Bringing Excitement and Vitality to the Town of Kobe Ideathon Brings University Students Together with Local Workers and Residents

Ideathon is part of Ashita Lab University, a co-creation project involving Kobe University and Fujitsu

Fujitsu was a proud partner in Ideathon, a co-creation event hosted by Kobe University and Fujitsu. The event, held on June 25 2015 at Kobe University, was part of the Ashita Lab University*1 project, and featured the key theme Ideas and Services with Social Benefits for Kobe. About 60 participants, including Kobe University students and Fujitsu employees, though up new ideas to make Kobe a more appealing city!

*1 The event was held as part of Ashita Lab University, an open innovation project at Fujitsu launched in November 2014, with the kind assistance of associate professor Nobutada Fujii from the Graduate School of System Informatics at Kobe University. Program design for the event was provided by Fujitsu Research Institute.

Students, Workers and Residents Coming Together to Develop Innovative Proposals for Kobe

In today's world, which is faced with numerous complex issues such as population aging and environmental problems, we need to promote innovation and value creation by harnessing ideas and technology from a broad sweep of industry and concerned individuals. Students from Kobe University shared ideas with Fujitsu Group employees and gained direct experience of the co-creation philosophy by taking part in an Ideathon,*2 where they learned about different perspectives and approaches and worked together on a range of exciting new ideas.

*2 An Ideathon (combining the words "idea" and "marathon") is a short but productive brainstorming session bringing together a variety of groups and individuals to discuss a central topic and share ideas and concepts for new products and services.

Using Empathy to Consider Local Issues in Kobe from the Perspective of Others

The Ideathon began with observations about the difficulty of getting around Kobe because of all the hills, and the poor signage at the station (which led to one person catching the wrong train).

An Empathy Map was produced that encourages people to see, hear, feel and experience concern from the perspective of others as part of the creative process. The Empathy Map was used to gain a deeper insight into key issues in Kobe and share these experiences.

When Kobe residents come together with first-time visitors on an equal footing, it allows both sides to consider issues from different perspectives and explore new ideas and approaches.

Empathy Maps were used to clarify differing ideas, beliefs and concerns

Sharing ideas about Kobe in groups

Advanced Ideas for Building a Better Kobe

The keynote address was delivered by Hirokazu Nagata, deputy director of Design Creative Center Kobe. Also known as KIITO, the Center generates a continuous stream of ideas and projects in collaboration with local government. Recent output includes the "date.KOBE" map, which shows top attractions for young couples in Kobe, and the PANPO tour of leading bakeries. According to Nagata, the secret for success is to "go back to basics, take a broad-minded approach, and pursue new approaches without being constrained by conventional thinking." In order to promote acceptance and uptake by local communities, it is important to deliver programs in an incomplete state, because this encourages people to assume ownership of issues and work together towards their resolution. In this way, the keynote address set the tone for the subsequent Ideathon.

Design Creative Center Kobe (KIITO) deputy director Hirokazu Nagata

Turning Ideas into Images and Concrete Proposals

In the lead-up to the Ideathon, participants were encouraged to go out on the streets of Kobe and take pictures of things that they felt best represented the essence of their city. Over 100 of these pictures depicting people, stunning landscapes, the relaxed and casual way of life, and other key aspects of Kobe were displayed on the wall of the venue in the Idea Camera ® session. Recurring ideas and emotions were marked with Post-It notes as a way of identifying the key attractions and defining characteristics of Kobe, and also as a means of stimulating discussion.

Photos and Post-It notes on the wall

The final step was to generate genuine output. This began with a "speed-storming" session, where participants broke off into pairs and spend five minutes discussing proposals to deliver social benefits for Kobe in line with the concepts set out in the keynote speech and the montage of photos. This was repeated three times, for a total of four sessions; through each repetition, participants were able to refine their ideas and core beliefs.

Speed storming of ideas

Next, each completed concept was summarized on paper as an idea sketch comprising pictures, text and sound effects. Over 200 idea sketches were circulated among participants, with leading proposals including a sake festival and solutions to the hilly topography of Kobe such as services for Segway sharing and taxi pooling. Fifteen of the most promising proposals were selected for further consideration.

Next, participants were divided into groups of four or five people consisting of both students and local residents. The groups were tasked with giving shape to their proposals in the form of physical models created with building blocks, foam pieces, clay and sundry objects bought from the Japanese equivalent of a dollar store. The teams worked together enthusiastically on producing physical representations of their proposed services.

Colorful objects including toys and stationery were provided for making models

Feedback from other team members frequently led to new ideas and directions

Finally, each group presented their proposal to the other teams and received suggestions and questions from the room. The objective feedback was often useful in identifying new issues to be considered.

Teams Continue to Refine Their Presentations for the Selection Process

The Ideathon involved about four and a half hours of concerted effort by teams in transforming their initial concepts into concrete proposals expressed using a physical form.

It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and dedication of the participants, driven by a shared desire to build a better Kobe for the benefit of all.

The students reportedly had a great time learning how to develop an idea from scratch and give it form then communicate it to others. Many were surprised at the different ideas and perspectives they gained from the other participants, and found it an enjoyable learning experience that marked a significant departure from traditional university lectures.

The teams will continue to refine their presentations ahead of the shortlisting process on July 16 and selection of the winning presentation on July 30. We cannot wait to see their ideas for Kobe!