Michela Magas - Prototyping Policy
Michela Magas is the founder and Creative Director of Music Tech Fest. She’s also the Chair of the Industry Commons Foundation and an innovation advisor to the European Commission and the G7 leaders.
In this episode of the MTF podcast, Michela unpacks the ways in which lessons from the grassroots innovation and prototyping in the MTF Labs and ICE Labs events find their way into policy at the highest levels - and how that policy then affects all of industry, culture and society.
Michela currently advises on the role of Culture and Creative Industries in the context of EU Industrial Policy. She has served on the CAF Advisory Board of the European Commission’s Horizon2020 programme 2014-2018, both at meta level regarding future directions for the programme, and more specifically as coordinator of the recommendations by the Innovation Working Group.
She has been board member of the EU Open Innovation Strategy and Policy Group, which has transferred to the Industry Commons Foundation, with the mission to further Open Innovation strategy within industrial policy. She has been active member of the Innovators’ Strategic Advisory Board on People-Centred Innovation to G7 Leaders.
Dubber Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF Podcast. You may know Michela Magas as the founder of Music Tech Fest. She’s also the Chair of the Industry Commons Foundation and an advisor to the European Commission. She’s going to be running our Industry Commons Ecosystem, ICE Labs, in Mannheim in April, and that’s going to not only result in innovation in sound design for new urban environments, but also case studies and white papers to go back into local, regional, national, and European policy. I thought it might be a good idea to have a chat and find out how she manages to feed what we do into European policy.
From our MTF studio in Norrmjöle, this is Michela Magas.
Michela When it comes to my work with the Commission, it has always been a balancing act between bringing our community to the next stage of evolution, in terms of RnD, in terms of ideas, in terms of cooperation, in terms of the cocktail of minds that are in the room. Taking them to the next challenge and at the same time feeding the results, and feeding what we have found through implementing certain measures. For instance, facilitating the way that they cooperate, tracking their intellectual property, giving them toolkits to work with, etc. Any of the successes were always fed into policy. As you know, I coordinated all of the innovation recommendations for the Connect Advisory Forum, the Horizon programme, and I would estimate about 70% had come directly from the grassroots. I’m in such a position of privilege to be able to do that.
Dubber It’s important to say that that’s not usual. Most people who are getting policy implemented at that level are doing so because they’re lobbyists for large industry.
Michela They are lobbyists who are paid to do that. Correct.
Dubber What you’re doing is taking from this community of innovators and inventors and creatives, and observing things that seem to work and then feeding that into European policy.
Michela Let’s just say that I’ve used a maker and hacker mentality to live prototype the ideas that I usually discuss at a European level, and vice versa. It is a two-way thing because I also get inspired by some of my colleagues in the European Commission. They do let me talk a lot, I must say, and they’re very generous with that and they seem to be interested.
Dubber They take notes.
Michela No, but I do also have some very inspiring, very intelligent colleagues. There is a wonderful dialogue that happens directly from the live prototyping, making, creating environment where we translate thoughts into practice. Not just for the sake of it being an intellectual exercise, but for the sake of really testing the effect on people and then feeding that effect back into policy.
Because I was on Industry Advisory right from the beginning, from 2013/14, some of the ideas that I have been reading just recently because of the recent developments, I have been referring back to them. They are uncanny. I should publish them because it’s incredible how much has been implemented.
Dubber There are things that you wrote in 2014 that are now coming out as funding calls?
Michela That’s right. Well, they’re not even now coming out. They’re coming out in 2022. I seem to have spent most of my life prototyping things that would come out around ten years later. It really is quite interesting.
Dubber Here’s an important point, I think. It’s worth underlining. You don’t get paid to go and consult the European Commission. In fact, they don’t allow that.
Michela Absolutely not. Just recently they made me pay for my own flight to go in and advise to the Future & Emerging Technologies, and actually really liked what I suggested to them. Presumably, this is now going to get implemented, and I paid for it.
Dubber From an independent observer’s perspective, there’s the “What’s in it for you?” question, but I guess the payoff is what’s happened in policy.
Michela Oh, but it’s fabulous. Listen to this, right. What I said to FET was…
Dubber FET being?
Michela Future & Emerging Technologies Group. They are getting some fantastic results. They’ve been getting fantastic results for years. Some of the real blue-sky thinking projects, they only find their application ten years later. They may be investigating certain phenomena in biological systems and then reproducing them in synthetic systems. They don’t know what they’re going to apply them to yet, and yet it’s clear that they are fascinating. Of course, the kind of minds that get involved in these projects are totally just curious and fascinated by the possibilities of what one can do. They will create those results, and yet nobody can think of an application. Not least for the fact that our community could probably think of a few, but also for the fact that these project results are then buried in reporting. How is one to think of an idea ten years later if you don’t know that this exists as a result?
