The Creative field is one that is ever growing and developing, and emerging creative talents have to constantly find new ways to work together and build functioning networks. One kind of channel for international networking was provided by Creative Edge project. (Merivirta & Arkko-Saukkonen 2013, 12.)
Creative Edge project took place between 2011 and 2013, and it was funded by the Northern Periphery Programme. The main aim of the project was to introduce local organisations and businesses in the creative field on the international market while simultaneously striving to increase the skills, competitiveness and future opportunities in working life of both young people as well as other actors in the creative field. (Creative Edge 2013.)
Five different partners from four different countries have participated in the Creative Edge project. From Ireland these were the Whitaker Institute of Galway University and the Western Development Commission (WDC), and from Northern Ireland the organisation called South Eastern Economic Development (SEED). From Northern Sweden and Northern Finland, the partners were Film i Västerbotten and Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences (since 1.1.2014 Lapland UAS) respectively. (Creative Edge 2013; The Creative Edge Project Partners 2013.)
During the project, Lapland UAS was responsible of organizing an international Creative Steps workshop.
Towards Creative Steps
Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences has, since 2005, arranged a competition-like event called InnoMaraton, and this concept is further carried in Lapland UAS. It’s central objective is to create interaction between the business world and students. Through assignments, groups of students help the local businesses in the area to develop new business opportunities, enhance the growth process and promote internationalisation. (Arkko-Saukkonen & Merivirta 2013b, 18–19.) InnoMaraton concept increases understanding of know-how, innovation and entrepreneurship through practical work (see Valli 2007).
As a part of the Creative Edge project, Creative Steps pilot was realised in 2013. Creative Steps is an international implementation of the InnoMaraton concept. The implementation took four weeks, two of which were conventional working and the other two were online communication.
For Creative Steps, we wanted to get a group of participants with a large variety of skills in order to be able to create teams with heterogenous skill sets. Newly graduated students, or future graduates, were selected for the project. In total, 15 participants were chosen for the workshop: five from Finland, three from Sweden, three from Ireland and four from Northern Ireland. The participants were divided into four international multi-talented teams.
One client from each of the partner countries involved in the Creative Edge project was chosen and the clients represented different sectors of the business world or working life.
The students practiced business skills and helped businesses develop new ideas for products and services, as well as existing policies or respond to challenges in which the perspective of a creative expert is called for. The Creative Steps pilot project strove to support networking and point out the opportunities to match creative know-how to a number of different needs through experiences (benchmarking, matchmaking). Furthermore, one of the most important objectives was to create opportunities for employment. (Arkko-Saukkonen & Merivirta 2013a.)
The Creative Steps Model
By enhancing entrepreneurial skills, UASs strive to meet the demands of working life. Entrepreneurship is applied to a number of processes such as innovation work and company cooperation. Through planning and implementing the Creative Steps model, the aim was to find out how to build a work life oriented learning process and how this process would further cooperation and interaction between students and working life.
Creative Steps model is a creative and innovative learning process with an emphasis on internationality. The aim is to serve both the economy and the students, while taking into consideration the way it reflects the educational institution.
The Creative Steps process became, through ideation, planning and development, a model that is illustrated by the Figure 1. The comprehensive description of the model is documented in the publication Creative Steps – On the Way to an Idea (Arkko-Saukkonen & Merivirta 2013a).
The first working environment of the workshop was face-to-face working that took place in two different countries; the first week in Finland and the second in Northern Ireland. During this part of the process, team building lead to working with the assignments as the groups met their employers and specified the contents of their assignments.
In the second phase of the process, work continued online. The first phase of the online communication was the creation and development of ideas and creating demo material. The second phase was assembling the material and practising the presentations with the coach and the support person present. The actual presentations were done in iLinc and, apart from the employers, a number of other people were invited to listen.
During the workshop, the role of the teacher was to be a coach and encourage, motivate and guide groups of students during the implementation of the model. In the Creative Steps concept, the teacher’s role expanded into that of a process planner and all the way up to that of a manager.
“Amazing, superawesomefantastic, lifechanging, memorable, super.“ These are only few words that students used while asked to describe their experiences of Creative Steps with one word. (Merivirta 2013b, 116–119.) Based on the feedback from the participants, Creative Steps was first and foremost a once in a lifetime experience that enabled them to learn, develop themselves, network and make friends across borders. (Merivirta 2013a, 113–114.)
