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14 March, 2007 - 10:25 By News Desk

Workspace concept wins European cash

An international partnership, led by the University of Essex has won a £275k grant from the European commission to create and develop i-Labs, a new kind of workspace that combines cutting edge facilities and software.An i-Lab, or innovation laboratory is a space, separate from your normal working environment which is designed to inspire creativity through ‘breaking out’ from the sometimes restrictive office, encouraging new ideas and thinking by exposing people to totally new surroundings, according to the University.

The European partnership aims to increase the visibility of i-Labs, including the installation of new labs in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.

The £257k funding, a grant from the European commission's Leonardo da Vinci programme will go toward creating a lab in each of the three countries and training packages for ‘facilitators,’ operatives who run the lab sessions.

The concept of the i-Lab is difficult to explain, according to the Business Development Manager at the University of Essex, Julie Jones, and has to be seen to be fully appreciated. “It takes you out of your normal working environment and inspires you to think innovatively.”

An i-Lab consists of two rooms; one of which is circular, containing projector screens which show the facilitator's display, as many as 16 workstations and walls covered in whiteboards. The ambient heat, lighting and sound can all be adjusted to suit the users particular needs, creating the perfect atmosphere.

It works in three ways, said Jones: “Firstly it is an innovative space, secondly, the innovative software we use allows anonymous brainstorming without the need for anyone to record the ‘minutes,’ and thirdly it gives the specialist skills of the facilitator.”

The facilitator is at the heart of the i-Lab, controlling the custom software which enables users to make anonymous suggestions and comments in the group meeting, thus breaking down hierarchies which can handicap free thinking.

The second room contains a ‘creativity’ area, which has a coffee bar, space for people to talk and somewhere to make arts and crafts.

As the lead partner, the University's role will be to coordinate the provision of the services available to the i-Lab user, and will remain at the forefront of facilitator development as it gains valuable insight and experience from the European labs.

The partnership will also develop occupational standards and qualifications for i-Lab facilitators and technicians. Mrs Jones said: “We would be particularly interested to hear from people who would be interested in being trained as an i-Lab facilitator or technician.”

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