Cultivating FoAM Kernow

Posted March 3, 2017 by Dave Griffiths

Towards the end of last year we were struggling a bit at FoAM Kernow, a busy year with lots of media exposure and overlapping projects had left us excited and energised but it seemed at times as if the organisation had gained its own momentum and we were being carried along with it.

We had a very timely chat with Jane Sutherland at Krowji in Redruth who told us about her new project called Cultivator - an EU/Arts Council England/Cornwall Council funded scheme to help creative organisations like us. We were chosen along with 4 other companies to take part in this 3 year scheme which is also working with Plymouth University.

The first day - ran by Laura Giles and Rupert Lorraine, consisted of 10 minute intros from Engine House, Buzz Interactive, Zephyr Creative and us, followed by a talk by Mike Phillips setting the scene of contemporary digital technology and current ethical issues. This immediately brought the discussion to how, as people involved in software and design - we are better placed to deal with some of these entrenched issues than the larger players as we have more focus and concrete experience on the local level. We followed these discussions by looking for common themes and listing ideas for future activities.

One of the most exciting things about this for me is the other companies, and the emphasis on facilitating us to work together and share our experiences, rather than 'top down' education. The selection of the companies is well made so we are different enough that competition is not an issue, but we have ideas and approaches we can share.

What FoAM Kernow has to offer

We can offer quite a bit from various projects we are working on at the moment. One of the issues that came up in discussions were problems with access to information, more specifically judgement of knowledge - for example in areas of medicine or technology. This fits perfectly into our new Access Lab project, and the people involved in Cultivator could be a good alternative audience to test this approach.

Cornwall faces an uncertain future, more so than the rest of England and the UK. There are wild possibilities following what happens when 90% of its economic support evaporates - from being carried along as a strange appendage to English nationalism, to increasing independence - to even rejoining the EU (Cornwall Council apparently has no plans to shut its offices in Brussels). Future thinking and scenario design are tools that have been used extensively by FoAM by Nik and Maja, to increase resilience of individuals and organisations in a changing world - these could be extremely useful to prepare us for what is to come.

Prototyping new technology is one of FoAM Kernow's principle activities, data visualisation with games engines, increasingly in the area of embedded hardware and sensing - so our workshops as combination of facilitating people working creatively with technology and as participatory design exercises may be useful too.

What we want to get out of it

Currently FoAM Kernow's entire income is split approximately 95% private funding from commission based work (even if most of these originate at some point in the public sector) and 5% public funded projects, recently mainly from the British Science Association and FEAST. We get no state or EU aid at all, which is a big thing many companies here use - especially in Cornwall where the economy is so bad that it qualifies for high levels of support. There are various reasons for this, mostly basic ignorance on our part and lack of time to find out about it or do the paperwork.

In some ways learning the basics properly is what get me most excited at the moment. We deal with a lot of contract negotiation and I could really do with a bit more confidence in this area, also things like trademarking, which we can combine with creative commons and open source in interesting ways. Our projects have always been EU wide and global, but this is scaling up so we are hitting riveting issues with things like cross border VAT. With the changing political atmosphere we need to get smarter at this side of what we do too.

The biggest potential for us I think is to use Cultivator to get the space to explore new organisational ideas as opposed to project based ones. Things like non-monetary exchange to the fact that one of our clients wants to pay with bitcoin but needs help setting it up; or building a democratic autonomous organisation with blockchain technology and how to use our existing international network more effectively - are all things that it would be great to have the opportunity to explore a little deeper.