So what I suggested to them was that I said, we deploy it if you can construct a system that we have been testing. What you want to do is register it in a chain, with a timestamp, hash it, with metadata. Some of our learning has come from the music business. Let’s just construct it in the same way that we do with a music file. Here’s a piece of creation that’s been created by a group of people that each had their contribution. Each of them has to be credited. There is some metadata that will give you the broad description of what this might be, and then you can dig in deeper and you can refer to it. You can also start to follow and track, according to the timeline of registrations, how the IP evolved, who was inspired by whom, who then worked on the next project, is there a fantastic IP yield? We’re talking about things that are not patentable at that stage for most parts.
Dubber No, very early blue-sky developments.
Michela Ten years later I’m just accessing this database because I am an industry player who wants to now construct whatever it is. I’m doing materials research, let’s say, for my production line because I want to evolve…
Dubber This is a hypothetical?
Michela A hypothetical, yes. Let’s say I’m doing this thing that would need a kind of tensile strength like a spider web might have, but it needs to be applied in a particular kind of scenario, etc. I am diving into this thing and suddenly according to my keywords some fabulous research from ten years ago pops up that might just add to the cocktail of IPs which I have just identified as a combo that might just solve my problem. Hallelujah, that would be amazing. If you add to this the potential of materials modelling through systems that are dynamic, where you can feed your case study which nobody could have thought of in advance…
Dubber The use case for that technology, as long as it’s combined with others.
Michela It’s just emerged, right?
Dubber It’s the hybridity thing that’s the important bit. It’s the fact that this kind of spider webby new material that was invented ten years ago didn’t have this use case application because nobody had thought, A, you can use it for this, B, you should connect it to these other technologies.
Michela Precisely, and has the price point for these kinds of things now potentially decreased? Because obviously what you want to do with that kind of a system is you want to index-link it. You can do all kinds of ways in which you release your IP, and it could be based on the sort of attribution model that we developed with open product licenses, for instance, which was mimicking Creative Commons but in 3D space. So basically you can actually set some rules when you originally deploy it, but you can also reassess those because markets change, conditions change. You can also decide to index-link it so that it actually moves with the market.
Of course, my ambition is to construct a system. Providing, and I will do the caveat with big letters, that we can solve the environmental impact of decentralised technologies. That we introduce, into this whole model, micropayments and nano taxation, so we don’t have to worry about books another year. Everything is just automatically deducted. And that you can introduce all kinds of algorithms for multipliers and special deals and all those kinds of things into those kinds of systems. Including contractual obligations, including the kinds of relationship parameters that you want to establish first. Again, treat legal the same as you do with metadata. You have a one-page contract that stipulates your main obligations. You don’t go into enormous 50-page contracts from the outset, you have a basic entry point.
You actually very often, when you do have 50-page contracts, have no clue in reality. You’ve tried to think of all of the different potential issues upfront, and then you’ve inevitably missed on some because the whole landscape is evolving. Instead, you do a dynamic system whereby your contracts get updated depending on the case studies, etc. The entire system is dynamic. This is, for instance, where the Industry Commons is absolutely essential. We have started already the work on semantic interoperability.
Dubber Unpack that: “semantic interoperability”. Is it about people from different sectors speaking the same language, essentially?
Michela Yes. Except that, as you well know, and the same with culture, if you tried to do such a thing you would very soon discover how difficult that is.
Dubber You get Esperanto.
Michela Yes. And then Esperanto is not based in culture, therefore nobody wants to use it. What you want to do is create a system that translates, and connects, and bridges in intelligent ways, rather than making people change their culture. When I say knowledge graphs, for instance, someone thinks of a product as one type of thing, and someone else will say a product is another type of thing. That is related to their sector. As a global term, a product means completely different things to different people.
Dubber Oh, the word “product”.
Michela The word product. We’re talking semantics, we’re talking about signifiers. Concepts that come from different cultures, and each domain of industry has its own culture. There are certain touchpoints, there are certain global notions. But of course, in order to be operational, you need to be operating at a more granular level. And at a granular level, you have your own system, and you’re not going to redo all your systems. What you need to do is a system of bridging, and a system of bridging that’s efficient, effective. Something that will actually really help you with being able to work together, join forces, and have less waste in operations. Reduce duplication, reduce any of the areas where you don’t have to have multiple steps, but you can sort of literally leap across. This is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be very effective with this thing. Start with semantics.
