Tag: Knowledge Agent

What is a Microlab?

It’s a coming together around a project or initiative to workshop, research and develop, to test, prototype, discuss and direct future activities. It is more than a workshop: broader in ambition than a sprint and less arduous than an incubator. A Microlab is a perfect event structure to advance creative projects, enable organisations and enhance and harness value.

Why host a Microlab?

Microlabs (interdisciplinary workshops) enable creative organisations to access new knowledge, skills and expertise, and build interdisciplinary networks. They bring together participants from diverse disciplines, sectors or practices to investigate questions, themes or issues confronting creative arts organisations. There is no prescribed formula for a Microlab, with the structure evolving in response to specific project needs and participants.

Who to involve: developing a project brains trust

Invite 2-3 people external to your organisation, from beyond your daily networks, and let them be part of your project. Accommodate, feed and pay them, and enable these guest knowledge agents to infect and push your projects in new directions during the Microlab and beyond.

Fill the room with people associated with your project, its core delivery team, or others that contribute to its outcomes (think contract creative staff or potential collaborators). It helps if in the room there are individuals with project management and communication skills and experience to run the Microlab, direct conversation, and articulate and reflect on proceedings. The key requirement for the group is an open-minded willingness to engage, be mentally flexible and self-reflexive, in a process of exchanging ideas and knowledge.


Find a venue that enables 8-12 people to be part of the Microlab. Think large meeting space or room with trappings that enable people to think differently and outside of their day-to-day roles. Make sure there are large tables around which discussions or other activities can take place (drawing, mapping, word-play).

Other resources

Bring equipment to record the sessions and capture those crucial moments of insights simply with audio recorders (Zooms). Bring sheets of paper (so people can map things), white boards, post-it notes (of course), large digital screens or projectors and a sound system so that any material can be see and heard. Consider broadcasting part of the Microlab—turn it outwards—to enable an external audience to connect with the ideas (e.g., Periscopic, Facebook live).

Planning timeline

  • 3 months prior: Start inviting key guests and block in their calendars
  • 1-2 months prior: Secure location for Microlab
  • 2 weeks prior: Shape up timing of Microlab sessions and who’s presenting, when discussion is, site visits, times for reflection etc.
  • 1 week prior: Iterate over time table, remove any unsolved items, and simple timing. Remember to allow for unstructured time within the days, so adhoc conversations or activities can emerge.
  • Week of: Email participants with Microlab structure


Structure main days of Microlab as 1 ½ days of guided activity for the participants. The second day (shorter of the two) is primarily about reflection and direction setting. So plan the first day as the one that gets everyone up to speed.

Imagine, envisage and create diverse activities, such as:

  • Vision Sessions: Invite the CEO or the project leader to outline their vision for what is to be achieved, now and into the future. Let a future landscape be presented, and then let people respond to this vision.
  • Customer Journey Mapping (aka learning from Service Design): Understand your creative project through the lens of its audience. Use service design tools and direct a session that maps out a Journey Map for your audience, or a diagram of your organisation’s stakeholders
  • Project Research and Development: Focus on exploring a project that is in development. Run a rehearsal, practice or test workshop—as a process of practical development—and enable external participants to witness and be part of this milieu.
  • Guest Participant Presentations: Invite your knowledge agents to present their work and ways of thinking in reaction to your organisation, the project, or an idea that might resonate with the team. (Structure guide: 30-40 minute presentation by guest, followed by 1 hour structured discussion guided by key researchers. Welcome everyone to contribute.)
  • External Guest Presenters: Occasionally invite someone completely external to your way of being (think economist) to come in for an hour to put a unique lens on the project, to polarise opinions. Then use these discordant themes to discuss harmony within the project or trajectories for ideas (Structure guide: 1 hour with guest, followed by .5 hour discussion.)
  • Public Event: Organise a public panel, screening, performance, and enable the group to discuss the Microlab activities with a wider audience (Structure guide: 2 hours at lunch or night time)

Microlabs: Guiding principles

The Agile Opera Project proposes five guiding principles to draw upon when hosting a Microlab:

  1. Participants as knowledge agents: Microlabs require the recruitment of participants from a wide field of disciplines and permits their flexible participation.
  2. Prioritisation of process over closure: Microlabs should prioritise the co-creation of new forms of knowledge over the creation of outputs or products.
  3. Privileging of space for speculation and reflection: Microlabs should be supportive, flexible and responsive to enable ideas and tentative propositions to be ‘floated’ within a space of dialogic encounter. Space for ‘thinking’ should be permitted for collective and individual self-reflexive thought and social interaction.
  4. Expanded repertoire of collaborative activities: Microlabs should draw on an expanded repertoire of activities, including discussion, creative play, mapping exercises, reflection and interaction.
  5. Co-creation of knowledge: Microlabs should be supportive, flexible and responsive, enabling participants to collectively contribute to determining processes and activities involved in the co-creation of knowledge.


