Digital creativity and online platforms
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Westminster
Unit of AssessmentCommunication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
Our research on the ways in which digital platforms enable people to make
and share creative material online, and thereby foster creativity in
individuals and groups, has had a number of particular direct impacts on
the media and cultural industries. At the LEGO Group, there have been
several impacts, on policy, on training, and on product development. At
BBC Children's, collaborative research about an online world for children
led to changes in commissioning processes. At S4C, the work had an impact
on digital media strategy, and led to a change in the company's statement
of overall corporate aims and values.
The underpinning research here consists of work on Web 2.0 and digital
platforms led by Professor David Gauntlett, since his appointment at the
University in 2006.
The research is based in the Communications and Media Research Institute
(CAMRI) and builds upon the Institute's long history of studying the
impact of new communications technologies on society. From 2013 the work
became part of CAMRI's new Centre for Social Media Research, collaborating
with newly appointed researchers (Fuchs, Meikle, Trottier), and between
The research concerns the value of digital platforms for fostering
creativity — primarily as a positive social value, but secondarily also as
valuable for businesses and organisations which seek to offer something of
value to users. The essence of the underlying argument is captured in
Gauntlett's book, Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of
Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0 (2011).
This and the other references cited below marshal evidence that in order
to be effective, such platforms should embrace all the kinds of
participation that users wish to engage in; should enable identifiable,
authored contributions which can be recognised and responded to by others;
and should seek to foster supportive conversations, storytelling, and
learning within communities of enthusiasts. The research highlights the
importance of individuals being able to take small steps along a journey
from consumer to creator; and draws parallels between today's digital
creative activity and the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement of
the 19th century.
The underpinning research and activity includes a series of awards from
UK Research Councils, which are listed in the following section. The
recent AHRC-funded project Community-powered transformations (Ref:
AH/J01303X/1) was a partnership with the UCL Centre for Digital
Humanities, and non-academic partners included the British Library, Tate,
and MuseumNext. This project contributed to the development of some of the
ideas and findings drawn on here, for instance by building critical
support for Gauntlett's `eight principles' for creative online platforms
References to the research
PUBLICATIONS: The research has been disseminated, and come to the
attention of companies, through a number of means including conference and
event presentations, and online video. (Gauntlett's YouTube videos about
this research have been viewed 150,000 times since 2008). Therefore — and
because of the slow schedules of academic publication — some of the
relevant publications have appeared after the time of initial impact.
(Nevertheless, the impact flows from the prior research, because we have
been involved with, and presented research to, organisations who have been
able to benefit from research insights before the academic publications
• Gauntlett, David (2011), Making is Connecting: The social meaning
of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0
(Cambridge: Polity). Korean translation published by Samcheolli
Publishing, Seoul (2011). Italian translation published by Marsilio, Rome
• Gauntlett, David (2011), Media Studies 2.0, and Other Battles
around the Future of Media Research (Seattle: Kindle).
• Gauntlett, David (2013), `Creativity and digital innovation', in
Youngs, Gillian, ed., Digital World: Connectivity, Creativity and
Rights, London: Routledge.
• Gauntlett, David (2013), `Enabling and constraining creativity and
collaboration: Some reflections after Adventure Rock' (2013), in Thornham,
Helen & Popple, Simon, eds, Content Cultures: Transformations of
User Generated Content, London: I.B.Tauris.
• Gauntlett, David (2010), `Creativity, Participation, and Connectedness:
An interview with David Gauntlett', in Sonvilla-Weiss, Stefan, ed., Mashup
Cultures, New York: Springer Wien.
• Gauntlett, David (2007), Creative Explorations : New approaches to
identities and audiences (London: Routledge).
Items 1 and 3 are in REF2. All other items are in the public domain /
available on request.
EVIDENCE OF QUALITY: All of the work has appeared in peer-reviewed
academic publications. Gauntlett's 2007 book Creative Explorations
was entered into RAE 2008, in which 60 per cent of the work was rated
four-star and a further 30 per cent was rated three-star. The book was
shortlisted for the Times Higher Award, `Young Academic Author of
the Year', 2007.
A clear marker of research quality is our success rate for very
competitive RCUK funding.
FUNDING: This work has won six successive awards from the UK
Research Councils since 2007. Professor Gauntlett was Principal
Investigator on each of these projects:
• Community-powered transformations (AHRC, £29,836, ref:
AH/J01303X/1 with Kavada, Dwyer and Steemers as Co-Investigators), 2012.
• Digital Engagements (AHRC, £340,823, ref: AH/H038736/1),
• Young people's creative mediaworlds (AHRC, £188,365, ref:
• Building Collaboration and Engagement for Media Professionals and
Academic Researchers, (EPSRC/Digital Economy, £47,524, ref:
EP/H032568/1, Goodwin as Co-Investigator), 2010.
