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Introducing the Challenge Lab: A new KE platform for socially engaged practice

Students working at Making Things Social pulling on a red, plastic fabric
  • Written byAnnika Loebig
  • Published date 07 November 2022
Students working at Making Things Social pulling on a red, plastic fabric
Students working at Making Things Social, 2018 M ARCH: Architecture, Central Saint Martins, UAL | Photography: Chirag Patel

The Challenge Lab (C-Lab), based at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon College of Arts (CCW), is a new knowledge exchange (KE) initiative which supports creative, collaborative problem solving between academics, the local community, students, graduates and key external experts.

Open to both research and graduate projects looking to connect research to practice, the C-Lab allows participants to test ideas and new methodologies in a live environment, build partnerships and see if their concept has scalability.

The lab has no physical location. Instead, it is concerned with applying socially engaged practice to tackle global societal challenges at the local level.

The platform is currently run by Challenge Lab Manager Rachel Hutchison with support from CCW’s KE team. Having recently joined UAL, Rachel brings over a decade of experience as a cultural placemaking strategist and consultant bridging the cultural and built environment sectors.

“The C-Lab is an exciting new platform that acts as enabler and catalyst to help build on the great socially-engaged projects already being delivered across UAL” Rachel tells us.

“The programme is very much in a testing stage, but we’ve already delivered a pilot project with the Creative Computing Institute, won a large public tender project and are about to start two exciting co-design projects with UAL students, academics and local community groups.”

Here is all you need to know about C-Lab:

What makes a C-Lab project? 

All C-Lab projects should be aligned to the programme’s central aims:

Experiential Learning: provide new opportunities to involve students in socially-engaged practice. To be delivered through live project briefs within coursework as well as internships and residencies for both undergrad and graduate level students.

Community Co-Design: bring communities into the process to co-create social innovation solutions to our local places.

Getting in touch with C-Lab will provide you with support throughout the project development and ideation process, explore what partnerships need to be developed with stakeholders and what funding sources might be available to you.

C-Lab projects can run for as long as a year or be as short as a one-off workshop - it is intended as a platform to test new concepts and approaches that could go on to seek further and longer-term project funding.

While the C-Lab is a CCW initiative, the programme is open to cross-College collaborations and seeks to engage UAL’s Research Institutes and Centres to link up Colleagues across all Colleges.

Projects the C-Lab has developed so far

One of C-Lab's completed projects includes a collaborative research initiative which explored what happens when disabled gamers and alternative controller designers co-design new controllers and experiences.

The project entitled ‘Alt Ctrl Criptastic Hacking and Video Game Controllers’ was led by Phoenix Perry and Dr Rebecca Fiebrink from UAL’s Creative Computing Institute and explored how game controller design can not only functionally support playability by people with disabilities, but also how controllers themselves can shape game and experience design.

They were able to determine the feasibility of their collaborative research model through a Participatory Action Research workshop that took place over a series of video conferencing sessions and one half-day hack which connected hardware games creators with the games accessibility community.

Find out more about the project.

Another project led by Dr Niki Wallace, course leader for MA Global Collaborative Design Practice and Dr Anna Troisi, CCI course leader for BSc Creative Computing, entails delivering a series of workshop with south London-based social enterprises, community interest companies and cultural organisations to support business innovation in the areas of climate emergency, sustainability and social inclusion.

A C-Lab design residency is also currently in development for two MA students from Camberwell’s MA Global Collaborative Design Practice, which seeks to co-design public realm interventions that can meaningfully engage young people in the design of public spaces around Peckham and Camberwell.

How to get involved in the C-Lab

The Challenge Lab is keen to connect with industry partners and cultural and community organisations. We are always developing projects with our local partners and exploring new applications of creative problem solving and co-design methods.

For any C-Lab enquiries or to discuss your ideas, please contact Rachel Hutchison at r.hutchison@arts.ac.uk.