Panel 1 - City As A Platform

Image courtesy meshedmedia via Flickr

Good morning, it’s the third month of the year already! How are we doing with our New Year resolutions? Do we even remember what we said we would do? That’s a whole chronicle in itself but not the thrust of today’s…

As part of my resolutions, I remember saying I would document every event I attended this year (for ‘our’ benefit) and it occurred to me this morning that there’s one I haven’t played out like that. So here goes…

It was the City As A Platform event that held on the 17th of February, at Aston Business school in Birmingham. We (Leonie, Karen, and I) just before 9.30am and boy, do I like to wake up early! Coffee was lovely though, and served as a good pick me up for what turned to be a very insightful day.

Jon Kingsbury (Director, Creative Economy Programmes @ NESTA) gave the keynote address and in it said that the correct mindset for the conference would be to think of what the creative industries could add to our businesses and not what ‘we’ could do for the creative sector. I didn’t really see why he said that till the conference progressed a bit and it occurred to me the calibre of people in attendance.

Jon also talked about some of the characteristics of the creative digital industries (CDI’s) and as always, my mind started relating trying to relate what he was saying to my darling Nigeria. One of the characteristics he mentioned was that CDI’s put the audience/user at the center of whatever  service they provide. Now this is my example but I assume that’s the baseline thought for developers creating apps for things like finding restaurants, etc

Another characteristic I noted was that CDI’s encourage ‘collaborative consumption‘ where capacity/resources/skills that normally would be idling are pulled/pooled and put to use e.g Street, a community project that enables members of a community lend stuff to each other when they are not using them, thus saving money, fostering that ‘spirit of oneness’ in the community.

I thought of starting an initiative like this back in Nigeria (add this to the hundreds I now want to do curtsey conferences like these) and at some point I started laughing (in my mind) at some of the issues I would have to contend with. Start with electricity and an internet connection (these ‘exchanges’ are sorted out online before the offline meet), then things like if you would get your items returned at all (and in the same condition you lent them out in), if we wouldn’t feel ‘funny’ about lending (and receiving) stuff to/from our neighbors, etc. I think I will still do it though…
Emer Coleman from the Greater London Authority was next, and I totally loved her presentation; it was short, quick, easy to understand, and to the point! Plus she talked about one of my favorite topics, Open Data, and explained it in a way I haven’t heard before. She said “Open Data is not just about releasing information/data; it’s more about the state (rational, controlled, contextual, etc) merging (or colliding) with the people (open, interactive, collaborative, messy, etc)”. That to my mind explained the reluctance of the government in releasing their data….I would be worried too about someone would do with all the information I had (even if the information was about them); if they would ‘judge’ me, understand why I’ve done some things one way or the other, and if they would even know how to use all the information they were asking for!

Toby Barnes of Mudlark was next and he talked about how working with Transport For London (amongst others) his team has mashed already existing data to make transportation and commute easier using Chromaroma (an online multi player game you play with your oyster card as you move around). Neat!!!

Matt Walsh of Maverick TV spoke next. Riding on the success, huge followering, and the large data base of the programme ‘Embarrassing Bodies‘ (just registered its 10milionth user), his company is creating an app (working with the NHS and google maps) for people to find the closest and least busy A&E (or GP) to them. This comes off the back of the NHS in the West Midlands commissioning them under the auspices of a programme called NHS Local to bring together the just about 170, 000 staff of the NHS and the approx 5.4 million people living in the West Midlands.

Brought up a lot of thoughts in my head; to be able to do what Maverick TV and the NHS are doing, you should have a list of the hospitals in the area you want to work in. You must have data that tells how often people go in there, what doctors are on duty at every point in time, the effect transportation (public or private) would have on the trip to the hospital, etc. If you’re from the Motherland and you’re reading this, tick the boxes we have going for us when you comment. *sigh*

Still on Matt Walsh, I interviewed him!! I felt like a child who’d just discovered she could walk after I was done with the interview, especially since I started out with being terrified of attending conferences, talk less of conducting interviews! A little background to my question; in a break out session Mark Steadman from Substrakt amongst other things talked about an app they were developing for the NHS that (in my opinion) would do just about the same thing NHS Local was working on, and so I was worried about a duplication of function to the possible ‘detriment’ of other sectors in the society. K?

My second interview was after the final session I sat in on, with panelists Simon Whitehouse (Digital Birmingham) and Charles Hunter from Mudlark. Working with Mudlark on a project funded by NESTA, Digital Birmingham created Birmingham Civic Dashboard, a site that enables residents see what their council is up to. By up to it means when and what the residents are contacting the council about, using heat maps of the whole city to show where the contact was initiated from. One of the benefits of this project is to enable the residents ‘tell stories’. Truth is I’ve heard that phrase a lot since I got here but I guess I drummed up enough courage today to ask what the impact of the stories would be, both on the residents and on the council. Voila! Second interview.

I must confess I had a good time, the speakers were really great (on point), and for most of the day I was smiling and jotting furiously as things became clearer to me. It was also great to be with my buddies Noha, Desi, Leonie, Karen, and Simi…

One of the many coffee breaks.....

And of course, there was the special cameo appearance by Erik!!

That's Leonie and Erik!!!

Take home? The development (or emergence) of a ‘big city’ is not a task for the government alone, neither should be left to the people too. It’s a conscious and continuous effort by both parties because our world is changing rapidly, new technologies are emerging, and both parties must be willing to learn as they go. In fact, according to Emer Coleman, ‘the journey is just starting’.


  1. hajjoh says:

    what I have observed here is a country with organizations who are constantly working improving the culture of consumerism. The way their services are percived and recieved by their community and ultimately the consumer. there is a lot Nigerian buiznesses can learn from all this one of them is structure.


    • True Hajo, even though it is not perfect yet, it is heart warming to see people striving to improve, and searching out ways to make their service more effective. That’s what it should be!


  2. Tomi Oladepo says:

    “The development (or emergence) of a ‘big city’ is not a task for the government alone, neither should be left to the people too. It’s a conscious and continuous effort by both parties because our world is changing rapidly, new technologies are emerging, and both parties must be willing to learn as they go.”

    An essay on this quote would make a brilliant newspaper article.


Say something!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s