We need to upgrade the contractual situation for collaborative work. This is very much what I’ve just been talking about, about intellectual property. The intellectual property systems need to be ones that incentivise both the big players to release their data into the common pool, and their capabilities and their tools, under various different controlled contractual parameters. They need to be able to track and trace how their IP is used, so fully control it. They can release data that’s fungible so that it can be tested in environments, and then they don’t have to reveal everything. They can be fully in control of their assets.
Michela Fungible means that there are data sets that you could use for the exact same scenario that are not actually for that scenario. It’s like a dummy set. It may not be entirely a fake set, it could be a real set that’s been generated but in a different domain in a different place, but it can be used for the same test.
This is where Industry Commons also comes into it because what you can do is identify… Put it this way, you have seen examples with the data from music. Because the data from music is widely available, it’s highly complex, it comes with all of these different challenges that are really well known, when we use it in test environments we can actually use it in test environments that are to do with something completely different, like finance. But if you used finance data, well, you couldn’t access it because of GDPR. And then if you did access it, it would be without certain elements because of GDPR.
Dubber Sure. People’s financial data, people’s medical data.
Michela And then it would be expensive, or rather it would be a problem for the bank to be releasing things like that. There would be all kinds of legal issues and whatever. Instead, we just take music data which has very similar characteristics. It also has proportion, maybe particular variables on there that are comparable to the case study that we are examining in the other domain, and therefore is entirely replaceable.
Dubber Is this why the creative sector is so important in the midst of this? Or is this just one kind of element of what makes music industries, creative industries more broadly, central to this? Because it’s become central to this. And I really want to talk about, that’s been the payoff of you going to Brussels and working with the European Commission, is that now the creative industries are a central pillar to all of the ways that these industries are thought about. Is that a large part of it, because nobody dies if you mess up the metadata on an MP3?
Michela I don’t think that the creative industries have become this important just because their data is easy to use. I think that the creative industries have really grown in importance because, essentially, what we are facing at the moment are so many unknown unknowns. That creative practitioners are the ones who are trained to investigate unknown scenarios and they have methodologies to tackle these new surprising scenarios. Let’s face it, every single time that we run our labs that involve AI neural nets and any kind of system that’s complex, where the human being is interacting in an entirely new way, we get…
Dubber Blockchain, neuroscience, robotics…
Michela Yes, this combination of new things. The prototypes that we now build, their effects are so fast, the results come up so fast. The amount of different surprises that come out of these new scenarios, they really are overwhelming. No linear problem-solving system, no prior training can prepare you for those, unless you are a creative practitioner who has been, by default, trained to do problem-solving by looking at things from completely different perspectives and is used to surprising scenarios, or surprising insights. It’s about brain training, really, very much. Creative practitioners very often underestimate themselves as to what their training has given them, or enabled them to do. Many will tell you that they do observe phenomena 24/7, because they are trained to do so, and they are conscious to that level of what they’re capable of.
What was traditionally underestimated was the comparison between the rigour of a scientist and the rigour of a creative practitioner. There is rigour, for sure. The difference has been that there was a perceived method from the scientific community of deduction and induction where you arrive to a conclusion, and it seemed clear to people that this seemed highly rational as a method. With the creative practitioners their brain training was far less linear, and was really aiming to look at subject matter from as many perspectives as possible. From the point of view of their training, it was perceived as a chaotic method. It was opening up too many possibilities, and therefore it felt as though it was irrational and perhaps too reliant upon some kind of instinct.
Dubber This is the STEAM problem that has come about with people trying to say “We need arts to be imbedded within this science and technology and engineering and mathematics. So we’ll do this project, and it’s about scientific things, but we’ll stick an artist in there and they can do a dance about it, or they can make a painting about it, or you know…” and it’s just tacking on this kind of interpretation thing. What you sound like you’re talking about is something that’s much more problem solving and rigorous.
Michela It’s opening up new knowledge.
Michela Opening up new perspectives and new vistas on subject matter opens up new knowledge. The only thing you need to know how to do is communicate it. In our prototyping environments, this is very clear because things are tangible. Things are made, and things happen. If an artist says “Well, let’s try it like this.” it instantly gives you feedback and it illuminates the subject matter. That’s not to say that then a scientist will not come around and say “Well, let’s do it like this.”
Dubber The important part is putting them together.
Michela Yes, exactly. Also, it’s a complete myth that scientists have got this plain old linear way of doing things. The system of peer reviews encouraging this, it’s a little bit…
Dubber The incremental building of knowledge, if you like.
