China's Creative Communities: Making Value and The Value(s) of Making

Lead Research Organisation: Kingston University
Department Name: Sch of Cultural Industry, Critical Study

Abstract

China's Creative Communities: Making Value and The Value(s) of Making is a four-part cross-disciplinary scoping research project to bring together UK and China partners to network, research, workshop and publically disseminate ideas and innovations around the multi-faceted value of making in China. It aims to strengthen China's multiple maker communities in partnership with the UK, as part of broader support for China's creative industries and knowledge economy.

The project results from the British Council/AHRC's Living Research: Making in China initiative, in which a group of UK academics and makers were immersed in China's maker culture in October 2015. Initial findings and discussion identified key themes and approaches to develop to further contribute to Living Research's aims.

China's Creative Communities take place amidst a growing, but differentiated, emphasis on making in China and the UK. The UK's first makerspace opened in the 1990s, while China's first makerspace only opened in 2010. Now China has a rapidly expanding maker movement set to only grow following Premier Li Keqiang's first visit to a makerspace in Shenzhen in 2015 and the subsequent publication of the Report on the Work of the Government, which identified 'makers coming thick and fast' as part of its growing creative industries.

As in the UK, China's makerspaces vary widely, from self-funded hacker workshops to sites of middle-class leisure. Chinese policy and private investment focus on makerspaces as accelerators and incubators for product innovation. This is most evident in Shenzhen, China's electronics manufacturing capital, whose readily available manufacturers, materials and componentry has attracted a global community of makers looking to benefit from a production ecosystem largely absent in Europe and the USA. The technology-based innovation focus on makerspaces should be understood amidst economic uncertainty in China over its mass manufacturing future. A concomitant threat to China's status as the world's largest producer and economic emphasis on makerspaces tallies with Made in China 2025, the initiative to move its economy up the value chain to focus on design, quality, innovation and sustainability. These are areas of UK expertise potentially valuable in China: the UK has a strong, ever-more socially and sustainably responsible, design culture, and its maker movement is seen as potentially able to encourage a similar ethos.

Despite the excitement and potential for China's makerspaces, their future is uncertain, with some lacking strong community presence. Yet China also has a strong design and making culture, in other, less supported communities currently seen as external to its maker movement: urban villages; traditional crafts, and shanzhai. Matching China and UK researchers and makers to investigate makerspaces as part of this broader making ecology could offer ways to maximise the social, cultural and economic benefits, and extended values, of making in China.

Overall, this project aims to provide forums for making-based knowledge exchange in the UK and China through which the diverse values of making in China can be explored and enhanced. It will consolidate connections and build new networks between China and UK's making-related communities and extend the types of values and communities associated with making. We will also use this project to test methods and approaches and identify research questions that will create a foundation for future projects to benefit making communities in China and the UK.

Planned Impact

This cross-disciplinary scoping research project brings together practitioners, academics and entrepreneurs in the UK and China to network, workshop and publically disseminate ideas and innovations around the multi-faceted value of making in China. It aims to strengthen China's multiple maker communities in partnership with the UK, amidst broader support for its creative industries and growing knowledge economy.

The planned research activities will engender a significant degree of knowledge exchange between UK and China participants with the intention that both parties benefit from the research outcomes. As a primarily scoping and networking project, these outcomes will focus on identifying targeted questions and areas for future larger-scale research projects, building relationships and opening up maker networks to identify appropriate partners to participate in these future projects.

The activities are also intended to have value in their own right: the tours, workshops and discussions will inform a broader understanding of making and making culture and therefore will provide insights and practical lessons that can be of direct benefit to the Chinese and UK participants. Specifically, these activities will focus on areas of UK expertise new and beneficial to China's making culture: the role of makerspaces in place making and community building, nurturing entrepreneurship and innovation; critically engaged making, the value of sustainably driven design and making, including ideas of the circular economy and increasing product longevity, and the integration of material knowledge and sensitivity with digital capabilities.

