[The following is a condensed edit of the podcast above, a conversation between Eduardo Marisca, ’14, and Andrew Whitacre.] The rest of the CIPL team included ’14 CMS students Rodrigo Davies, Erica Deahl, Julie Fischer, Jason Lipshin, and Lingyuxiu Zhong.
My name is Eduardo Marisca. I’m a recent graduate of the Comparative Media Studies program.
Back in late April, a group of my cohort in the CMS program traveled to Lima for several days, and we held a workshop. We called it the Creative Industries Prototyping Lab.
It was a pilot workshop, the first time we did something like that. And the idea was to get together some local practitioners in the creative industries and help them think through their projects critically to make them stronger in a way that they could ideally come out with a stronger pitch if they were looking for partners, investors, or just were looking for new ideas as to how to implement their projects.
We partnered with several people. Our first initial partner was the Peruvian Minister of Culture, who helped us get things together, get things moving.
We partnered with a local corporation called Intercorp, who helped finance a significant part of our expenses, along with a hotel chain, Casa Andina. And then we had local partners like a local start-up called IU, which helped us put things together. There was a digital agency called Liquid who helped to do some PR. So as soon as word started spreading around Lima that there was a group from MIT coming down to do human-centered design and innovation work, there were just a lot of people who were lining up to try and help us get things together.
We started thinking about it when we first learned of the HASTAC Conference, the Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology’s Advanced Laboratory. It was the first time it was going to be happening outside of North America, and it just happened to be in Lima.
And I learned about this when I was in Lima doing fieldwork for my thesis. I learned about it from the Minister of Culture, who was going to be doing the organizing. So that kicked gears into motion. We brought back that piece of data.
And since HASTAC overlaps with a lot of the work my classmates were doing for their own research, we figured it’s likely that we would all want to go to this conference. And if we’re all going to be down there for this conference at the same time, it makes sense to do something else as well. Something that probably has more of a local impact than the conference itself.
The biggest problem was mostly process.
So that was our initial cue, and that’s where we started thinking: what is the best thing where we can put together our different skill sets? And we coalesced around a theme of design and helping people go through the design thinking process around their projects.
I was interested in this, first of all, because I’m from Peru. And having been there for a significant amount of time doing the fieldwork for my thesis recently, and just interacting with a lot of the innovation and technology in design space, I could tell that there was a need for a series of tools to think through technology products.
But the need was not for technologies themselves. I think people have ready access to technology. It’s something that they can get their hands on.
The biggest problem was mostly process — how to think through the problem. How do you do user research? How do you think about testing? How do you think about whether the tool, platform, whatever it is you’re building is actually adjusted to the living conditions of the target population you’re aiming for?
And that’s where I thought that coming from CMS, we had a critical skill set that could help that. So I was interested in doing a little bit of scope transfer from what we were learning here in the program to the sort of thing that would really benefit practitioners on the ground in Lima. That was my first intention.
And the other one was really to get more bridges going between Peru and MIT — just get more people from MIT down in Peru and get people from Peru to see what sort of work is done at MIT, with a little bit of a demystification intention. I wanted people in Peru to see that the people who were coming from MIT, the work they do, is accessible. It’s something that anyone can do. Surely there are better conditions to do it here, but it’s not something that’s totally out of possibility. And [so we wanted to] get those bridges going and communication lines flowing and things like that.
We definitely brought a different sort of thinking about the problems. The typical approach you would usually hear from people is either all engineering-based or all social science-based. So it’s all about either the technical solution or about the community and social relations.
I think what we were able to do is show people that they were pretty much walking hand-in-hand and they had to think about both things. And at the same time, for them having a group of people coming from a technology mecca such as MIT provided people with a very strong sense of validation.
There were people who were working on really crazy, weird projects, like robot guinea pigs or tangible games that you’re playing with recycled materials. And there’s honestly not a lot of work like that being done in Peru. It was exceptional. So to come from an elite institution and tell them this is a great idea, this actually works, provided a strong sense of validation for them to keep on working on that.
We were in there for two and half days in the workshop. That’s not a lot. And it also became evident to us very quickly that people were in very different stages in their projects. Some people were very fairly advanced. Some people just had a crazy idea and wanted to figure out how to implement it.
