whether the centers provide many of the attributes you list. On the other end of the spectrum are places (e.g. Nairobi iHub) that are designed explicitly to foster coworking, co-creation, innovation, etc. As you suggest, this is where the opportunity exists–to apply knowledge of space/people interaction to the hundreds of thousands of telecentres, libraries, and other public places where, with design thinking, could be transformed into more vibrant spaces.

  2. DF Bunnell

    There is a tendency for every generation to not only think, but genuinely believe that we just, somehow, invented or reinvented innovation; that we have arrived at some new and undeniable truth.
    It is a place where our childlike sense of wonder (…always a good thing) meets and commingles with our naiveté.
    Today? Even the word “innovation” is bantered about like the word “love” was back during the 60s. We even have an “innovation economy,” which may be as much the oxymoron as “army intelligence.”
    Yet, here’s the thing. In most cases it is often surface level knowledge at best. That’s because the true origins of things are never touched-upon or explored. Not really.
    If you ask a small child where milk comes from they may say to you— the refrigerator. Their answer is true. But perhaps not entirely accurate. If you ask another child, somewhat older, the same question, they may reply, “…milk comes from the store.” Again. True. But not (…you get the picture.)

    Part of Steve Job’s genius as a futurist was founded in his intrinsic love for history—behavior—and just how we got here? In this rare interview, listen to how he describes the inventive and innovative nature of man; and just exactly when and why it kicked into hyper-drive. Steve Jobs:

    Next? Jacob Sayles with Office Nomads is certainly a leader in the Coworking Movement. And? At the Coworking Europe Conference 2010 he asked the audience in Belgium, “…so how many of you think YOU invented COWORKING?” A multitude of hands plunged into the air. I rest my case.
    So? I do see how much work went into your mind-map, nonetheless, an org or workflow chart does not necessarily connote, qualify or deserve the label: “innovation grounds” per se.

    The following might serve you better. These historically are people-centric models, which have brought about change.
    You are also invited to read an article, which I co-authored on innovation, incubation and coworking at: LINK:

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Christine

    Thanks for your comment. One note: This was not meant as epistemological treatise on innovation or on coworking. Rather, it was meant to provide “a” framework to understand and ask better questions about the connections between a range of entities — libraries, telecenters, coworking spaces, hackerspaces, etc. — and how they can work together to capitalize on resource use, knowledge, and experiences, as well as respond to new challenges.

  4. Robert Bonardi


    I greatly enjoyed the use of the map for visualizing (sorry about the “zeds”)information and concepts. I agree that one can always argue about the fine points of the map, and that this effort was about generating responses along a common framework, which is facilitated by the clear mapping and uncluttered design.

    Hope all is well in Montreal. Do you ever come to DC? Love to hear from you.

    Robert B.

  5. Pingback: Jellyweek DC @TRYST in Adams Morgan | Facilitating Change

  6. Christine

    Beth Kolko‘s recent “Hackadamia” talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center discusses some of this way better than I ever could. She is so brilliant and articulate. Same goes for Ethan Zuckerman… here are excerpts from his post about her talk:

    “There are three major areas her talk – titled “Hackademia” – focuses on. She’s interested in how hackers, makers and students, especially undergrad students, can work as innovators. She’s starting to identify patterns within non-expert communities that allow hackers and makers to innovate. And she’s interested in how we “make more of this ‘stuff’” – as society and as educators, how to we scaffold and maximize these contributions?

    The key to understanding hacking and making, she suggests, is imagination: looking at people as creative problem-solvers. While there’s lots of research on how corporate and university researchers solve problems, there’s less research on how people without credentials solve problems. She’s specifically interested in rulebreakers, people who either break the rules of the academy or laws to innovate. Rulebreaking, she argues, is a type of power play: it’s a way ot fighting against the cultural and economic power of “being technical”, finding ways to be technical outside of an existing ruleset.

    The people Beth studies are functional, rather than accredited engineers. She confesses, “I don’t really care about formal STEM (science, tech, education and math) education – okay, I care a little. But there are lots of studies on getting people to work in those fields. Instead, I’m trying to get people to be STEM literate and facile.”

    Beth’s insights in this field come from studying creativity around technology in the developing world, as well as US hackerspaces, makerspaces, hacker cons, and makerfaires. Extrapolating from both types of sites, she observes three characteristics:

    • The importance of actual space in bringing communities together

    • Systems of apprenticeship or scaffolded learning, including workshops that show people what they need to know to join a community

    • Contests and other systems for building reputations, like the “black badges” issued to winners of capture the flag contests at Defcon, or the badges people win on

    She’s interested in the possible overlaps between university research, industry labs and independent researchers. Her goal is not to map the actual Venn diagram of the space, but to understand how independent researchers work in this space. She believes that independent researchers are particularly important for building disruptive technology. Academics have a disincentive to build highly disruptive systems — they’re hard to get academic funding for, and hard for PhD students to pitch dissertations around. It’s hard to disrupt in the corporate community, especially when disruptive tech is cheaper, as those sorts of innovations tend not to fit within existing sales structures. Independent researchers may be immune to these restrictions and especially capable of pushing forward disruptive innovations.

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