On the way to this event, in the blistering cold of time around 7:40am, I’m singing, ‘on the road again’; you know, the song that donkey in the animation Shrek was humming when Shrek allowed him to come along on the trip to see Lord Farquad. Now even though I have issues with Shrek (and how DreamWorks is slowly turning what would have been a classic into a random serial), it is the only thing that comes to mind at this time because I am truly on the road again, and I’m loving it!

In less than six weeks of starting my MA in Social Media at Birmingham City University my class has been to three events ; the Hyper Local Government Camp ‘unconference’ at Walsall College (first time ever I was at an event where the agenda was formed on the spot), the Multi-platform Story Telling and Social Capital  at the MAC (where I inflated my ignorance balloon on social capital), and this one, the Beyond 2010 event organised by the Birmingham City Council and Digital Birmingham to spark up debates on how to deliver more public services for cheaper using digital innovations.

Apart from thoroughly enjoying the coffee and biscuits and getting wowed by Samira Ahmed’s CV, Paul Tilsley, Deputy Leader, Birmingham City council gave me my first laugh of the day when he said, “there are three types of people around, the ones born in Birmingham, the ones who wish they had that privilege, and the ones who have no ambition”. Talk of being proud of where you’re from! Ha!

He also laid the background for what the conference would be about, looking at case studies of places, governments and people who had embraced technology to achieve better outcomes for cheaper, especially in the light of the budget cuts just spits away.

First (and in my opinion the most interesting session for the day) was by Robert Bell, co-founder of Intelligent Community Forum. He talked about intelligent communities, saying they are measured by what they do (innovative and constantly working to build a knowledgeable work force), how they do it (advocacy, marketing, digital inclusion), and why they do it (to give their children a life better than what they’ve had). He also stressed the need for digital inclusion because leaving people out costs more money.

We broke into sessions and I remember murmuring to myself as I went to find my hall about the futility of breakfast with the flight of stairs I had to climb!

I sat in on a session chaired by Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Government Transparency and Open Data Advisor. I must say I loved the way Kate Sahota  explained Open Data using a popular film (don’t remember which now) and then ran us through the Benefits of Open Data (efficiency, opportunities to reuse data, accuracy, improved transparency, data quality) and then the challenges with it (what and what not to release, how the councils can make money off the data they release, Ordnance Survey). She wrapped up by touching on how councils can start Open Data.

Now, ever thought about who decides what information is released? What approach is better for releasing data? Those were the questions Adrian Brown from the Institute of Government left us with after his talk about the two approaches of government to transparency which could either

  1. Targeted: waiting for the public to ask for the data before you release it as against releasing random bits of information.
  2. Free: as fast you can get the data out, let it out for people to access, re-use and solve problems that affect them.

Final presentation was by Open Data champion, Will Perrin. Can I digress a bit and say that at all three events I’ve been to so far I saw at least ten people who have been to all three events too. Made me think two things;

  • Means it’s a fairly close-knit network since everyone gets invited to all the ‘same purpose’ events
  • We could be at risk of circulating messages at these events to the same circle of people and excluding (however unconsciously) a wider and potentially ‘just-as-strong’ audience.

Back from my drifting thoughts, Will Perrin talked about the benefits of Open Data, and then touched on how communities can embrace the big society; help their neighbourhoods find a voice online, and give their citizens the data and information they need to help them deliver efficient public services.

I enjoyed the presentation, Will Perrin is a great speaker; my only issue with it was that I had heard it all before (at the Hyper Local event). And I’ll leave it at that.

Food!! Yes, it was lunch time. Lunch was lovely; exposed me to another difference between Nigeria and here though. Lunch at a conference in Nigeria would be rice (boiled, jollof, fried, sautéed), chicken (in all forms imaginable), fish, moimoi (bean pudding), beef, goat meat, salads, etc. Lunch here was mini sausages, sandwiches, prawns, potato wedges, meatballs, and the option of tea and coffee (of course).

Back from lunch (which I enjoyed), Helen Milner from UK Online explained the brilliant work her company is doing (in collaboration with the government) in getting people online. Things I took away?

  • Don’t use the offline majority as an excuse
  • Create the digital world and get the offline on board
  • Don’t just see it as a tool to save money (even though it does save, and a lot)

After this there was the presentation by Andreu Puig, General Manager of the city of Barcelona, another case study of an intelligent city by Robert Bell, and then another break out session that included Dave Harte  (yay), Nick Booth, Karen Cheney, and was chaired by Will Perrin. This is what I took away from all of those (randomly noted), feel free to take notes!

ü  A digitally enhanced citizen is one who is well-informed to and be able influence/comment on/access decision making and have access information.

ü  Social media adds a valuable option to community engagement but should not be used instead of face to face communication; it’s an addition, not a substitute.

ü  The Big Society is about people helping people using technology so the emphasis is laid (or remains with) the people and not technology.

Ok, so I could go on and on and on but I need to stop here and read, update my knowledge because Beyond 2010, technology will render a lot of human functions obsolete and I’m getting ready for that. And by that I mean prepping myself to remain relevant.

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