And it also became evident to us that we were not going to be able to do much actual prototyping. Definitely not as much as we originally expected. So what we found was our greatest contribution for all the groups across the board was helping them really refine their pitch, the way they presented their projects and the way they thought about their projects.
So rather than leaving them with, hey, here’s a prototype, we already got this, now go figure out, test it, whatever, it was mostly like, hey, here’s your project. You know what your project’s going to need. You know what you want to build. You know who you need to talk to and you know how to present it. So you’re now in a better position to talk to the media, talk to researchers, talk to potential funders or partners or collaborators. So we provided them with a stronger sense of story of what they wanted to say.
Some people thought they were dealing with a problem of just how to build a better bike. But we tried to help them think about it, hey, it’s not a problem of bikes. It’s a problem of traffic and quality of life. And it’s actually about the time you get to spend with your family. It’s about health. It’s about a lot of other things that are probably more compelling than just saying that you have a better bike. So we tried to do all the thinking about that, trying to get them to understand the systemic problem that they were addressing rather than just a technical thing that they were focused on.
There’s a group now that’s thinking about replicating this, which would be great — which is the next cohort in CMS. And we passed on a lot of what we learned from that. We learned that two and a half days is pretty intense. So if you have more time, it’s probably better, but you can still get some work done.
And we also learned that even though we were going in thinking this is going to be very much about designing technologies like prototyping hard core stuff, it ended up being mostly about unpacking concepts and seeing what’s at stake in everything that you’re trying to bring to the world or you’re trying to create. Who is it affecting? Who should be involved in the discussion? And just providing a bigger sense of awareness of that.
The other thing is I think we also benefited very much from having a strong sense of local practices and local needs. Just having this as this very local connection to be aware of who to talk to, but also what are actual needs and what are local partners that you can bring to the table to have conversations and things like that?
My thesis was on the video game industry in Peru — how there’s been a rise of independent video game development over the last few years and how indie studios are starting to consolidate into a actual productive industry.
Doing field work for that thesis was, to a significant part, what led me to understand better how local innovators were struggling and local technology practitioners were struggling, not so much on the technology side, but mostly on the process side. And that informed a fair bunch of how we designed this workshop to think about technologies from point of view of process and system rather than just object and thing.
And the connection that came through my thesis work also informed how we got in touch with partners and collaborators and things like that. We actually had a game studio — one of the game studios that was part of my research as part of this workshop, they were already thinking about how to branch out from games into all other forms of game-defined entertainment. And we had one or two other groups who were also thinking about getting involved with games. So it’s all part, at least from my point of view and from the work I did for my thesis, of strengthening an ecosystem of people.
There are no interaction design programs in Peru. There are no easily accessible resources to learn about human-centered design or user-centered design. So it’s about how could we start building the foundations for a community of practitioners that know about this, that have talked to each other, and they can work across various forms of digital media, be it games, be it websites, apps, or be tangible design or some other form of technology?
Many of the things that we implemented in the workshops were things that we were borrowing directly from classes we’ve taken at MIT or workshops that people in my class had been a part while at MIT. So we borrowed a lot for example from our CMS workshop class that we took with Fox Harrell, who is really good at leading you through the process of making things, but in the making you’re thinking very critically about every decision that you make in the design process.
We kind of wanted to replicate that thought process with people. But rather than do it across a semester, we were just constraining ourselves to doing it in two or three days. So there were a lot of items that we were borrowing from, from stuff we’ve picked up here at MIT and just the projects we were showing were also almost always projects that we’ve learned from people who’ve done them at MIT.
Now I’m moving back home. I’m moving back to Lima, and I’m starting work with a new innovation lab called La Victoria Lab, which does human centered innovation projects for creating new products in services for the emerging Peruvian middle class. Because we figured it would be pretty fun. And nobody had done it before, so might as well try it.
For Spanish speakers, also check out the Umbrales Tvperú report on the collaborative economy, featuring Eduardo and his Creative Industries Prototyping Lab colleague Rodrigo Davies, a fellow grad of the CMS class of 2014.