• Audience and producer engagement with immersive worlds
(AHRC/BBC, £74,243, AH/F006756/1 with Steemers and BBC colleagues as
• Second phase of above project (AHRC/BBC `Knowledge Infusion Funding',
Details of the impact
IMPACT AT THE LEGO GROUP: The LEGO Group is one of the world's
leading toy and digital media producers, specialising in construction
products and digital services based around the LEGO System. In 2007,
Gauntlett was approached by Cecilia Weckström, then Head of Consumer
Insight & Experience Innovation within the LEGO Group (now Head of
LEGO.com), to help restart the LEGO Learning Institute, a programme of
collaboration with university academics. Thus began an ongoing programme
of research, led by Gauntlett and Weckström, based around annual projects
with externally-published reports (listed in section 5), written with
colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, and MIT. In 2013
the LEGO Learning Institute became part of the LEGO Foundation, receiving
considerable new investment. (See
These projects, in particular the 2010, 2011 and 2012 reports, with
Gauntlett as lead author, have involved discussion of digital platforms
which would enable users to play, learn, and share material online. A key
question for LEGO concerns how hands-on building with LEGO bricks can be
combined with digital tools or games to enrich the experience in an
intelligent way, which goes beyond merely replacing physical play with an
on-screen simulation. The reports have discussed the ways in which
creativity and learning can be fostered, and sought to identify the
combinations of human relationships, and physical / technological tools,
which can help to unlock the creative potential of children and adults.
In addition to building this knowledge within the company, there have
been more immediate impacts. The work on systematic creativity made
explicit the value of the interconnecting system which had always been
implicit at the heart of the LEGO System, and so this understanding was
included within a training pack given to all new employees at the LEGO
Group headquarters in Denmark, communicated via a LEGO Serious Play
building exercise devised by Gauntlett and Weckström. This pack has been
used by every new LEGO employee in Denmark since 2009.
The study `Systematic Creativity in the Digital Realm' argued that whilst
LEGO already had digital applications which could turn on-screen designs
into physical products, an innovative ambition would be to do it the other
way around, so that LEGO bricks could act as an interface for digital
devices — in other words, use LEGO bricks to make things happen on screen.
This contributed to inspiration for the team who developed LEGO Life
of George, a commercial product released in 2011 which brought
together physical bricks and an iPhone/Android game in this way. The game
sets tasks, which has to be physically built and then scanned back into
the phone with its camera. The product was shortlisted for `e-Connected
Toy of the Year' in the Toy of the Year 2013 awards, the primary awards
event for toys and games in the USA (http://www.toyawards.org).
It has sold many thousands of copies (disaggregated sales figure not
released, but the LEGO Group is the third largest toy manufacturer in the
world in terms of sales, with 2012 profits being DKK 7,522 million (£848
million UK) before tax [source: LEGO Group Annual Report 2012]).
In 2010, Gauntlett also worked with LEGO Education to turn the
consultancy process, LEGO Serious Play, into a set of principles and
materials that could be offered free as an `open source' package on the
LEGO website. This work was done collaboratively between Gauntlett and
Anna-Sophie Trolle Terkelsen, Concept Developer, LEGO Education, and led
to the materials being made available for download from September 2010.
Corroboration: "Professor Gauntlett's research helped us to
develop new ideas for connecting the digital and physical realms with LEGO
tools. His work has been central to a number of LEGO reports exploring
creativity, play and learning in the 21st century. This thinking feeds
into strategy at the very top of our organization, and has made a
difference at several levels." — Cecilia Weckström, Head of LEGO.com, The
LEGO Group, Denmark
IMPACT AT THE BBC: The AHRC & BBC Pilot Knowledge Exchange
Programme project, mentioned above, meant that University of Westminster
researchers could work alongside BBC producers and apply learnings from
our existing academic research in the context of the BBC's development of
a virtual world for children called Adventure Rock.
Amongst other findings, the researchers were able to identify eight
orientations to Adventure Rock — simplified archetypes
representing the different ways in which children engaged with this world
— such as `Self-stampers', who wanted to make their mark on the world
through self-expression; `Social climbers', who were interested in
ranking, and wanted to be visibly doing better than other players; and
`Nurturers', who wanted to care for characters in the environment.
The impact was that these archetypes were enthusiastically taken up by
executives in BBC Children's, 2008-10, who used them when discussing new
ideas for digital games, platforms and other commissions. They would
consider whether proposed new products would appeal to the different
archetypes, and how the emphasis could be changed so that the different
kinds of digital users could be appealed to equally.
"The research... identified a set of useful `archetypes' of kinds of
child player... The research gave us this valuable tool for thinking about
potential projects [and] helped us to think more deeply about how and why
we should implement interactive experiences for children, and we would
welcome further opportunities for collaboration." — Rachel Bardill,
formerly Interactive Executive, BBC Children's; now Executive Producer,
IMPACT AT S4C: S4C, the Welsh-language public service broadcaster
based in Cardiff, functions as a publisher-broadcaster, commissioning TV
programmes from small production companies across Wales. Its role in
maintaining the Welsh language gives it a distinctive cultural mission.
