AHRC Creative Industries Clusters Programme

Yesterday I attended the AHRC’s Newcastle briefing for their Creative Industries Clusters Programme. It was held at the Sage Gateshead which wasn’t a great start, but that’s not why I’m writing this blog. What prompted me to write this is the potential this funding, together with the Bazalgette Report, has for redefining the creative industries, what they are celebrated for and how they might develop in the future.

I should start by saying i've not had a chance to deeply interrogate the call documents and i've not watched the videos from other briefing sessions, so this is a set of early thoughts... which may not be that coherent!

The creative industries as we know them now have a long history and they have gone through various round of re-definitions to be called the creative industries. These definitions have evolved from academic and policymaker’s interest, and as a result of technological and industrial change. Generally speaking we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on the economic value of creativity, especially since the DCMS’s famous mapping project, at the expense of cultural and artistic value. It’s almost automatic that whenever the creative industries are discussed in a policy context there are accompanying statistics about them being the fastest growing sector of the UK economy for GVA and employment, producing huge exports (insert British TV show currently being enjoyed by Americans) and big employment numbers. The political and discursive shifts about what counts as a creative industry and their role for the country have been reflected in, and reproduced by the organisations tasked with fostering their development and sources of funding to achieve this. The AHRC’s Creative Industries Clusters Programme (CICP) has the potential to harden this shift.

The AHRC describe the programme as “ambitious research and development investment to establish up to eight Creative Research & Development (R&D) Partnerships within existing creative clusters across the UK.” Partnerships are expected to be consortia of universities, businesses and “other key partner organisations”. The funding is from the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund which means there are strings attached. As Andrew Chitty (AHRC creative industries champion) put it, access to this money means fitting creative industries development into what government finds acceptable to spend ISCF money on. To put it more explicitly: achieving medium to long term economic growth through research and development. Yes, that’s economic growth funding run through the AHRC, not the ESRC, and neither artistic value or audiences were mentioned at the briefing session. A potentially fascinating institutional shift - i'd love to know why the ESRC aren't involved.

Chitty explained the R&D element is primarily about research for creative industries (rather than about or with them) by/through higher education institutions (HEIs). This differentiates it from programmes which Creative FUSE NE which includes elements of research about, with and for, and from knowledge exchange hubs. Knowledge exchange hubs focused primarily on SMEs, but there is an emphasis in the CICP programme on what were referred to as ‘large corporates’, ‘national partners’ and ‘big players’ (Google, Youtube and ITV were mentioned at various times). The reasoning is that larger companies can provide scale for SMEs, while the latter can more nimbly provide innovation and talent for the former. So this is economic growth led by key challenges faced by firms, harnessing HEI resources. My immediate thoughts were what’s going to stop larger corporations extracting all the value at the expense of SMEs? What role for freelancers who represent a major part of the sector? And what about third sector organisations?

A second key element of the call is that rebalancing the economy and driving regional economic growth through bids is key. [Is regional development policy back under the Conservatives!?] To do this funding will be channelled through existing clusters. Potential bidders were told that: “We [AHRC] aren’t going to tell you what your cluster is, that is up to you.” However, it was made clear the AHRC understands clusters using NESTA's very broad definition based primarily on measures of co-location and networking, rather than tangible relationships between firms you might find in the business studies or economic geography literature. But if you’re examining national datasets it is difficult to do the latter, so it makes sense to leave it up to bidders to make the case for what they consider to be a creative cluster as they are closer to the ground. That said, we were shown some new data the AHRC is going to provide bidders to help them prepare their proposals which maps hot spots of different creative industries (based on location quotients for firms and employment). We were told suggesting you have a cluster in a ‘cold spot’ would be treated with suspicion and require further evidence. There was also a great deal of emphasis on the collaboration and networking potential of clusters – chance meetings at various events was mentioned a number of times – and the role of knowledge exchange. The role of competition wasn’t really addressed. Given NESTA’s influence this isn’t surprising, and a quick search of their The Geography of Creativity in the UK reveals the word competition only appears once (in the title of Saxenian’s 1996 classic about Silicon Valley and Route 128). World class clusters have competition at their heart and it is central to Porter’s work on clusters which is the most popular theorisation of clusters amongst policymakers (and the reason why various types of agglomerations are referred to as clusters in policy discourse). Afterall, competition drives firms to innovate and to outdo their rivals in search of market share, the best workers, funding etc.