Photo credit: Pier Carthew

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A Microlab is a workshop format developed, tested, and evolved as part of the Agile Opera Project.

Microlabs operate as responsive, semi-structured spaces, championed by lead researchers and collaboratively guided by participants. These interdisciplinary workshops build an evolving knowledge network based on trust, communication and shared goals. Recognising collaboration as an intrinsically social process, Microlabs provide space for diverse research practices, including discussion, creative play, mapping exercises, reflection and interaction. The workshops also connect to Agile Chambers, a week-long program that includes Microlabs, open labs, performances, presentations and discussions.

Microlab Date Program/topic/theme
Microlab 1 16-17 April 2015 First implementation of Microlab structure; early discussions of ‘platform’; social role and function of digital technologies; research tools we might use; ‘long-tail’ economic issues.
Microlab 2 15-16 October 2015 Physical and digital (coded) spaces (experience, platforms, vocabulary, issues); Circus Oz Living Archive; mapping audience relationships; current funding issues (NPEA); liveness; expectation management; platform research.
Microlab 3 14-15 April 2016 Experience and neuroscience (Hooper); Artistic Associates model & strategic plan update; digiworks; intrinsic/extrinsic value – Trip Advisor for the Arts (Gruen); communication to arts & academic audiences; preparing for Agile Chambers.
Microlab 4 8 December 2013 Artistic production as ecology (organisation, audience, artist); documentation, archives, platforms & digital resonance; group mapping exercises.


Microlabs weave together the research environment of a university with the high-intensity production environment of a small arts organisation. An evolving calendar of one-and-a-half day workshop schedules, each closely connected to Chamber Made performance activities, is led by a group of five research associates from diverse disciplines, with guest research associates participating on a flexible basis.

For the project the Microlabs produced an expanded interdisciplinary knowledge network of twenty-three practitioners, including research associates, creative industry experts and industry partner, representing twenty-six disciplines across intersecting areas of interest.

Microlabs create space for floating and exploring ideas, reflection and social interaction. Ideas discussed gain dynamic energy, and spin off into written, performed and published outcomes, including commissioned contributions from guests and key researchers.

Creative activities

During the evolution of the Microlab structure we adapted and refined the approach to match the current context of the project. Looking at four of the completed Microlabs reveals the value of bringing into the project techniques of mapping, sketching and drawing to enable participants to create shared artifacts that unpack and communicate elements of the project at large. At the macro level we first introduced and examined the project, followed by an investigation of the organisation focussing on artistic production. The process culminated in a mapping exercise drawing diagrams of relationships: audience/organisation, organisation/artists, artists/audience.


Microlabs are a critical component of the Agile Opera Project’s success in supporting the industry partner, Chamber Made, to develop a versatile, ever-evolving aesthetic and pragmatic set of relationships with digital technology that serve artwork, company and audiences. Digital technology is an integrated voice in the creative process, mediating and amplifying the company’s artwork and practice.

Industry-academia research partnerships are acknowledged as complex undertakings that present both opportunity and challenge. The complexity originates in the intrinsic—and essential—merging of cultures. As effective components of a complex and multifaceted research project, Microlabs offer a rigorous and adaptable methodological approach helping to answer research questions and generate outcomes that deliver value and benefit to all partners.

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Exhibiting performance and research

Agile Chambers was a week-long program (7-10 December, 2016) included Microlabs (interdisciplinary workshops), open labs, performances, presentations and roundtable discussions aimed at exploring digital iterations of Chamber Made performances created during the period of 2013-2016. The concept and program were developed in Microlab Three. The event was designed to expand the existing network of Agile Opera Project participants to include invited guests and members of the public.

Agile Chambers involved the construction of two curated participatory research and development spaces: a ‘live’ space for the exploration of four spatially configured performance works, and a ‘digital platform/gallery’ space for experiencing project artefacts including: digital media assets, for performance footage, Agile Chambers ebook, podcasts, and video interviews with the key stakeholders and artists of the projects.

Agile Chambers built on the principles guiding the Microlabs: participants as knowledge agents, speculation, reflection, and process. The event represented an intersection between the exhibition of experimental performance, and research-creation. This series of activities contributed to the creation of four Chamber Made Digiworks: Another Other, Turbulence, Permission to Speak and Captives of the City.

Download room guide

Agile Chambers (pdf 0 bytes)


Photo credit: Pier Carthew

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