The non-academic participants from China, David Li and Lit Liao are both intimately connected with the maker cultures in Shenzhen, Shanghai and beyond (for example Li is co-founder of Xin Che Jian and Maker Collider in Shanghai). Through their significant networks and connections they can contribute to and disseminate knowledge gained through their participation in stages 3 and 4 to a broad spectrum of China and UK based organisations, makers, entrepreneurs and businesses. This is specifically in the case of Li, who has informed China's strategic development in this area and Lit Liao, who is seen as a figurehead amongst China's minority of female makers. Therefore the outcomes of this research have the potential to impact at a strategic and social level in China.

At a more grassroots level the workshops and salon events in China will be attended by a range of invited participants, including those from design and small batch manufacturing companies, the craft sector, incubator/accelerator organisations and cultural organisations (such as V&A Shekou), as well as the public, thereby potentially reaching a broad range of makers and other interested parties who should benefit from participating in critical activities and debates that provide new UK-led approaches and perspectives on making and making culture outlined above.

There will be similar benefits and routes to impact for the UK non-academic participants and consultants directly involved in the salons, workshops and tours in the UK. They will benefit from the networking opportunities this provides both with the Chinese visitors and the other UK participants, and through the organisations they represent outcomes will be disseminated across their networks. Furthermore the public facing events in the UK will provide a mechanism for the wider public to engage in the research discussions, again with a number of invited participants from a range of sectors and organsations.

There will be a mutual benefit to both UK and Chinese individual participants and organisations in building new and existing relationships that could form the basis for future collaborative projects.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The principal aim of this project was to bring together individuals and organisations in the UK and China to participate in a networking, researching and scoping project in order to strengthen China's maker communities in partnership with the UK. Research objectives included:
- Test methods of international engagement, networking and dissemination
- Understand the condition of China's maker community in broader creative, industrial, social, cultural, political economic contexts
- Develop and build new relationships
- Identify other knowledge and expertise required to meaningfully support China's maker communities

1 - Methodology
We developed a methodology initiated in Living Research: Making in China, an earlier AHRC/British Council research visit to China in October 2015 that involved several China's Creative Communities researchers. This methodology brought together academics, practitioners and industry figures in practice-based, immersive research. We developed this cross-disciplinary approach in China's Creative Communities through organising and participating in several activities: informal interviews, visits, public discussion salons and creative and practical workshops.

We found the inclusive nature of these overwhelmingly primary and empirical research methods appropriate and valuable. They enabled makers, makerspace users and others in Shenzhen's creative community to have their own voice. The digital craft workshops in China and London enabled participants to experience the possibilities of craft-led innovation and bringing together traditional and newer technologies while also providing informal environments conducive to open discussion.

2 - New Knowledge and Research Questions
These included identifying uncertainty over the future of the maker movement in Shenzhen amongst the local community, attributed to factors including over-inflated government-backed expansion leading to unsustainable economic models for makerspaces and empty makerspaces. This has contributed to several new developments: an increasing recognition of the community value of makerspaces (as opposed to the heavy focus on entrepreneurism and innovation); the embrace of design culture and recognition of its importance for China's creative industries; an allied growing interest in craft; the rise of maker education in schools; interest in the potential economic and innovation value of makerspaces; a growing interest in sustainability.

The research has led to new questions including: how can China's design, craft and maker communities be strengthened through collaboration, both within and beyond China; what role can education play in China's maker communities; how can China and the UK establish meaningful relationships to benefit creative industries, maker culture and SME manufacturing in both countries?

