Yesterday was a day of three parts, so it seems apt that this post is too. A kind of triage of threes as it were.

Part I – A Digital Dawn

I crawled out of bed in the early hours for an 8am meeting in London, at NESTA’s offices. Lord Carter, Neil Berkett (CEO Virgin Media), Jonathan Kestenbaum (CEO, NESTA) and Peter Bazalgette (Media Expert) discussed the the interim Digital Britain report. Although sometimes refered to as the ”Carter Report”, it was pointed out that this is a report from government, not to government. Digital Britain is its correct title – A fact that makes it all the more important for people to provide their responses.

That title also means everyone expects something (different) from it. A fact that has drawn the report much criticism. The infrastructure providers are a broad community. The content providers are an ever bigger one. Then there are the users, which cover the bulk of the population. One of those “you can’t please all of the people…” situations.

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Lord Carter at NESTA – by Benjamin Ellis

New Uses and New Skills

The report cuts across two industries familiar to me: Telecommunications and the Digital Media space. Although mature in some ways, they are also just at the beginning of a new era. Universal broadband, including mobile, and user generated/acquired content are transforming the landscape.

The report discusses both the “pipes and poetry,” as Lord carter put it during his speech. The country’s communications infrastructure (pipes) and the content delivered across it (poetry) are a large industry, especially in light of the rapidly contracting financial industry that used to fuel UK Plc.

The report also talks about digital inclusion; ensuring that people have the skills needed to use this ‘digital’ world proficiently. You can watch a recording of the video stream from the morning on NESTA’s site

The report doesn’t go into the new generation of applications that are enabling user participation in on-line communities. For me, that is an obvious critical third area. The most exciting thing I heard was Lord Carter suggesting there should be a separate report into Digital Government and participation. There is huge opportunity to innovate in that space. Providing open APIs to government data and turning the new generation of Web 2.0 application developers loose on it. It is also worth checking out the Power of Information Task Force Report too (seeTom Watson’s blog post).

The Digital Britain report itself deserves more explanation than will fit into this post, so I will write a summary over on BusinessTechFeed, since it best lives there. 

Digital Lunch

Back to the day. The middle consisted of some intense and stimulating face to face conversations with Nico Macdonald, Farhan and Alan Patrick / @freecloud, followed by Lunch with Lloyd Davis and Alan. It was a very timely introduction to “Beyond the Crisis: Debating the role of innovation“, worth checking out for the resources section, even if you can’t make that event itself. See, I do practice what I blog (One Thing To Get Through Tough Times)!

2. Being Amplified

From Lunch table to night club, as Tiger Tiger provided the  afternoon venue for Amplified 09 London. For some it was a little distracting to be working in a night club, but the “booths and tables” arrangement served the open spaces meeting style well.

Toby Moores opened and closed, together with a few words of feedback from myself, Steve Lawson and Eileen Brown at the end of the event (see Eileen’s WordPress post or TechNet). Predictably, I joined the discussions on Broadband Britain.

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From behind my screen – Amplified 09 – by Benjamin Ellis

Much of the conversation orbited around the central chicken and egg scenario: if you don’t have universal broadband, there isn’t a platform for content and applications. If there aren’t content and applications, there isn’t a driver for universal broadband. There is the additional layer as well: If users don’t have the skills (or confidence) to make use of the applications, the pipes and the poetry become irrelevant.

It makes for a Gordian Knot that is not easily solved. Joanne Jacobs was keen for action, as were others. I think it is in the area of transferring skills that the Amplified community can help most in building digital britain.

3. Down to (Digital) Business

The day left me with lots of takeaways, although more for business than for Britain. To take advantage of digital tools, a business needs:

  • The right Infrastructure – pipes must reach all of the participants, all of the time. Bandwidth and universal access are both important.
  • Content and Platforms to distribute and discover knowledge – staff need to be both producers, ‘capturers’ and consumers of content.
  • Proficiency – The right tools with the wrong skills won’t deliver results. The new skills are best learnt from modelling and practice, not from books and slides. Build learning experiences.

Just as there are different meeting styles, with their different strengths and weaknesses – from the formal ‘talks and three-questions-at-a-time’ at NESTA, through the open spaces style of Amplified, to casual lunch discussions – there are different digital tools too. Wikis, Blogs, email and IM each have their places in supporting business conversations, community and marketing.

Mixing and matching formats are the key to driving innovation, to identify challenges, and then to crack them. Even that Gordian knot can be hit and split, given the right people with access to sufficient information.