Participative Innovation in the Workplace: emerging technologies and the future of work

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The session was an interactive workshop led by Ms Jennah Kriebel, (Whitesides PhD, Harvard University) and Ms Maria Magdalena Mruk (University of Geneva, Tsinghua University, Poland). The focus of the workshop was on showing participants how to translate notions across different technology spaces, and the power of understanding in the era of the fourth industrial revolution. Kriebel stated that their work would be approached from a meta-topic perspective, combining science, technology, arts, and the humanities.

Translation, textual analysis, understanding, and signifying words were the main points throughout the workshop. The training was designed to provide a structured framework allowing stakeholders to communicate more efficiently and to launch effective cooperation. The facilitators told participants that they would learn about textual analysis tools to describe science and arts, and undertake a hands-on workshop to exercise these skills.

Mruk started by introducing the methodology to navigate across the ‘jargon-to-you’ topic spaces and different fields of expertise. She explained the terms ‘signified and signifier’ used in semiotics (the study of signs and symbols and their interpretation). The signifier is the item, a thing, a code that we read. The signified is the idea, the concept, the meaning we give it through reading/observing the signifier. These always come in pairs and are subjective, as we all have different ideas about the words we see and hear.
For example, the word ‘blockchain’ means different things to different people. Mruk invited the audience to divide into pairs, focus on the word ‘tree’ and draw symbols of it. The concept of ‘tree’ was very similar among participants, but the drawings were still different. For the second exercise, participants were asked to write a word from their respective field of expertise, which they thought they could explain to others.

The last exercises included describing notions, and doing short interviews among the participants. In the interviews participants asked each other to explain their respective field of work, or notions from it, such as blockchain, digital identity, and e-government. The focus was on making the explanation approachable to their counterpart from another field of work, as opposed to making it an expert, complex explanation and definition. Understanding is key, and in discussion rooms people tend to overly complicate topics in order to hide their personal lack of knowledge.

‘Being cognisant to the fact that the person across from you is trying to mask any understanding that is happening is crucial,’ Kriebel emphasised. The exercises helped participants bridge the divides in communication between science and technology on one side, and the arts on the other. If we strive to understand the message behind certain words, different languages, or across fields, we enable deeper understanding, which in turn enables innovation. This applies to both human language, as well as to coding language. Kriebel noted the field of ‘trans-coding’ that translates from old, archaic coding language into modern-day code. According to Mruk and Kriebel, this space that enables understanding between different texts and contexts is crucial. ‘Innovation is intertextual, and intertextuality is a tool to find interrelations,’ Mruk said. Realising this moves innovation and cooperation forward.

By Jana Mišić

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