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Notes from the Labs

What are Labs, and why do we need them? How can we combine the input of many different people, and can we achieve meaningful results in just a few hours? What is the role of different fields like Arts, Science and Commerce in this? Are these paradigms in any way compatible and in need of each other? And if so, can they together come up with relevant solutions to pressing problems?

At PICNIC ’08 more than twelve sessions where conducted that had names with “lab” in their titles. These labs took place in the Gashouder of the Westergasfabriek. Invariably, they were comprised of about twenty to fifty people in sessions that lasted from three hours to several days. There where, amongst others, labs on Locative Experiences, Augmented Reality, the Future of Television, Technology for Children, Sustainable Development and an extensive RFID Hackers Camp. The sessions where mostly interactive, with a lot of space for the individual participants to join.

RE:LABS brought the lab-leaders together to discuss the format: what do labs bring us. After the PICNIC closing ceremony, but before the final party, forty people took the time to reflect on the labs, in practice and theory. It started with a kick-off by Marleen Stikker (Waag Society) who introduced the lab concept and the important role it has in the PICNIC conference. After a video impression by Sam Nemeth (Waag Society), the moderator Leo Salazar (de Baak) took over and introduced both the lab-leaders in the audience and the panel. The panel consisted of:

• Anne Nigten, manager of V2_Lab and director of the Patching Zone
• Geleyn Meijer, Associate Director and Innovation Manager at LogicaCMG
• Robert Zwijnenberg, professor at the University of Leiden and director of the Arts and Genomics Centre

While Robert Zwijnenberg argued that science needs art to cope with difficult ethical issues such as the quest for victimless meat, Anne Nigten asked the question: Is this art? Robert replied: does this matter? Gerard Hulshof made the observation that Art and Science were not recognized as separate until the 20th century. The audience then entered into an hour of discussion and came up with relevant concepts concerning labs.

Labs bring people from different formal backgrounds, experience and walks of life into a shared space governed by a set of rules. The moderator sets the stage for an open discussion, and facilitates the participants by carefully selecting a scheme for the event and then protecting it. It is important to level the power structures that inevitably guide most of our social conversations as they stifle creativity. Hands-on methods, like tinkering and participatory design can be employed to break out of your original frames of reference and come up with novel solutions. In this, labs are much like workshops but different in that the participants themselves are the main and foremost material and there is no set outcome.

The panel pointed out that amongst the many possible results, financial aspects have an important role to play. For labs to be more than a passing fad and to attract some funding, it is necessary to know what the (monetary) gains of these new ways of working are, who will benefit from them and at what costs. One of the chairmen of the ICT Innovation Platform Creative Industries, Geleyn Meijer, asked the public to come up with solutions and relevant applications, to be included in the plans for the Platform’s activities.

Most participants agreed that labs as a format have a lot of potential, either in problem solving, empowerment or even financially. As such, they have a promising role to play in innovation, and - without a doubt - in PICNIC ’09.

RE:LABS was organized by De Baak ( and Waag Society ( with the help of MediaGuild ( and IIP CREATE (