Seminar on creativity and infrastructures

We co-organized a full-day seminar on how infrastructures and creativity affect each other. The seminar was in cooperation with the Technical University of Vienna and our Digital Publics group at IDI, NTNU. Michaela, Nora, Babak, and Monica from IDI held short presentations.

Digital transformation in large organizations can be demanding. In demanding situations, creative thinking can help you find better solutions than the most obvious ones. At the same time, creativity is also one of the first things we neglect when deadlines approach and challenges show up in every corner.

Design methods that build on creativity often assume a “clean slate” where the creative person does not need to include any constraining factors in the creative process. This is unfortunate as the solutions that such creative processes will come up with might not be realistic because of the “installed base” of technologies, routines, and organizational institutions.

This paradox was what our seminar on creativity and infrastructuring on November 30, 2023 was about. Addressing this duality is essential because most of our societal challenges, such as climate, demographics, and extremism, require entirely new ways of thinking different from those imposed by the conventional infrastructure.

The seminar started with an introduction to design and creativity by Hilda. Babak gave a talk on infrastructuring, and Monica talked about creative design in STEM education. Afterwards, we had presentations by Olivia Fischer on STEM education and gameplay, Ahmed Murat Hancer on architectural spaces for learning, Anastasiya Savran-Wellscheid on aesthetics for learning STEM, and Martina Hartner on uncertainty and creativity. Nora talked about cases of shadow systems from Helseplattformen, and framed these as arenas for creative thinking within the infrastructural frame of Helseplattformen. Michaela talked about service innovation in the public sector, and how layers of organizational and political decision-making create an infrastructure that constrains innovation in the frontline. Kevin Blasiak used an infrastructure lens to frame content moderation in online media.

A lively discussion among the participants followed the presentations. A lot of topics were discussed and presented, some of them summarized here:

  • Types of creativity, ranging from purely artistic creativity, where creativity itself is the goal, such as in arts, to other instrumental types of creativity, where creativity is used to achieve other goals, such as in design.
  • The role of constraints in creativity, for instance, uncertainties, prior knowledge, cultural, institutional, organizational, and architectural constraints, and how these constraints are related to the surrounding infrastructure.
  • Ways of working creatively versus more “formal” infrastructure work. Some discussions emerged about whether these are different, i.e., whether we are working creatively when working with infrastructures, although in a different way, and whether infrastructures actually provide platforms for creative thinking.
  • Whether creativity is really appreciated in our societies. A lot of what happens around us forces us to be standard and conforming consumers, and not creative producers of ideas and products.
  • Can creativity ever become institutionalized? Can we become creative and routinized when needed and exchange among the two on demand?
  • Competences and methods needed for thinking creatively within infrastructures.

All in all, the seminar only touched briefly upon its topic and raised more questions than it gave answers. We agreed to follow this seminar up with other events and write blogs and hopefully papers.

The seminar was developed and organized by Hilda Tellioğlu from TU Wien, and Babak Farshchian and Monica Divitini from IDI, NTNU. We thank TU Wien’s Center for Technology and Society for making this seminar possible through their organizational support.