The students were given various methods and were allowed to choose which ones they wanted to use (see Arkko-Saukkonen 2013). They were encouraged to plan a schedule themselves and assign duties within their team. The team was responsible for the actual cooperation with the client. The coaches were there to support the process when necessary and provided guidance, encouragement and necessary tools. The freedom of the students culminated in the online communication section of the workshop.
The participants in Creative Steps were extremely motivated, which was also one of the criteria when selecting participants. The largest factor why people applied was the chance to get to work internationally and go abroad. Another big issue brought up during the discussions was the development of one’s own knowledge and showcasing one’s skills. Meeting new people and working together with the assignments were ways of increasing the internal motivation as this creates contacts that can lead to future activity and cooperation.
Team working has its benefits as it generates interaction, the exchange of ideas and collective work. One of the participants stated that: “I think teamwork can really help you in the creative process. The team can help you to find new sides to things and expand your point of view. Different cultural and educational backgrounds enrich the ideas.” (Arkko-Saukkonen 2013, 48).
Another participant summarizes her personal benefits of the Creative Steps participation quite comprehensively: “I feel now that I have a better grasp of the whole industry of business, enterprises and working with real cases and people. I also realized how much creativity can give and make happen. It can be used professionally as a tool to improve or create almost anything.” (Arkko-Saukkonen & Merivirta 2013d, 28).
Through the ideation taking place at the workshop, the clients gained new perspectives to their challenges which can lead to new things, despite the process often being slow.
Networking as a valuable skill in working life
The basic structure of the Creative Steps concept is well-functioning. The workshop was first and foremost an experience and the feedback showed that the participants are certain to recommend it to others. Online communication provided an opportunity to work across borders with Facebook as the most efficient tool as it makes the process visible due to its real-time structure.
Through its work, Lapland University of Applied Sciences vitalises the area, as well as its international networks through long term project work. International work has indeed provided wide cooperation networks that open doors for Lapland UAS to be seen by a wider audience while, at the same time, enabling the application of existing methods. The foundation of this work is the cooperation between businesses and learning through networks.
In the future, the requirements on employees‘ networking skills will be ever higher. The activity of institutions and fields across borders will increase and this will open up a new field of interactivity through online communication. On my experiences, different operational cultures and educational institutions are able to develop a diverse and rich interaction connected to work life oriented activity. At the same time, these kind of activities provide an arena where you can showcase your skill and network with others.
Even though the members of the network often represent a certain interest or organisation, it is important to remember to be aware of the fact that you are still people meeting other people when working in a network, whether we are working face to face or through online communication. People meet each other, not various organisations or interests. This is the basis of everything – trust and joint motivation towards a joint objective. In my opinion, this succeeded very well in Creative Steps.
Anitra Arkko-Saukkonen, Lecturer, Lapland University of Applied Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org
Arkko-Saukkonen, A. 2013. A Toolbox for Innovation Methods. In: Creative Steps – On the Way to an Idea. A Model for the Realisation of an International Workshop, 58–73. Publications of Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences. Serie B. Reports 18/2013. Tornio. In address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-5897-86-9.
Arkko-Saukkonen, A. & Merivirta, M. 2013a. Creative Steps – On the Way to an Idea. A Model for the Realisation of an International Workshop. Publications of Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences. Serie B. Reports 18/2013. Tornio. In address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-5897-86-9.
Arkko-Saukkonen, A. & Merivirta, M. 2013b. Starting Points and Realisation of the Creative Steps Workshop. In: Creative Steps – On the Way to an Idea. A Model for the Realisation of an International Workshop, 18–21. Publications of Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences. Serie B. Reports 18/2013. Tornio. In address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-5897-86-9.
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Arkko-Saukkonen, A. & Merivirta, M. 2013d. Searching for Assignments. In: Creative Steps – On the Way to an Idea. A Model for the Realisation of an International Workshop, 26–29. Publications of Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences. Serie B. Reports 18/2013. Tornio. In address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-5897-86-9.
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Merivirta, M. 2013a. The Reception of the Creative Steps Workshop – The Experiences of Clients and Participants. In: Creative Steps – On the Way to an Idea. A Model for the Realisation of an International Workshop, 112–115. Publications of Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences. Serie B. Reports 18/2013. Tornio. In address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-5897-86-9.
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