The emphasis on collaboration and the downplaying of competition leads to a potential issue in relation to R&D. “Creative R&D Partnerships to…Produce new creative content, products and experiences that are frequently the key driver for digital technology innovation in the creative industries.” Why would a firm collaborate with an HEI if the new product that partnership produces is going to be shared with rivals? There are reasons which might motivate a firm to do this, but balancing collaborations with competing firms is a hard task and it might constrain the types of R&D done by consortia.

This also leads to a further question, is the programme about development of clusters or firms? This is a common problem identified in the regional development literature from the late 1990s and 2000s which highlighted the subtle, but important differences between growth of firms in a region versus development of a region. If I get a chance I’ll interrogate the call documentation more closely to try and bottom this out.

The rebalancing element of the call suggests we’ll see a decent spread of successful bids around the country, but if this is the case I wonder how national players will fit into things. Bidders were told that they don’t need to worry at this stage about engaging large corporates as the AHRC was doing this and they’d potentially help match-make partnerships once bids were shortlisted for the second round of the process. Many of the biggest firms in the creative economy are based in London/SE England but Chitty explained that this wasn’t a barrier for partnerships with clusters elsewhere. It may not be a barrier, but relationships between regional clusters and large partners from London/SE will need to be managed carefully to minimise exploitation of the former’s resources.

A geographic spread around the country is relatively straightforward to achieve, but balancing that spread with the range of creative industry sub-sectors is going to be harder. If consortia from Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool-Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast all go with film/TV/screen sub-sectors, will the AHRC allow it? These areas can justifiable lay claim to significant hubs of activity in this field, but it would be more than half the partnerships. It will be interesting to see what negotiations happen between the first and second rounds of the bidding process, and how long the promise to led bidder define their own clusters lasts. 

This is going to be a challenging programme to respond to, let alone deliver (which is the point). And it is important to get right - as a couple of speakers made clear - because there might not be a second bite at this level and type of funding from government. Furthermore, the content of successful bids will shape how creative industries are defined by UK policymakers. I’m pleased to see the creative industries getting multi-million pound investment as they are important, but what is left out of this programme of funding could alter their shape in the years to come.


En_counter Secrets

At our exhibition in May/June we had a map on which visitors were invited to write secrets and cover them with a post-it note.

We photographed them and made a short video.

Mapping at Swalwell Primary School [Reblog]

This is reblogged from https://accidentalyouthclub.wordpress.com

Last week (Thursday 30th June) we had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Year 6 at Swalwell Primary School. A big thank you to the class and Mrs McCall for hosting us.

Year six is the youngest group we have worked with and we were a little apprehensive they'd understand our ideas. But once we got started the pupils were as enthusiastic as any we've mapped with, and they thoroughly enjoyed becoming cartographers.

We started by asking the children to draw their own worlds. Plain sheets of A3 were distributed along with pens and pencils. The thinking began and tentatively they started to map their lives. Once we gave out gold Sharpies, however, things became more exuberant (we hope it is the allure of the brand, rather than the smell).

As you can see below the range of worlds mapped was huge. Online and offline merger, fantasy lands came to life, houses were redesigned, and local streets were given a fresh look. Some of the maps were unfinished, but as we explained to the class, no map is ever complete.

After a short break, we asked the children to form pairs and gave them maps of the local area. We described the power cartographers have to erase mountain ranges and entire continents, and to make small things appear more significant. Then we gave each group two pens: one light pen to highlight the areas they would show to visitors, one dark to erase entirely places they didn't like. The power immediately went to the children's heads as rival schools were eradicated, the golf course destroyed and industrial estates deleted. At the same time nature was protected, the Metro Centre's already dominant position by the river was accentuated and it quickly became clear how special Swalwell Primary School was to them (they only have two weeks left before heading to secondary schools).

The final  the class undertook was to jointly map out their futures. The aspiration and variety was really encouraging as universities were drawn, future jobs planned out, Olympic ambitions revealed and Youtube kingdoms developed.

We had a great time with this year group and we're delighted Mrs McCall has invited us back.

Network Map of Newcastle Roads

My colleague Bruce Carlisle and I have recently created a new (ish) kind of map. We've taken road data for Newcastle upon Tyne and instead of mapping them geospatially we have mapped them topologically using social network analysis software called Gephi. The connections between roads are maintained, but their location is free to be manipulated.

Gephi allows you to create interesting layouts based on the nature of the connections, nodes and attributes of the network. For this map we used one called Force Atlas 2 which generates a gravity, pulling together nodes (in this case roads) which share connections, and pushing part those which don't.

