Creativity Greenhouse - Supporting Distributed Group Creativity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Computer Science


EPSRC aims to be truly innovative in the processes used to stimulate creativity and potentially transformative research and as such runs a range of activities where deliberate creative facilitation is used, from Think Free Retreats to five day Sandpit events.

This proposal investigates whether such facilitated creativity activities could be conducted with participants remote to each other, supported by digital communication technologies? Use of such technologies could enable the capability to work without geographical and/or time constraints in what is coined Creativity Greenhouse in this context. The Creativity Greenhouse could enhance the pool of people involved in contributing to meetings and generating ideas. Use of technology could also support more efficient and cost-effective ways of working, e.g. resulting in significant savings on meeting costs.

Following a collaborative pilot of the Creativity Greenhouse approach, run by the Horizon Digital Economy Hub and EPSRC, the aim of this project is to develop the existing approach (consisting of event structure, technology set-up and evaluation method arrived at during the pilot project) to a stage where it can be used more widely across EPSRC and beyond.

The project is proposed to proceed in two stages. Both will involve the Creativity Greenhouse process including distribution of funding resources for real projects. Phase 1 will involve the distribution of resources within the Horizon Digital Economy Hub and will serve as further opportunity to pilot the technology and the process. Phase 2 will involve funding distribution to the broader UK research community as relevant to two of the four priority areas of the RCUK Digital Economy programme and EPSRC ICT programme.

Concretely, a previously integrated set of technologies combining Google Apps as backend data sharing platform and Teleplace supporting synchronous communication during facilitated sessions will be re-used. Previously developed resources such as templates and questionnaires will be adapted and the event structure will be adapted. Technology (WP1), resources and event structure (WP2) will then be studied (WP3) and iteratively refined to suit each of the four events leading to a final set that can be re-used for similar activities or other context within EPSRC and beyond.

The key output of the project will be the fully developed and evaluated infrastructure to support distributed groups being creative together. The project will conclude by engaging with various stakeholders across the UK funding landscape to understand the impact of this novel infrastructure on governance and policy (WP4). The project includes resources to package and brand this infrastructure for re-use (WP5).

Planned Impact

This project will have impact across the following areas: funding policy and governance, academia and the commercial sector.

Funding Policy and Governance
EPSRC will directly and immediately benefit from the output of this project, by re-using the developed technology platform and associated process in future funding calls. It is anticipated that the wider roll-out of this technology will lead to substantial cost-savings in this area alone. Beyond funding, it is also anticipated that the technology can successfully be used to support other types of meeting activities, resulting in additional cost-savings. Indirectly, it is anticipated that practically implementing such a process will have impact on funding policy and governance over the medium to long-term at EPSRC and at other funding bodies, as the Creativity Greenhouse approach presents a new model for supporting creativity.

Impact on Academia
The Creativity Greenhouse project will result in a new, mainly 'online' mechanism of supporting groups to be creative collaboratively and to establish professional, multi-disciplinary networks. While the process is inspired by the original sandpit concept, it is different enough to have the potential to attract a different group of participants, e.g. those who prefer mediated interaction and those who cannot commit being away from home for extended periods of time. Equally, the Creativity Greenhouse approach might also result in those who feel uncomfortable with mediated interaction to stay away. Overall however, a process conducted 'online' will offer academic participants measurable benefits with regards to reductions in travel time and reductions in time away from home.

Commercial impact
EPSRC will keep the use of the Creativity Greenhouse approach internal until a solid reputation to run such events has been established. Beyond this initial period, it is very much anticipated that the combination of synchronous and asynchronous technologies packaged with a documented process for the support of collaborative creativity will be valuable to the commercial sector. Any sector that employs teams for creative ideas generation but also problem solving will be able to re-use the outputs of this project to streamline their processes to run online.


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Norris J (2013) Putting things in focus

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Schnädelbach H (2015) Creativity Bento Box: A Physical Resource Pack to Support Interaction in Virtual Space in International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction

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Schnädelbach H (2016) Creativity Greenhouse: At-a-distance collaboration and competition over research funding in International Journal of Human-Computer Studies

Description The Creativity Greenhouse (CG) project has iteratively developed and deployed a communication infrastructure to support facilitated creativity sessions, where participants are not co-located. Facilitated creativity sessions follow the Creative Problem Solving process to include phases for ideation, consolidation and project development. The facilitation involves actively managing the trajectory of people through this process.

The Creativity Greenhouse communication infrastructure uses a 3D virtual environment in which document resources are embedded. Participants enter the 3D virtual environment represented as avatars. Through their avatars they can communicate with others via an audio channel and live video. The avatar also provides access to the shared resources mentioned previously.