3 - Networks, Collaborations and Partnerships
Through this project we strengthened partnerships with the two China-based participants, David Li, China's leading maker movement spokesperson and Lit Liao, founder of lively Shenzhen makerspace Litchee Lab. Through visits, workshops and networking we also introduced making networks and initiatives new to China, such as Fixperts and the Maker Library Network. We also established new connections between UK, Chinese and international maker communities, including key figures and organisations in maker education and enterprise (e.g. Makerversity, Machine Rooms, MadLab), the creative industries (e.g. Bare Conductive, Technology Will Save Us), and the FabCity movement. A full list of visits and activities are on the project blog
https://chinascreativecommunities.wordpress.com. New opportunities and partnerships are being developed through email and Wechat.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of the research will taken forward through:
Our China's Creative Communities website https://chinascreativecommunities.wordpress.com/ which provides an extensive and publically accessible resource of useful information and reflections for those wishing to engage with Shenzhen's maker and broader design and manufacturing sectors.

A forthcoming peer-reviewed article in Digital Culture journal authored by Marshall and Rossi focusing on the multi-method research approach used. This will be of value to researchers interested in novel methods for gaining insights to complex situations. Further more substantial academic outcomes may follow.

Joining and instigating appropriate Wechat groups. This provides the researchers and others interested, in both UK and China, forums to discuss, share ideas, collect feedback and network.

The planned introduction of Fixperts and Maker Library Network to China. This will allow China's makers and makerspaces to become part of international networks focusing on their social/community and educational roles and will have substantial reciprocal benefits to both the UK and China communities.

The visits and activities that David Li and Lit Liao were involved in there was recognition of the cultural and economic benefits of further activities. Proposals included: extended visits by a broader representative selection of making ecosystem, from makers and designers to manufacturers; residencies and exchanges in UK and Chinese makerspaces. These will be pursued in the near future.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://chinascreativecommunities.wordpress.com/
 
Description China's Creative Communities was a three-month project completed in April 2016. From the perspective of June 2016 it is too early be able to identify significant impact. We will be alert to possible impacts, particularly in relation to the values promoted by the project (creativity, community/agency, sustainability and entrepreneurialism), and the organisation of events that have resulted in response to the project's aims and activities. There have already been identifiable extra-academic impacts on a small scale: new membership of China's maker communities: Several of the workshops we organised saw individuals enter makerspaces for the first time. These individuals, primarily female, have now become part of Wechat groups focused on Shenzhen's maker community, and a possible Fixperts initiative. new knowledge / activities Marshall's conductive ink printing workshop has already been voluntarily repeated at Litchee Lab by Lit for the local community new relationships and partnerships Other academic routes include Chinese researchers taking forward the research and building on their own projects and publications. Wen Wen, a researcher in the Institute for Cultural Industries at Shenzhen University, participated in several of the stage 3 events and has contributed a post to the blog. Our project aligns with her own research interests in China's creative communities, and I anticipate further published research in this area. We also developed relationships with Tsinghua University and NYU Shanghai, which we anticipate leading to further individual and collaborative research activity research networks, exchanges, residencies and visits. New contacts, relationships and partnerships have been established through the project. These include connecting Liao with designers and design studios involved in UK maker education.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Consultation on "Living Research 2018: call for makers and academics". Both Justin Marshall and Cat Rossi were consulted by the British council in their development of the second iteration of the Living Research funding call, following their participation in the first iteration in October 2015. This involved phone discussion with the British Council, and sharing of their co-authored journal article on their research (see publications section for details).
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org/blog/18/02/05/living-research-2018-call-for-participants/
 
Description Participation in shaping funding call and participation in judging panel for AHRC / British Council "Hello Shenzhen: Researching the Ethics of Makerspaces". This consisted of discussions with the British Council and AHRC to shape the funding call in 2016, which was based on the findings and recommendations of the China's Creative Communities report produced by the PI and Co Is, and participation on a judging panel in February 2017 to determine the successful applicants.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/documents/calls/hello-shenzhen-call-document/
 
Description "Development through the Creative Economy in China"
Amount £3,844 (GBP)
Organisation Newton Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 10/2017
 
Title China's Creative Communities: 
Description This 'database' is in the form of a web resource (https://chinascreativecommunities.wordpress.com/) . Through comprehensively documenting the research visits and activities associated with the project, in both the UK and China, this website provides a snapshot of the landscapes of creative Maker Spaces and related resources in Shenzhen and the UK. In addition, it provides a body of reflective/critical texts authored by a broad range of participants in the project. It is therefore of value to UK and Chinese researchers and Makers/practitioners and potentially beyond to the wider international research community interested in Maker culture. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The information and reflective/critical texts that form part of this web resource have helped frame both the AHRC and British Council further calls relating to Maker culture in China (see http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/opportunities/current/hello-shenzhen/ http://creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org/projects/hello-shenzhen/) 
URL https://chinascreativecommunities.wordpress.com/
 
Description Development through the Creative Economy in China 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Justin Marshall and Cat Rossi successfully applied to partnership in the AHRC "Development through the Creative Economy in China" workshop held in Shanghai 24 - 26 October 2017. The workshop brought together UK and China-based academics researching design, heritage and the creative and performing arts, with the aim to identify key areas of future research, collaborations and partnerships. Marshall and Rossi participated in all the events organised for the workshop, feeding ideas and fuelling discussion for these future initiatives. Rossi also delivered a short introductory paper for the themed session "Design: Innovation from tradition':new markets, new audiences and new design method for business and society." Following the event, an email group has been set up to connect all of the UK-based academics.
Collaborator Contribution AHRC organised and hosted the event, and funded the academics' participation.
Impact The workshop informed the Newton funding call "Development through the Creative Economy in China" "for joint UK-China research projects exploring the potential of the creative economy to drive sustainable and inclusive growth in China." For more details see: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/opportunities/current/development-through-the-creative-economy-in-china/
Start Year 2017
 
Description Keynote conference speakers (Shenzhen) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited by the Institute for Cultural Industries Shenzhen University in November 2016 to be a keynote speaker at "The Convergence of Culture and Technology and Establishment of Innovation Eco-system", a symposium organised on 12 and 13 November by the Institute for Cultural Industries at Shenzhen University. I was the only UK keynote speaker of approximately 10 international experts, including from Canada, the USA and South Korea, to speak about different aspects of the conference theme. There were circa 100 attendees, including local government representatives, academics, students and creative industry professionals. My paper was entitled "Making Creativity in London".

Since returning to the UK I have provided a reference for a successful application by one of the academics at the SICI to participate in the British Council's Hello Shenzhen residency programme, a programme which was itself informed by the China's Creative Communities research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Lecture (Shenzhen) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I delivered a one-off one hour lecture at the Institute for Cultural Industries Shenzhen University (SICI), for circa 20 academics and students. My lecture was entitled "Researching Shenzhen: Making Value and the Values of Making". This generated debate about craft and design history as research subjects and methods.

Since returning to the UK I have provided a reference for a successful application by one of the academics at the SICI to participate in the British Council's Hello Shenzhen residency programme, a programme which was informed by the China's Creative Communities research, and provided advice for a student seeking to undertake a PhD in the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at 10th Anniversary conference at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact As a result of presenting a summary of this research at the AHRC round table event in Pujiang I was invited to provide an extended presentation at the10th Anniversary conference at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. This presentation focused on the differing values and skills that UK and China bring to Maker culture and the opportunities for future collaborations and joint projects. This has resulted in a more established link with Prof Yuanpu JIn, Director of the Culture and Creative Industry Research Institute and an intention to establish some collaborative projects focused on crafting new forms of digital iteration in the context of cultural tourism.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presetation at the Pujiang Innovation Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact As Co-I I presented the outcomes and implications of this project at the AHRC round table event hedl as part of the Pujiang Innovation Forum
Academics and people from the creative industries in the UK and China used the roundtable to focus on opportunities to build greater links and start conversations about the importance and impact of research in this dynamic part of the economy in both countries. It was co-chaired by Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of the AHRC and his counter part in China Professor Yuanpu Jin. The presentation was well received and resulted in an invitation to present at the 10th Anniversary conference at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/newsevents/news/building-strong-research-links-between-the-uk-and-china/