February 20, 2013

Pondering Liverpool's Digital Infrastructure Strategy

At the end of the working day today, as a bunch of my co-workers at DoES Liverpool sloped off to the pub for a pint, I headed over to Liverpool Vision's offices on the other side of the city centre for a meeting about the city's digital infrastructure strategy plan.

John had been asked to go and represent DoES Liverpool, but couldn't make it and so I went instead. It was one of those meetings where you feel a bit of an ego boost for having been asked, but that's tempered by having to sit through a load of powerpoint slides and you can never work out whether you made any contribution or if it was just another hour-and-a-half of your life you won't get back. Still, you get lovely views over the city from Liverpool Vision's offices.

ACME, the part of Liverpool Vision which helps companies in the creative and digital sector (see last week's blog post Digital? Creative? Startup? for more of my thoughts on that...) are trying to work out what they can, or need, to do to help the city compete digitally. It's not a task I envy.

The meeting itself was to gather thoughts and opinions from local creative and digital firms to feed into the strategy document, which is still being drafted. It was a mixed bag - it got hung up on superfast broadband timescales for something like half the meeting, but also covered the buzz in the city now and how the council should be looking to support the direction and ambition of the companies, rather than defining a strategic direction that each of us will just ignore if it doesn't match what we're doing.

I'm still not sure how these sorts of documents or plans have any real effect, especially when there's little money around to implement them, and a host of funding rules to limit what can be done.

I think my main action point from the meeting would be to send anyone involved in setting our digital strategy a copy of Brad Feld's Startup Communities (see the previous blog post for my notes on that) but here are a few thoughts around what might be useful.

Firstly, I wouldn't worry much about the broadband issue. Include something about encouraging it by all means, but any strategy document in any city will be proclaiming how great theirs is going to be, so it's a useless differentiator. Focus instead on things that other cities won't necessarily have put in.

How about encouraging more women into technology, and to starting tech startups? There was one woman in the invited group today, and in the introductions she discounted herself as "just here with him". Aiming to change that would be a great start. Liverpool has had lots of groundbreaking women in other fields in the past, and I think we should be encouraging that in technology too.

More technology startups is a strong focus of many of us in the DoES Liverpool community too. I've written recently about how they differ from "digital and creative", and that's spawned some good debate on the DoES Liverpool mailing list. I did promise ACME a position piece about this last summer, which I've still not managed to finish, but this recent blogging is (in part) me working out some of my thoughts on the topic.

As to areas of opportunity for the city to take the lead, they already had Open Data in their slides and I suggested (as everyone would expect...) the Internet of Things. In both cases that's only because there are people and businesses in the city already doing good work in those areas, and that's how the strategy should work. For emerging technologies, it always needs to be led by people on the ground working in whichever particular tech. So find the good companies, and follow them.

With open data, there's a lot the council can do to open up its own data. It's less clear how they can directly support the Internet of Things, although opening up sensor data and providing ways (APIs, etc.) for others to access infrastructure like Walrus card and the "Boris bike" equivalent would be good. Helping promote the technologies to the rest of the city would be useful too - a more switched on populace will help provide local demand for the tech startups products, and also be more likely to come up with new, related ideas which would (hopefully) lead to more startups.

Posted by Adrian at February 20, 2013 01:22 AM | TrackBack

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