The CG project has deployed this communication infrastructure in four iteratively developed stages in the context of research project funding. To this end, CG adapted the process and resources developed for EPSRC funding sandpits in direct collaboration with EPSRC. The final event structure included one day for participants, mentors, directors and facilitators to physically meet. This was used to start exploring the topic, to 'break the ice', to socialise and to train on the communication technology. The remainder of the structure stepped through stages of ideation, presentation, critique and consolidation, until a final funding decision was made. For this second phase of the event participants, the director, mentors and facilitators remained at their physical 'home' locations connecting via the aforementioned communication infrastructure.

- The CG project has led to a well-understood communication infrastructure, process and resources that combine to a re-useable support package for facilitated creativity sessions where participants are not co-located.

- Conducted in the wild through three funding events, the project has directly led to a number of funded research projects already up and running or currently starting up (at the time of writing).

- The CG project has delivered the evidence that funding sandpit-like events can be run across the CG package successfully producing outcomes that are on par with equivalent events conducted when participants are co-located.

- The fact that communication technology is used impacts on the conduct of the event, slowing down interaction and suggesting that more time would be required.

- The use of communication technology also impacts the facilitation staff in their ability to offer pastoral care. Issues that individual participants might be having with the process are more difficult to detect.

- The principle of the technical approach (combining a communication technology that offers 3D with a access to shared documents) has been confirmed as valid, whereas the actual implementation of the 3D communication tool (3rd party, open-source OpenQwaq) has significant technical issues. These impacted the conduct of the event in a number of ways, but did not jeopardise it because of careful management by the facilitation team.
Exploitation Route The process, resources and communication infrastructure offer a general purpose package that will be re-useable in any context where people are creatively collaborating and/or competing over resources.

The communication infrastructure itself could principally be used for other activities where participants are not co-located, such as general meetings. EPSRC continue to actively pursue the re-use of the Creativity Greenhouse approach for funding events and beyond.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

Description The Creativity Greenhouse project has resulted in the development and understanding of an entirely new funding mechanism, building on the EPSRC Sandpit mechanism. During the project, capability and capacity at EPSRC and at the Horizon Digital Economy Hub have been developed to conduct facilitated creativity events where the participants are not collated. This capability is currently embedded in a number of individuals (in Horizon and at EPSRC). The July 2012 event has been used to introduce others to the approach but further training would be required, if others were to conduct this work. The Creativity Greenhouse project has resulted in the development and understanding of an entirely new funding mechanism, building on the EPSRC Sandpit mechanism. This funding mechanism involves the use of communication software to allow people to compete for research funding when they are not located in the same place. Beneficiaries: EPSRC, other funding councils Creativity Greenhouse has been run 'in the wild' in the sense that this novel funding approach as been iteratively developed around actual funding. Creativity Greenhouse has been the framework for the decision process that lead to four funded research projects (EP/J021601/1 SERTES; EP/K025201/1 Digital Brain Switch; EP/K025392/1 Digital Epiphanies; EP/K025678/1 Family rituals) and one funded network (EP/K025619/1 Balance Network, Exploring Work-Life Balance in the Digital Economy). Beneficiaries: The PIs and COIs of the funded projects, their institutions and staff employed on the resulting grants During its prototyping phase and therefore before the EPSRC grant itself started, two Horizon DE hub internal projects have been funded using the Creativity Greenhouse (CG) approach and set of technologies. The research base of the Horizon Digital Economy hub enabled this preparatory proof-of-concept work. The funding was pump-prime funding targeted at early-career researchers and academics, allowing them to explore novel ideas for research projects away from their existing work requirements. One of the two funded projects, 'Intergenerational Interpretation of the Internet of Things' is employing two post-docs on this grant and is involving Nottingham City Council in the second phase of the project. This project has resulted in a workshop paper at CHI 2012 (Coughlan, T, Brown, M, Houghton, RJ and Lawson, G, 2012. Exploring new connections between the physical and the digital in future heritage interpretations In: ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI'12), Austin, TX, 2012). Proof-of-concept work enabled by the Horizon Digital Economy Hub used the first versions of the Creativity Greenhouse approach to allocated pump-priming funding to Horizon Digital Economy Hub researchers. This funding has lead to projects and publications. Beneficiaries: The researchers who were awarded funding and the academic community drawing on the research conducted in the funded projects Contribution Method: It provided the mechanism for distributing research funding.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Policy & public services

Title Creativity Greenhouse Infrastructure 
Description The Creativity Greenhouse project has delivered a well-understood, currently deployed and re-deployable infrastructure, required to run facilitated creativity events when participants are not co-located. This includes the software infrastructure integrating OpenQwaq and GoogleDocs. The software infrastructure can be easily re-used as is and with the same opportunities and constraints as reported above for future events. The infrastructure also includes a set of re-usable resources and processes, co-developed directly with EPSRC. Finally, the project has lead to an in-depth understanding of the opportunities and constraints of this particular infrastructure, which in turn has lead to proposals for its future development. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact None