Review of first sprint

First BS4ICTRSRCH Book Sprint, 8-10 October, 2013
Aldeia da Mata Pequena, Igreja Nova (close to Mafra), Portugal

Result: A co-authored article “From Urban Space to Future Place. The UrbanIxD Summer School 2013″.

After an evening of unpacking and settling into the village together over dinner, the UrbanIxD group of urban design and the BS4ICTRSRCH team convened on the morning of October 8 to get to work proper. This was the first Book Sprint in the BS4ICTRSRCH project, with the BS4ICTRSRCH team responsible for providing facilitation, organisation, logistical and technical support to assist the UrbanIxD project in creating an article which would discuss the outcomes of their own project’s summer school. Summery weather in Portugal was cooperating to trigger writers’ recollections: fortunately the sprint’s communal workspace was a large, cool, stone-walled room, perfect for keeping the 30 degree outdoor temperatures at bay.

A first collective agreement was come to – the BS4ICTRSRCH admin team had done a fabulous job sourcing the venue, the lovingly restored Aldeia da Mata Pequena (little forested village), near Lisbon. The intimate and peaceful village and its cottages offered plentiful indoor and outdoor work spaces, and with just a minute’s stroll between the sprint room and the village restaurant, time available for work was maximised. The surroundings helped create a relaxed and open environment highly conducive to cohesive individual and group writing by the UrbanIxD participants.

Unusually for this sprint all members of the BS4ICTRSRCH facilitation team were present, both in a move to all personally meet one another, and also for software developer Jo Paulger to deal with any possible technical hiccoughs with the Booktype open-source publishing platform at the outset. (Booktype was founded by Book Sprint facilitator Adam Hyde and is now maintained by the Berlin-based software house Sourcefabric under his leadership. It provides tools for collaborative writing and editing of books, and can be used both online and offline.)

Under the gently nudging facilitation of Book Sprints creator Adam Hyde, a couple of discussion sessions into the day the eight-member UrbanIxD Book Sprint team – two organisers of the UrbanIxD Summer School (which took place August 24 to September 1, 2013, in Split, Croatia) and six of the school’s attendees, mainly young scholars engaged with urban design – had decided to produce an article which would develop a conceptual framework for understanding the activities of the summer school. This sprint had followed quickly on the heels of the summer school so that participants would benefit from the freshness of their experience and memories. Much of the initial discussions focussed on issues of critical and urban design, as well as upon finding/creating modus operandi in a multidisciplinary environment. With the article structure in place, content development began after dinner on the first day.

From the first day and throughout the sprint, BS4ICTRSRCH research associate Rachel Baker conducted interviews with participants, as well as making and collating copious observations of the group’s process. The evaluative research, one of the key objectives of BS4ICTRSRCH project, is being conducted according to developed methodology and criteria which will be further refined for subsequent Book Sprints. Editor Sandra Sarala listened in to all group discussions from the beginning in order to grasp content before going on to address the more technical aspects of editing – such as style and proofing – in consort with the UrbanIxD team and the facilitator during the second two days. Adam Hyde’s well-meted facilitation role concentrated on the social processes involved in collaborative writing, concentrating on factors such as consensus and egalitarian group dynamic, or on moving abstract concepts into incisive and feasible working plans.

On the second day the UrbanIxD team’s work continued on the article’s sections and after lunch the first review and feedback cycles began, with a first draft finished around midnight. BS4ICTRSRCH graphic designer and illustrator Henrik van Leeuwen was drawn into the process to visually articulate some of the emerging content. Due to limited wi-fi access at this venue – which was restricted to the communal workspace – the writers had generated first draft content with other writing programmes on the first evening from various locations round the village, but now Booktype became the exclusive writing platform for the article. Participants were able to log on to the platform through the local network, create individual accounts and collaboratively edit the article’s sections/text.

On the final day intensive feedback, review and writing continued to create text clarity, structure and readability, with cycles of proofing, editing and checking ongoing, along with more illustrations being created. The editor’s copyediting role became all consuming, along with the crucial role of the graphic designer; after writing and editing finished he then burned the midnight oil nearly all the way till dawn, finalising the format for the 78-page book from font to layout.

The completed article From Urban Space to Future Place was made available to the UrbanIxD participants as a PDF and has subsequently both been published in print and made available online for reading and free download at two locations, and It summarises and reflects upon the experience and outcomes of the UrbanIxD Summer School 2013. The UrbanIxD group is now discussing if they wish to submit it for journals and whether other methods of distribution are appropriate.

Participant feedback from the UrbanIxD team, based on conversations and interviews conducted during and after the Aldeia da Mata Pequena Book Sprint, was extremely positive. The group found the Book Sprint environment to be cooperative, supportive and stimulating, positively facilitating their collective writing process and allowing them to produce a publication which they felt reflected the outcomes and experiences from the summer school in depth; a notable factor, considering this group of eight was responsible for representing the school (and its 40 participants) as a whole.

Impressed with the speed, clarity and quality of the outcome, due in part to the immediate peer feedback inherent in the sprint process, the coordinators of the UrbanIxD project also reflected that the experience had provided a valuable contribution to their overall project agenda as their article had so well captured the profundity of the summer school experience. At the same time they mentioned that the highly collaborative co-authoring Book Sprint process itself had provided useful training, in terms of both the writing process and also serving to enhance long-term professional relationships within a multidisciplinary environment.

For the BS4ICTRSRCH team the Book Sprint has also been a most positive start to the project. What we have learned in terms of integrating the positions of researcher, graphic designer and editor into the process is now being put into practical application.

Book Sprint contributing team / UrbanIxD:
Ingi Helgason – coordinator, Institute for Informatics and Digital Innovation, Edinburgh Napier University
Michael Smyth – coordinator, Centre for Interaction Design, Edinburgh Napier University
Louise Jensen – student, IT University, Copenhagen
Niels Wouters – PhD student, University of Leuven
Søren Rosenbak – student, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts – School of Design
Lea Skrinjar – researcher, Faculty of Technical Sciences, University of Novi Sad
Olga Surawska – PhD candidate, University of the Arts London CSM
Andreas Streinzer- researcher, Institute of Sociology of the University of Vienna

Book Sprint facilitation team:
Adam Hyde – Book Sprints facilitator
Tania Goryucheva – project coordinator
Donna Metzlar – project associate
Rachel Baker – associate researcher
Jo Paulger – software developer
Sandra Sarala – editor
Henrik van Leeuwen – designer, illustrator

Written by: Sandra Sarala