Near Now, Nottingham

Near Now: Understand the person, understand the work

When Near Now, in Nottingham, chose its cohort for the Arts and Technology programme, they felt it was important to keep their carefully-honed ethos at the centre of the process.

Tailoring the programme to reflect Near Now’s focus on “technology in everyday life”, they launched their Near Now Studio, creating a critical community for arts, design and innovation.

The ethos underpinning Near Now’s approach is peer-learning. Their aim is for creative and business resilience to emerge by fostering a community based around collaboration, support and skills development.

Creating technology for the everyday was the end goal, and the strength of their programme came from the cohort gaining “T-shaped” abilities — that is, a deep, focused skill-set coupled with the ability to collaborate widely. As such, a group of participants prepared to evaluate, reevaluate and be self-critical was sought.

After an initial application process, prospective participants were invited in to showcase ideas — along with any examples of work — and explain their ambitions. The selected participants then gathered for Start Week.

Lee Nichol and Matthew Trivet

Start Week was key to establishing Near Now’s approach for the execution of the programme — aiming to arm the participants with the tools needed for clarity and structure.

Structure is important: Near Now’s aim is to take technology-enabled ideas to completion, and to do this, they want to create “T-shaped teams”, where niche expertise combines with a broad set of practical skills. Supplying coaching and mentoring — both internal and external — to achieve this is also crucial.

At Near Now, understanding the person, and how the project supports their aspirations, is vital according to Matthew Trivet, Near Now’s Creative Producer.

In the below interview, along with Lee Nichols, Near Now’s Studio Producer, he explains their approach, and the tools they used. (In a rush? Here’s the bite-sized version.)

Togetherness is important in all Near Now projects. Start Week provided the participants an opportunity to get to know each other: they gave presentations about who they were and what they wanted to do. They spend time figuring out how they could work together as teams — or even whether they want to.

The Near Now staff then set them team exercises, which pushed them to drill into the big questions around their work. They questioned everything — including the process itself. They were being prompted to redefine what they do and how they do it.

Participants praised Matt and Lee’s toolkit of excercises that pushed them to think about business models for their work. Whiteboards were filled with carefully-structured breakdowns of individual ideas — evidence of hard lateral thinking pointed to business.

Matt Woodham and Candice Jacobs

Participants Candice Jacobs and Matt Woodham found these exercises and the tools it taught them really useful: they bounced ideas off each other, disassembled them, and then understood better the direction of their project. They explain how it worked for them in the below interview. (Shorter version)

Reducing projects to their components and then building them up again has a simple intention: to reveal a clear pathway for the project, giving it structure and a defined lifespan.

Finally, as the Near Now participants are not necessarily located close to Nottingham, to bolster the desired togetherness of the group, weekly Demo Calls were introduced. It’s been a popular facet of the programme.

An afternoon a week is set aside so that participants can make a video conference call to the group, and present work in progress. It’s overseen not only by their peers on the programme, but mentors, Near Now staff, experts and Near Now fellows, so that criticism can be drawn from many sources.