Reflections on what might have been
Conferences come and go but there’s always something that sticks in your mind. The Digital Agenda Assembly 2011 was structured around the pillars of the Digital Agenda and sought to set the scene for European Activity to achieve the targets for 2020.
So what sticks in my mind? The venue; Autoworld was a pretty spectacular backdrop for an event that was essentially about the future in that it is fixed largely in the past. While it was spectacular as a backdrop it was pretty impractical as a conference venue, hot, often cramped and spread across three huge buildings on top of the hill at Parc du Cinquantenaire not far from Place Schuman. While we took coffee in the midst of antique cars we ate lunch and dinner surrounded by war planes.
The morning of day one was open data. It was such a popular session that they held it in the plenary room, in a mezzanine above the main hall. Two things were notable the first, a quote:
“Open Data is a digital application of democracy, which will fuel a major share of growth and jobs creation” S Naudet, Etalab, data.gouv.fr
I really like the notion of “a digital application of democracy” it is the democratization through transparency that ICTs enable that makes me enthusiastic about digital inclusion; the empowerment of communities and the individuals that live in them is a powerful idea.
The second was the Hack4Europe awards. Firstly because the level of creativity and innovation was just stunning, secondly because it pointed the way forward for accessing the “geek layer”. Open competition, sponsored by local government and business; focused on data sets which add value to community activity. We have to try it at a local level.
The afternoon plenary featured Neelie Kroes: European Commission Vice-President responsible for the Digital Agenda who spoke on the Digital Agenda for Europe – state of play and challenges ahead. Commissioner Kroes has achieved almost rock star status as she speaks the language of the digital acolytes, and quite rightly so. There is a real need for champions at all levels of Europe and champions were an emerging theme of the conference.
At the after conference dinner I met lots of interesting people, Elizabeth Gibney the science journalist, Simon Simonsen from Vejen in Denmark, Martin Cantor from Barnsley plus Dave and Vin from Manchester, Stephen from Bristol, Gail from Citizens Online and those too many to mention. We finished the evening at Mort Subite and I was fortunate to meet up with Bill Thompson and friends of BBC fame. All in all it was a convivial evening that lasted into the small hours known as wee and meant that day 2 began somewhat bleary eyed and a little delicate.
Breakfast was the gift of the eParticipation and Skills workshop, orange juice and croissant was just what the doctor ordered. As with day one, two things stood out from the eparticipation workshop; with the new framework funding round on the horizon in 2013 there were calls from established players to do more of the same. My views on skills and their role in inclusion are in the public domain and this session did nothing to change them. If funding is going to go into skills then it should go to the users and client base not to the providers. There is a real need to divorce direct funding from suppliers so that training can be customised to meet the needs of businesses and communities. The second notable item was the call from the UK Raceonline 2012 group for a European champion in the mode of Martha Lane-Fox and a recognition of the value of ground up initiatives. I’m not the greatest proponent of the Raceonline approach to date but ground up initiatives are definitely a way forward. I can see the problem from a European perspective; quality, quantity and audit but while it’s a challenge it’s relatively cheap and with funding in the right place it adds a lot of value.
The closing plenary featured Diogo Vasconcelos, Distinguished Fellow Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco. His work involves bringing together young thinkers from places such as Rio, Ramala, and Cairo through technology to exchange ideas and grow democratic principles. What an awesome idea which brought is neatly back to the open data session of day one “Open Data is a digital application of democracy”.
So, was DAA11EU a success? For me, yes it was; what it achieved was to set the grand stage for the actions of the next 9 years. For those deeply engaged in the digital agenda I accept that it didn’t open up any particularly new horizons but that was not what it was about. This was putting the song sheet in front of us so that we all sang from it, in unison. Will I be there next year? God willing, if they will have me, yes I will.