What Should Be In A Digital Inclusion Conference?

I first wrote about this way back in May 2009 in response to the Digital Inclusion Conference 2009. which I thought was pretty good as conferences go. Given the discussion on Twitter on 21st September I thought it would be a good time to bring some of it back to the top of the blog list.

I will declare myself guilty to being self opinionated and state that I have touted these ideas as suitable for Digital Inclusion 2010. I apologise if I’ve bored you with some of this before.

I am proposing that there should be rules for next year’s conference. In no particular order:-

Rule number one – Just because you had a good experience doesn’t mean you have the answer. Present the experience, not the solution.

Rule number two – No PowerPoint slides with tick boxes.

Rule number three – there should be no exceptions proving the rule. We should celebrate success but not at the expense of ignoring the hard to do pile.

Rule number four – remember that the biggest consumers of public services are those people whose lives are most chaotic.

I suggest a twin track conference one for LSPs and Commissioners and one for practitioners. There should be active engagement of the third sector with special rates for them to attend and targeted items on one day so that they don’t have the expense of a two day event. I also suggest a slightly different format with an opportunity for fringe events and small, privately sponsored workshops so that individual projects can present their work to interested audiences.

There were a couple of emergent themes that I think should underpin the “out of the box” approach needed next time:

Innovation: We all know Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Do we really understand what it is to be innovative? The recent Vienna Report has a great sound bite “I2 Inclusive technical innovation and Innovative Inclusive Policies”. Where do innovative ideas come from and what is the journey that they go on? Do we understand innovation or do we oversimplify? Is there a place for horizon scanning?

Entitlement: What is people’s entitlement and do the VCS have a role in this?

Scalability, Duplication versus Replication: How do you break string without scissors? What is the best way, local up or down to local, how do you scale small ideas?

Empowerment: Doing it with not doing it to. Is there a difference between activism and empowerment? What is the role of locally created content? People can be supported to be producers.

Value: Lord Reith’s approach was giving the people what they need, not what they want. What is the role of Value chains in social inclusion? How do you add value in a knowledge society? What is the value chain? How do you create value? How do we connect advocacy to information? Is this adding value? What is the real value of partnership? Is the holy trinity of service design VCS/CVS + LA/LSP + empowered citizens?

Disability: What is the disabled experience? CLG have published a number of profiles on Adults with Learning difficulties and people who use mental health services. How do we bring these to life? What’s it like to be on the other side of the glass?

Access: Is Access still an issue? Should infrastructure be part of the debate? Should we talk about rural in a separate context?

The 2009 conference was, primarily, an event for Ministers. It was an opportunity to understand that Digital Inclusion is a real issue, that there are quantifiable benefits to come from a digitally included society, and that there is some Ministerial credit to be had by being actively engaged with the digital inclusion agenda. The conference was also about celebrating success. I’m all for that and there was a lot of success to celebrate and quite right too. However, try as they might, nobody got any closer to the real nub of the matter – the final third, or the final 29%. The “too hard to do” pile didn’t seem to get any smaller and the “yes we can” pile grew not one jot. That said, the best ideas often come from the most surprising places, the workshops threw up some hope for us all so recommendation that the workshops stay.

Which brings us to the future; what should happen next? When Matthew Taylor closed the conference with an invitation for next year I had a concern that another two days of celebrating success over the 71% (or will it be 75%) of engaged citizens would be re-played. This must not happen and so I have a couple of suggestions. Next year’s conference must concentrate on the things we cannot do, that we find hard, that we need to approach differently. I propose that we have the first half day to celebrate the achievements, it’s important to do that. For the remainder of the conference we should focus on the “too hard to do” pile and we should start the process of thinking well outside of the box. It’s time we left our comfort zone.

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