digital craftsmanship

Timelab – Experiments with New Organisational Models

When I visited Timelab in 2012, it was a organisation which was working with two distinct communities: international artists, and a mostly local community of ‘makers’.

Since then, the Timelab core crew has taken a bold step further by radically changing the way they operate. The new organisational logic has been inspired by holocracy, alternative business development models, agile software development methods and various other concepts. This change has allowed many barriers to disappear – the artists and makers form one community instead of two, and there is a great amount of transparency in all the activities.

This blog post offers some glimpses to the way Timelab operates, based in the discussions I had with Eva de Groote and Evi Swinnen.

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This is the Timelab manifesto (a rough translation):

Timelab gives examples of small and big changes. These inspire and trigger dialogue, and encourage development of new models. Timelab offers time and space for reflection on a complex society in transition.

In dialogue with the members of the community, Timelab chooses topics to work with, and initiates processes to tackle these topics. The chosen topics should be such that they are complex, they bring people together from different contexts and backgrounds, and that they offer a rich space for reflection and innovation.

The Clover

The Clover is a method developed in Timelab, which can be used to evaluate and formulate new proposals for projects as well as organisations. The four cycles which can be iterated several times are: Principles, Design, Values and Community.

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These are the values of Timelab itself:

1. Sharing knowledge
Share knowledge, machines and expertise
2. Short supply chain
Make everything locally reproducible and repairable
3. Adaptivity
Choose for modular, adaptable systems
4. Combine strengths
Look for complementary skills
5. Reciprocity
Provide equal and mutual input
6. Intrinsic motivation
Connect and strengthen through voluntary contributions
7. Trust
Find support from peers
8. Autonomy
Cherish different views
9. Serendipity
Find something other than what you were looking for

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Instead of the traditional work titles and tasks, each staff member of Timelab has a specific role with a more holistic approach to Timelab’s activities.

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All essential information about how Timelab operates is visible on the walls and available as individual information sheets:

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Here is a wonderful diagram which explain Timelab as an electric circuit:

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The project management has been inspired by the Kanban method, used in software development. In Timelab, physical boards are used to communicate the current status of the project. Progress is made on incremental steps – the focus is on the ‘next first step‘ (rather than on deadlines and budgets).

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As the images above make evident, the physical space of Timelab is extensively used to communicate information that enables everyone to be self-organised. This approach is also used with the available tools in the space. The tools are clearly organised, with manuals, and if something is broken then ‘fix me’ sign can be used.


One thing that I don’t have a proper photo are the shared gatherings around food. The space also has a community kitchen, and every day people get together to have lunch.

Here is one photo of Timelab in action on a Thursday afternoon:

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At the moment there is currently no instruction book available about the Timelab way of doing things and we’ll have to wait for that a bit I guess, since many of the methods described above are still under development. On the other hand, many projects are already moving ahead using these methods, and the staff seems content and enthusiastic about this new direction.

Many of the Timelab methods are a result of many years of research and experimentation, and the core crew offers assistance and consultation for other organisations (governmental agencies, NGOS, startup companies, etc) to use these tools.

To me all this seems very exciting and promising, so I do hope that we’ll get to read the Timelab manual someday ; )

Valise Pédagogique – teaching methods

During the past days, I have been impressed by the teaching methods that Jean-Noël and Olivier Heinry use in the ‘Valise Pédagogique Création Interactive’ workshop.

During a break I did a very short interview with Olivier, here is a brief summary -

The workshop began with a history of interactive art, starting from cave paintings, continuing with automatons in ancient Egypt and during the Enlightment era, presenting the work of Nicolas Schöffer and finally examples of interactive art done by artists today.

The workshop lessons about interactive tools and programming are divided into three parts: 1. Data capturing, 2. Data filtering and 3. Action – what are the effects that system can generate. This is an autonomous, interactive system, and also a basis for a methodology for creating interactive art. The purpose is to offer a simple approach that anyone can learn.

But this workshop actually aims for much more than just teaching these theoretical and practical lessons. The approach is holistic – the workshop teaches ‘how to be an artist who uses interactive technologies’. This means, for example, that the participants are educated about the financial aspects related to interactive technologies, so while they are learning about the tools they should also think about what kind of economical logic (not only in the sense on money, but use of time, and other resources) could work for them in future. The students learn the basics of Cybernetics through various simple examples.

In his teaching, Olivier is using the methods he has learned in working as a member of various dance projects (especially via working with Good Work Productions), and also partly from his knowledge about collective software development. Olivier studied fine arts and learned his computer / software skills himself, and he was particularly impressed by a method called Scrum. This method is an iterative process, which assigns roles to people (instead of building a top-down hierarchy) and allows the teacher not to be the ‘boss’ but rather a facilitator of activities. For Olivier, it’s important to aim for the autonomy of the participants. The participants themselves occasionally become teachers themselves – once they have mastered a skill they can assist others, or they can give a presentation about related projects that they have been previously been working on.

Here are some examples of what this approach means in practice: Every morning, the students and teachers sit in a circle and repeat each others names, so that everyone would learn all the names more quickly. In the space where the lessons are given, all the chairs and tables have been removed, the projector is also placed on the floor, to remove all the physical signs of hierarchy. Ideas are collected into a big colorful cloud of post-it notes on the wall. Etc, etc…

>> More information about Valise Pédagogique Création Interactive in French

(>> original posting on Pixelache blog)

Digital Craftsmanship

Photo: Pulse by Markus Kison (DE)

According to the participants of Pixelache09 Digital Craftsmanship seminar, Digital Craftsmanship is about:

  • Thinking with your hands
  • Developing digital media cookbooks and recipes
  • Getting different people to share same focus, taking steps in the areas where they are not comfortable
  • Contributing back to the community of teachers
  • Being cross-over artists and designers, enough skills to 99% of things needed
  • Allowing non-specialists to enter, make technology itself culturally diverse
  • Building spaces for learning that reflect the culture that we have online

The discussion involved people from UdK Berlin, Culture Lab Newcastle, Taik Media Lab, Konstfack Stockholm, Kitchen Budapest and other schools/labs. It was evident that digital craftsmanship is difficult to compare with traditional master-apprentice relationship. It seems to be more about a specific approach (or one could even say attitude) to working with digital media. All the basic building blocks (physical parts, hardware, software) are kept open for modifying and one should have enough skills and confidence to work on all different aspects of the project. A key for successful learning and development is to be connected to a network of peers and knowledge / resources that can be shared.

(>> original posting on Pixelache09 site)