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sbarc|spark – a ‘superlab’ solving society’s ills

22 August 2022

Special guests from the worlds of social science research-led innovation, politics, the third sector and government joined a recent celebration of sbarc|spark – Cardiff University’s space for co-creating solutions for society’s wicked problems.

In the final blog marking its opening, we hear from Professor Damian Walford Davies, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University, who led the development of sbarc|spark.

In an audio interview, we began by asking Damian for his reflections on the event.

Damian: “It’s been an amazing day, creating a really rich conceptual discussion of what the social sciences are now meant to do in a world that is full of crises and challenges: what is the role of sbarc|spark, in a Welsh, national and international context? And what can the  layered and storied nature of this building – with its research centres, external collaborators, partner tenants and its social conscience – do for society?

“What I really appreciated today was the emphasis on the fact that we can’t rest on our laurels. We’ve got this amazing building. The community and the culture here are bedding down. But we need to define that longer strategic vision of what we can do for Wales. And Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, has been very clear that what he wanted to see, throwing himself imaginatively into the future, was Wales transformed by sbarc|spark itself.

“The strategic direction is on intervention and change, but I also really liked the emphasis on doing what is valuable for the sake of its value. In other words, change and innovation are not necessarily what we should always be ensuring happens.”

Q: There was talk of policy interventions, and talk of communities. Sometimes, communities and policymakers find it hard to work together and access institutions like this. What can we do to bridge those gaps to the world around us?

Damian: “sbarc|spark is very much part of its community in Cathays, and we need to reach out more. There’s a crucial civic mission component of Spark that needs to think beyond the research itself, and we need to think in more inclusive terms about who gets to take part in the research.

“Professor Chris Taylor, Director of SPARK, made an excellent point that there’s a track record in social sciences in Cardiff of engaging ethnographically, where the lived experience of those who feed into data is absolutely key, and where the research is not actually fetishizing the data, but qualitatively thinking about and enhancing the lives of those that lead to data, as it were. That was Chris’s important point, and I think sbarc|spark’s humane and human side, as well as the academic and intellectual side, are key to today’s rich discussion.”

Q: And how do you go about building the entrepreneurial side of sbarc|spark, and it’s work with SETsquared partnership, its business and incubator space, and it’s focus on Cardiff Innovations@sbarc|spark?

Damian: “That side of the identity of spark is important, and has been important from the start. And I think what we’d like to see is a building that’s not of two sides, but a fully integrated community. We’ve got our partner tenants with us at the right level and pitch that we were planning for, and that’s great to see just a couple of months after the building opens.

“What we what we need to do, I think, is curate a real community of those SMEs, that entrepreneurial side of things, but integrated into the research side of Spark as well, so that it is not two separate buildings, but one integrated community. It is the realisation of a concept that has never been more needed than it is today.”

sbarc|spark brings together researchers, entrepreneurs, student start-ups and academic spinouts in a state-of-the-art building at the heart of Cardiff Innovation Campus.

Featuring collaborative working spaces, a visualisation centre, auditorium and RemakerSpace, the hub provides the seedbed in which Wales can nurture and grow tomorrow’s big ideas as the UK recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, with dedicated space for student entrepreneurs.

For more information on partnerships in sbarc|spark, email