Michela Yes, which actually turns into this kind of self-reinforcing mechanism for professors to be acknowledged, because “It’s very likely that some of our peers will be reviewing me, I’d better mention them in my paper.” That sort of thing. It is a little bit self-reinforcing.
Dubber Only 12 people will ever read this article, but they’re 12 important people.
Michela That too. That’s not to say that the knowledge that’s in them is insignificant. Of course, there’s tremendous and significant work going on in science. It’s just that I’m talking about the reward mechanism, the incentive mechanism. I think we can create completely new incentivising mechanisms now that we’re, for instance, constructing the Open Science Cloud in Europe, where suddenly science becomes accessible to the broader population.
You could have citizen scientists contributing data sets, for instance, to research, and we should create reward mechanisms. I’ve already told them, incentivise this in the right kind of way so that where previously, for instance, a citizen scientist, no matter how brilliant or accomplished they were, if they weren’t part of the system of peer-reviewed papers they just simply could not get a single reward for any contribution they might do towards scientific research. In that sense, you have a possibility now to also update the system in science, specifically in the context of open science.
Dubber Is Europe getting better at funding and encouraging these things as the new… Because Horizon 2020 we’ve sort of come to the end of. There’s the next batch of things, there’s a whole new group of people that are all divided in new ways, and the funding calls seem to be at least pushing in this direction. Would that be fair?
Michela Intellectually you have some very intelligent people in charge, and I do hope that people have realised that more recently, with recent political events and how they have been reacted to and how well they’ve been dealt with. Hopefully we have also witnessed some intelligent actions. I have been witnessing intelligence. I wouldn’t be part of these advisory groups if I wasn’t interacting with incredibly inspiring, intelligent people around me. There really are some incredible people there. Intellectually it’s phenomenal.
There is an administrative part that still runs on a steam engine, and there is a difficulty, of course, of doing moon shots with a steam engine. Unless we address some of these systems at the core, at the operational level, we will not reach the sort of goals that we wish to reach, and we constantly fall over because of those. There is quite a good possibility that the agile systems that are coming in, that are already being tested and developed, can take over so quickly in administration that the bottom will fall out of the old fashioned bureaucracy, and it will be very painful if that happens in that order.
What I’m trying to advocate for is for system design at the core of all of the operations where we start to build on the same railway tracks, and I have a good idea as to where that might be, or who might be running them at the moment, and we build the value-added on top for all of the different operations that we need to solve or that we need to upgrade. This also includes the financial administration of European projects, which I think is well overdue for revamp. It’s incredibly painful and difficult both to innovate and to deal with in the current landscape, because the landscape has progressed. It has moved on tremendously, actually, and surprisingly for me.
For instance, the introduction of the creative industries in the core programme I did not expect to happen as quickly as it has done, and it is much down to… There is a group of people. The group of people is… I mean, I say whole group of people, it’s a handful of people really when you look at it. Let’s just say that certain regions in Germany have invested heavily, and I mean really put their money where their mouth is in terms of securing this. Years ago if you had asked me, I would have expected Britain to be at the forefront of placing the creative industries at the centre of Europe. It has been completely the opposite. It’s been, for instance, we’re working with Mannheim. I opened from Mannheim the cooperation after the…
Dubber The Franco-German alliance, wasn’t it?
Michela The Franco-German alliance in the creative industries, which was the first alliance after the Merkel-Macron agreement. There are parts of Europe who have really invested in employing teams to work on raising awareness in this domain. For instance, the MEP, Member of European Parliament, Christian Ehler who managed to get the Commission Parliament and the member states to agree to putting the CCI, the Cultural Creative Industries, at the top of the agenda of industry. And now Mariya Gabriel in her speech in January saying the CCI are her top priority.
Dubber Fantastic. So even if the administration isn’t quite firing on all cylinders…
Michela This is what I’m saying. Intellectually and conceptually, people who are working at high level in the European Commission, they really understand a great deal of what is needed. They appreciate these values.
Years and years ago I was asked, “You’re a designer, you’re ex-Royal College of Art, why are you doing politics?” Well, I said over and over again the same answer as I do now. For as long as I see the outcomes, it’s worth it. The outcomes impact our community. The Music Tech Fest community, the broader community, the industry interoperability and standardisation and collaboration community, and society. The social impacts that you create by enabling these new channels, by enabling more participation in the economy, more participation in society and culture, etc. More meaningful participation, more rewarded, more incentivised. For as long as I see the things that are coming out, the things that I have perhaps suggested. And I see them come out.
