Have you heard about STEAMhouse? It’s Birmingham City University’s collaborative makerspace, helping start up’s and SMEs to plan it, make it, and launch it. Director of the Institute for Creative Innovation at Birmingham City University, Dr. Steve Harding, explains what makes the STEAM ethos unique and the importance of collaboration.
Creative insights catalyse thinking on challenge definition, ideas generation, prototyping and testing in our STEAM process. What makes STEAM learning unique from other approaches such as design thinking is the role played by art and the artist – the ‘A’ in STEAM. Creative practitioners bring a different perspective to the world and the ability to act as a provocateur in the thinking process.
In many ways we are still learning about what STEAM learning really means. What we are confident of is that our STEAMhouse facility is an endorsement of the approach we are taking to learning by doing. One of the strengths has been our willingness to adopt iterative learning – taking time to reflect on what we’ve done and what we’ve learned through the first year of STEAMhouse before moving on.
We are all learning together and STEAMhouse has become a very welcoming environment for this. We hope there are no egos in the STEAMhouse team – we are very focused on helping others. The STEAMhouse philosophy enables shared learning and collaboration, talking problems through with others and sharing ideas, which has been especially important when working with early stage innovation and developing businesses. The approach of STEAMhouse is ‘welcome, we’re open, share, let’s make it enjoyable’ and use this to innovate.
STEAMhouse enables working with new people in new ways, the physical environment makes it easy to get on and co-work. An increasing number of Birmingham City University academic colleagues are seeing the value of working in a collaborative, interdisciplinary way through STEAMhouse and we are always on the look-out for more opportunities. This builds on the long tradition of Birmingham City University as a practice-led institution. STEAMhouse offers an ideal opportunity for our academic community to further develop practice in a new environment and with new people. We currently have around 50 academic colleagues in our Connecting Group and we are keen for many more to join.
Edgar Schein in his approach to “humble consulting” talks a lot about just listening, having a safe space to discuss ideas and opportunities, the client will always know more about their business or subject area than you ever will. So, we listen to what people want to do and try and help them frame their issues for themselves.
A lot of work we have done involves working with other cities, such as on the Urban M project which looks to create policy to help collaborative makerspaces prosper, and learning from them, their ecosystem, then bringing knowledge back to Birmingham and applying it. We look at developing policy to help create models for helping more spaces like STEAMhouse to be created, for example; what environment is needed to create this space work, the built environment and how the city is constructed, where are the serendipitous spaces? STEAMhouse is a permeable thing. I want to go where others can meet or bump into me – I think workplaces should be like this and that students will want to work in these creative hub style places too.
As we move into 2019 we are engaged with two large organisations and helping them cultivate new approaches to the challenges they are facing – one with the delivery of a large-scale project and the other with adopting digital services. Both have come to because we have matching strengths in our areas of academic expertise which complements our STEAM learning approach which offers them opportunities to innovate and think differently in finding solutions to the challenges they face.