Notes on CIMR at the Bloomsbury Festival 2020

Birkbeck classrooms are empty. Students are at home. Scholars have rapidly embraced remote and digital learning from their home offices. Malet Street is not buzzing as usual and the food market is not there anymore with its international delicacies. In this period, the Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR) at Birkbeck has decided to open its doors to the surrounding community, participating in the well-known Bloomsbury Festival. I would have loved to walk in Russell Square, looked at stands, listened to music, and had some delicious food after taking the CIMR to the centre of the Square, but this is not the time for that. Instead, I walked down an empty Theobalds Road to reach the Conway Hall and be hosted in the magical Conway Library. It was Sunday the 18th of October and the CIMR had a session within the “Visions of Future” Bloomsbury Festival section to be delivered over our beloved Zoom!

The objective was to take the CIMR to the core of the Bloomsbury community, showing the teaching and research activities of the Centre. To do that, I invited Prof. Helen Lawton Smith, Director of the Centre, Prof. Klaus Nielsen, Dr Muthu De Silva, and Evelyn Wilson. Evelyn, like me, is not an academic, but, like me, part of that community of professionals, policy makers, and experts that gravitate around the Centre and make the Centre a focus of multi-disciplinary and cross-sector thinking.

We could have talked about all the great and exciting research the Centre runs, but we decided to face the challenge of talking about our times applying research work and teaching experience. The Centre’s session was called “Innovation in periods of emergency”. The aim was to debate what innovation means in periods like the one in which we are living and what innovation can do for moving the status quo out of the state of emergency.

After the introduction of Prof. Helen Lawton Smith, Dr Muthu De Silva talked about co-creation as an approach to look for innovative responses, pulling the knowledge and expertise of different skills and disciplines. She also took the audience on the teaching digital transformation journey the Centre has experienced and is experiencing. That, in itself, is an innovative response to the effects of Covid-19 on universities and knowledge creation in general.

It was then the time for Prof. Klaus Nielsen, who took us deep into the fight against Covid-19. He discussed the various aspects of that battle, almost defining a sort of anti Covid-19 strategy. The various elements – from test and trace systems to the vaccine delivery – are all under a cohesive framework. He used the term “mission-oriented innovation” to tell the audience that the challenge we have in front is enormous and it can be faced with an extremely ambitious innovation strategy.

Finally, Evelyn Wilson reminded us that innovation and the response to emergency is not just technological and innovation design and policy based; the response revolves around people, their emotional response to the crisis, and our collective capacity to face the challenge. She did that showing the work of The Culture Capital Exchange, which she is the founder of, but, mostly, highlighting the value of art and creativity in this phase. The content of the presentations was simply cutting-edge, and I hope the presenters will continue explore the themes illustrated. The audience had the sense of a Centre that is not shy to critically discuss the current situation and that is adjusting rapidly to a new era of teaching in which the digital part plays an important role. We enjoyed the event, but we truly hope to walk down to Russel Square next year, be part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2021, and tell the audience another powerful story of innovation.

This post has been contributed by Saverio Romeo, Associate Lecturer on Emerging Digital Technologies Innovation and Management – Centre for Innovation Management Research – Birkbeck College – University of London; Founder ETO (Emerging Technology Observer) –

Workshop materials:

Link to video recording of the panel session at the Bloomsbury Festival

Saverio Romeo’s slides

Muthu de Silva’s slides

Klaus Nielsen’s slides