Dubber That’s your payoff.
Michela It is, yes.
Dubber What does that mean for the MTF community, more broadly?
Michela Much greater respect for their knowledge and their contribution. Bearing in mind that the Music Tech Fest community also includes policymakers, project officers from the European Commission, it just so happens, and then tremendous researchers and industry. But let’s just say for the PhDs, Postgrads, entrepreneurs, and innovators, who are really at the cutting edge and operating plus emerging markets. They’re not just playing, they are people who have really valuable knowledge. They are really intelligent, and they know how to apply it.
The important thing then is that if there is a funding mechanism or a system in place they can engage those communities in a meaningful way, together with all of these incredible industry capabilities that we do have. We can join the dots between the results and research through technology transfer, the products from industry that can be deployed through either data or capabilities in a controlled way. Let these people who are incredibly good at joining the dots, with a new perspective, with knowledge of emerging markets, and let them run with it.
If they run with it, they have ownership over their idea that’s built on top of these things. They run off with it and the industry doesn’t have to invest into market research or in any of this, and they wouldn’t even know where to start with some of these emerging markets. They don’t need to go there. They can see if it works because their assets are now being deployed somewhere and tested with early adopters, and figures from early adoption. Assessment of the risk in early adoption and seeing what the results are will give them a very good insight on whether it is worth investing or if not. If their capabilities are embedded in some new product and let’s say a team just runs off with it, if there is a market that opens up they’re already embedded in it. That’s another source of income.
Dubber That’s their incentive.
Michela The incentives are multiple. There are just so many ways in which this game can play out. Also, so many ways it can play out for the entrepreneur. Because the entrepreneur, as we have seen before, can be approached by a giant manufacturer that says “We want this.” and they can go back and negotiate with the original core component providers and say “Well now I need a good deal from you because I’ve got a big buyer.”
Dubber Interestingly, the people who are now coming to you, and to us, and saying “What does this mean? What should we do?” it’s industry, it’s cities, it’s academia.
Michela It’s fabulous working with the cities. The cities are interesting because they’re all ecosystems. They are smaller, and therefore more agile and can be strategically placed to service wider ecosystems. The cities that have been particularly interested in working with us have been typically 100,000 to maybe 300,000 people, in that sort of spectrum, or can work very well on improving quality of living.
Dubber That’s the thing. It’s not just how do we improve our end of year bottom line, it’s how do we make this a better place to live?
Michela Long term vision for the region.
Dubber Exactly, that’s the really interesting thing. Some of these cities, they’re talking about ten-year plans. It’s not just “What does our quarterly report look like?”
Michela Let’s face it, most of them, well actually all of them are now very well enabled in terms of infrastructure, so there’s nothing to stop them being incredibly competitive at a global level. It took some parts of Europe to get there because they were on far too low bandwidth before, and now all of the cities that we’re talking to are jumping onto 5G, not quite knowing exactly how they’re going to use it. But this is where they need…
Dubber I’m going to come back to you on cities in another conversation because we’re definitely going to do this again.
Michela Okay, right, fair enough.
Dubber What I want to end on, I guess, is what’s the big takeaway for somebody who’s maybe been to an MTF before, has seen an MTF Showcase stage, or has seen something that’s happening in the Lab, or the Sparks, or the Hackathon, or any of the things that we’ve done? How do you connect the dots for somebody like that between what they’ve seen on the ground at an MTF, what they’ve experienced there, and what’s happening in European Policy and how those things work together?
Michela They could come and be part of an even greater impact. They have seen the sort of impact it has on broader communities with engagement in MTF before, and our feedback from people. The voluntary feedback from people is just phenomenal and it speaks for itself. Come and be at the centre of an even greater impact. We are now at the position of being able to engage with some really big industry partners and big future directions, and our community is really well placed to contribute to this. From where I’m standing, just even bigger potential to make a mark, to invent. Like we say, we don’t predict the future, we invent it. To invent the future together with some incredible partners.
Dubber Michela, thanks so much for your time today.
Dubber That’s Michela Magas, that’s the MTF Podcast, and I’m Andrew Dubber. If you want to follow me on Twitter you can find me @Dubber, and MTF is @MusicTechFest, all one word. You can find Michela on Twitter and frequently LinkedIn. The MTF Podcast is out every Friday, so if you haven’t already you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or whatever your favourite podcast app might happen to be. If you like what you hear you can share, rate, and review us. It really helps other people find us who might be into this sort of thing as well, and that way we keep on growing this amazing community. That’s it for now, have a great week, and we’ll talk soon. Cheers.