This process creates a discombobulating map which is unfamiliar upon first appearance, but once you study it places become recognisable. Suburbs and coherent urban areas are grouped together and are located in relation to one another which is logical, but strange at the same time.

Given the roads are correctly connected to one another the map can be used to navigate the city, but time and space are hard to judge. For example, in a test version two streets which are only 300 metres apart 'as the crow flies', appear at different ends of the page.

The map will form part of an exhibition curated by Mike Jeffries, Sebastian Messer and myself at the Holy Biscuit Gallery for the Newcastle Late Shows 2016 in May.


Edit - 16th June, 2016

The article is available 'online first' here. If you can't access that the text is below:

A Topological Road Map of Newcastle upon Tyne


Jon Swords and Bruce Carlisle, Department of Geography, Northumbria University, UK.


This featured graphic is a topological road map of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, generated using GIS and social network analysis software using Ordnance Survey data. The map formed part of ‘en_counter’ (2016), an exhibition of mapping work in Newcastle upon tyne.


The map is derived from Ordnance Survey MasterMap Integrated Transport Network data (Ordnance Survey, 2010), provided in a multi-part fully topologically structured link and node format including information about roads (‘RoadLink’), their names (‘Road’) and their connections (‘RoadNode’). Various data manipulations were made using ArcMap GIS and spreadsheet software to transform the data into the flat file format needed by Gephi social network analysis software. Relevant attributes from the ‘RoadNode’ and ‘Road’ items were joined to the ‘RoadLink’ features. The ‘RoadLink’ features were clipped to the boundary of Newcastle Metropolitan District using Ordnance Survey Boundary-Line data (Ordnance Survey, 2015). Only public roads were selected and so excluding alleys and private roads. Some ‘RoadLinks’, mainly segments of roundabouts and slip roads, had no name. A name was added if appropriate, or else the link was deleted. Incidences of the same name being used for different roads were identified and the name was altered to, for example, High Street 1, High Street 2, etc. A series of look-up operations, sorts and filters were used to produce a flat table with each row representing a named road and one of the roads it connects with. The result was data in which connections between roads are maintained, but their location is free to be manipulated.


Gephi allows the manipulation and analysis of social network graphs. We used the Force Atlas 2 algorithm (Jacomy et al., 2014) to generate forces of attraction and repulsion within the network, pulling together nodes (in this case roads) which share connections, and pushing part those which don’t. Refinement of labels, lines and layout was done in Adobe Illustrator.


The final map is accurate in the sense it can be used to navigate the city from road to road, but the lack of geospatial references make it unfamiliar and discombobulating upon viewing. Suburbs and coherent urban areas are grouped together and are located in relation to one another which is logical, but strange at the same time. Topographical scale is lost as map distance is a result of relational connectivity rather than points in physical space.


An approach similar to this has been previously theorized (Park and Yilmaz, 2010), albeit without spatialising algorithms in mind. Statistical analysis of the network can be undertaken including measures of centrality to identify significant roads based on the number of connections. The ever-busy B1600 (Osborne Road-Portland Road-Stoddard Street) has the highest Eigenvector centrality score[1], and the A1 ring road the highest betweenness centrality. On average each road in the city is connected to three other nodes.




Bonacich P (2007) Some properties of eigenvector centrality Social Networks 29: 555-564.

Messer S, Swords J and Jeffries M (2016) En_counter. Holy Biscuit Gallery Newcastle upon Tyne May 13th – June 2nd.

Jacomy M, Venturini T and Heymann S and Bastian M (2014) Force Atlas 2 a continuous graph layout algorithm for handy network visualization designed for Gephi Software PLoS ONE 9(6): e98679.

Ordnance Survey (2010) OS MasterMap Integrated Transport Network Layer: user guide and technical specification. Available at: https://wwwordnancesurveycouk/docs/user-guides/os-mastermap-itn-layer-user-guidepdf (accessed 19th April 2016).

Ordnance Survey (2015) Ordnance Survey Boundary-Line: product guide and technical specification. Available at:  (accessed 19th April 2016).

Park P and Yilmaz A (2010) A Social Network Analysis Approach to Analyze Road Networks. In: ASPRS Annual Conference San Diego, USA, 26-30 April 2010

Scott J (2000) Social network analysis handbook. London: Sage

[1] Eigenvector centrality measures the centrality of a node taking takes into account the centrality of neighbouring nodes with which it is connected (. Scores are relative, the most important node = 1. (ref). Betweenness centrality measures how often a node appears on paths between nodes in the network. That is, it measures how often a particular node is crossed when tracing the shortest pathway between any two nodes (Scott, 2000)