As a consequence of interest in his publication Making is Connecting,
Gauntlett was invited to have a sequence of meetings and interactions with
S4C's New Media Forum, a committee which had been charged with developing
S4C's digital future. Meeting the Forum and the acting Chief Executive at
S4C, Gauntlett made proposals about the role that everyday people in Wales
could play in building the range and diversity of Welsh-language media. He
argued that S4C's corporate aims were too narrow and outdated, being based
only on the transmission and reception of television programmes, and
proposed instead a three-part list of aims for S4C:
- To educate, inform, and entertain the Welsh people, in both
established and innovative ways;
- To cultivate the creative capacity of Welsh-language producers and
makers of all ages and abilities;
- To celebrate the culture, traditions and imagination of Wales.
This text was adopted and proposed in the strategy report produced by the
New Media Forum over the summer, 2011, and delivered to S4C's governing
Authority and Management Team on 20 September 2011. The report
incorporated Gauntlett's further suggestions building on this theme: that
the company should do much more to support non-professional Welsh-language
media content wherever it was to be in found — primarily, video and audio
made by enthusiasts and shared on online platforms — so that the Welsh
language could be supported by communities of people making and sharing
their own media. The report was published in November 2011.
In October 2012, S4C published a new statement of corporate aims and
values, which was directly influenced by Gauntlett's research and the
subsequent dialogue. The new publication stated that the organisation's
role was to `nurture and celebrate creativity in the Welsh language' -
mirroring the specific vision and language proposed by Gauntlett (and in
sharp contrast to the previous aims, which only concerned making a certain
number of Welsh-language broadcasts).
Extract from letter of corroboration: "I wish to acknowledge the
vital contribution that was made to the work of the New Media Forum by
Prof. Gauntlett. The work of the New Media Forum was one aspect a process
of renewal that has been taking place inside S4C over the past three
years, and I am personally very grateful to Prof. Gauntlett for his
extremely valuable contribution to this process" - Dyfrig Jones, Chair,
S4C New Media Forum (2010-11).
CONTRIBUTION TO PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING: Gauntlett's talks about his
book Making is Connecting around the UK in 2011 were attended by
over 700 people, mostly non-academics. He also discussed the book on BBC
Radio 4's Thinking Allowed. The book was featured in the
high-street magazines Marie Claire, Making, and Psychologies.
Gauntlett's videos on YouTube about research on digital transformations,
produced since 2008, have been viewed over 150,000 times.
He has been a keynote speaker at industry and public events, such as Innovation
in Mind (Lund, Sweden, 2012) and the World Maker Faire, New York
(2013) as well as the headline speaker at the first European Maker Faire
in Rome (2013). The 2013 Italian translation of Making is Connecting
attracted coverage in Italian magazines and newspapers, with the research
said by commentators to speak to the craft traditions of Italy, and offer
a solution to economic problems.
Gauntlett's work on creative methods (2007, 2008) has been used to
facilitate public engagement events. Examples include the Lego Landscape
of Ideas at Reboot Britain, 2009, where 700 participants from business,
government, and the third sector, were invited to build metaphors of their
vision of a better society; and at the World Learning Environments
Conference, 2009, where 300 delegates built models representing the spirit
of an ideal learning environment.
Sources to corroborate the impact
LEGO IMPACT: REPORTS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:
Letter of corroboration from Director of Research, LEGO Foundation,
available on request.
All reports listed below are available at: http://www.legofoundation.com/en-us/research-and-learning/foundation-research/
Ackermann, E.; Gauntlett, D., & Weckstrom, C. (2009), Defining
Systematic Creativity, Billund: LEGO Learning Institute.
Ackermann, E.; Gauntlett, D.; Wolbers, T., & Weckstrom, C. (2010), Defining
Systematic Creativity in the Digital Realm, Billund: LEGO Learning
Gauntlett, D.; Ackermann, E.; Whitebread, D.; Wolbers, T., &
Weckstrom, C. (2011), The Future of Play: Defining the role and value
of play in the 21st century, Billund: LEGO Learning Institute.
Gauntlett, D.; Ackermann, E.; Whitebread, D.; Wolbers, T.; Thomsen, B.S.,
& Weckstrom, C. (2012), The Future of Learning, Billund: LEGO
Gauntlett, D. & Thomsen, B.S. (2013), Cultures of Creativity,
Billund: The LEGO Foundation.
BBC IMPACT: REPORTS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:
Letter of corroboration from Executive Producer, CBeebies — available
Jackson, L.; Gauntlett, D., & Steemers, J. (2008a), Virtual Worlds:
An overview, and study of BBC Children's Adventure Rock, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/knowledgeexchange/westminstertwo.pdf
Jackson, L.; Gauntlett, D., & Steemers, J. (2008b), Children in
Virtual Worlds: Adventure Rock users and producers study,
S4C IMPACT: REPORTS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:
Letter of corroboration from Chair, S4C New Media Forum — available on
S4C New Media Forum (2011), Embracing the Future: S4C Post 2011.
Report of the New Media Forum, September 2011, available at http://www.s4c.co.uk/newmedia/e_index.shtml