Monday, April 4, 2011

Sponsorship at the MIT Media Lab: Pros and Cons

I attended a panel today about Media Lab research. The theme was what makes great research, but one of the conversations that I found most interesting pertained to the role of sponsorship at the lab.

Some 200 companies share some level of ownership of the research that's conducted here, and frequently you'll see groups from LG or News Corp. or other companies getting a tour of the different workshops and research projects. James Barabas talked about the pros and cons of this model:

"Sponsorship is a big part of the Medial Lab. It has a lot of subtle impacts on the way we do things. Making the Medial Lab a great place can include reflecting on what roles sponsorship has, both positive and negative. ... One of the really strong things about the sponsorship model is the emphasis on communication, which helps us maintain perspective on what we're doing, and forces us to ask ourselves about what we're doing."
Barabas added that sponsorship gives access to resources, and helps bring concepts and research to real-world products. But there are downsides, too:

"... Things like distractions to break up a day of work to meet with the sponsor, which can interrupt the process … Getting little rewards for getting the 'wow' reaction from people can have a subtle influence in terms of emphasizing the 'flash' in what we do. That can really be helpful in getting the word out about a certain thing, but we have to be concious to make sure that there's something underneath the impact as well."

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