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Managing project vision, spirit and drive – the Computational Foundry story

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Around 46 people attended the ‘Managing project vision, spirit and drive – the Computational Foundry story’ event hosted in the new Computational Foundry building on Swansea University Bay Campus on 17th October 2018.  Professor Matt Jones opened the event and presented the vision of the Computational Foundry, the name echoing both Swansea’s proud history of copper smelting (during the Industrial Revolution, Swansea became the copper capital of the world) and new aspirations within the digital age.  The past produced materials that changed the world, Matt’s vision is to produce new digital products that will change the world.  He discussed the current “sea of sameness” whereby digital products look and function the same and offer little innovation, and identified the key challenge for the Computational Foundry to be identifying key human-centered perspectives for new digital technology.  Visits to deprived areas in Nairobi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Cape Town have identified innovative ways of looking at technology, for example by asking people in ‘design inspiration workshops’ to draw a picture of what a mobile phone will look like in 5 years’ time, or by re-imaging smart speakers for use in Bangalore rather than California.  Matt has recruited key individuals to the cause, assembling a high-performing team of world class researchers, students and stakeholders that have common objectives, a sense of purpose and a shared vision to develop new ways of thinking about the future of digital technology.

Matt was followed by Owen Rees, who summarised how the feasibility, concept and construction stages of the Computational Foundry balanced ‘wants and needs’ versus ‘cost constraints’ to ensure that the Computational Foundry was completed on time and within budget.  A critical success factor of the project was a client team with a clear vision of what they wanted from the Computational Foundry – a building to encourage social interaction that contained ‘inspirational spaces’.  During the feasibility stage – the key collaborative phase of the project - Owen’s challenge was to throttle back expensive, aspirational elements of the solution without killing aspiration.  The concept stage developed an Architectural Master Plan, involving key stakeholders (a ‘super-user group’) that were empowered to make decisions, and managing / accommodating third-part influences on the plan. The closing activities within the concept stage mapped out the design journey to ensure that the super-user group was on board with decisions made during the stage. The construction stage involved accommodating changes to design as issues were encountered and resolved.  A key theme running through Owen’s presentation was the application of extensive stakeholder engagement within essentially a change programme.

In the final presentation of the evening, Dr Sherryl Bellfield summarised the funding sources for the Computational Foundry, the construction of which was deemed critical for building a successful community.  The £32.6m budget comprised £25.4m capital funding and £7.2m revenue funding.  £17.1 m was provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) which had specific funding conditions such as the appointment of a world-renowned Director for the Computational Foundry, the recruitment of 31 new researchers, the delivery of benefits to the local community, and the generation of circa £21m research income.  Sherryl re-iterated Matt’s vision and Owen’s objectives for the Computational Foundry – a building comprising light-filled formal and informal meeting spaces, breakout areas and communal areas to encourage innovation and high-performing teams where collaborative research can thrive.


 This presentation can also be viewed on APM slideshare.

Gary Mainwaring
APM South Wales and West of England branch, committee member.


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