Citilab: granting everyday citizens access to innovative technology
Imagine a local, community library focussed on digital technology. You join for free, and your membership card allows you to use well-equipped computers with unlimited internet access, take part in technology courses, and collaborate on community-based projects that use technology.
Add part of a billion Euro national innovation budget to the mix, and your digital library suddenly offers a rich plethora of professional technologies like photography studios, green-screen video capture rooms, sound recording studios, conference rooms with multiple overhead projectors streaming live to the internet, workshop rooms filled with laptops, community-access art studios and offices, and even a ‘family lab’ filled with technology-based toys for toddlers; all available for use by residents of the local community.
Whilst it might sound like the stuff of science fiction, as of January 2008 residents of Barcelona’s satellite city Cornellà are lucky enough to enjoy such a community resource. Spearheaded by Spain’s Minister for Innovation, Citilab Cornellà is an experimental prototype designed to enhance the digital knowledge of the nation.
Citilab Cornellà is housed in a renovated textile factory in a less-affluent suburb of Spain’s well-known tourist destination Barcelona. It’s outer-urban location is an integral aspect of the project’s strategy, providing technology access to under-privileged residents. Participation is open to all people of any age or education background, and as the local Catalonian residents wake from siesta late in the afternoon, Citilab’s internet access rooms become a thriving hub of community participation.
However, internet access is only an entry-level resource at Citilab – a fantastic technique to lower any intimidation the more complex resources at Citilab might incur. Citilab’s membership cards strictly state that although it is free to join, all members are expected to participate and collaborate in projects at the center. Members are welcome to suggest their own projects and are also invited to participate in existing projects.
One project, for example, is the result of elderly members complaining that they found it difficult to purchase clothes which suited their needs. A new collaborative project has resulted in which a local fashion designer will consult with the elderly members to help design suitable clothes, with the ultimate outcome being that a local clothing manufacturer will then make the final designs.
Another one-night event saw a local wine and cheese distributor provide a tasting to two groups of international specialists attending conferences at the center. A table of laptops connected via wifi to the internet were available, with the host requesting that participants mention the merchant on their Twitter accounts. In the space of two hours one local merchant successfully targetted tens of thousands of Twitter followers.
Citilab’s mission to support people of all ages extends to the very young. They have offered very successful workshops to hundreds of primary school students using MIT’s Scratch; a programming language for everyone which allows you to create stories, games, music and art.
Citilab equally answers its directive to support people of all educational backgrounds. From entry-level technology courses, to projects learning how develop for interactive touchscreen technologies, to free conferences with international academics; the center caters for the needs of those new to technology, as well as the curious and expert.
Citilab also endeavours to develop international collaborations, so get in touch with them if you’ve got a hot idea. They really have some awesome technology to play with.
Seeing funding from a federal innovation budget directly benefit everyday citizens, rather than remain soley in the hands of large businesses, is an exciting example of how governments can make a long term investment into their citizens’ continuing education, one which may very well pay off for Spain’s information economy.