Elements of local digital ecosystems

Apologies for using the word ecosystems – I just couldn’t be bothered thinking of anything less naff.

So earlier I blogged about the ways NESTA identified that government can help support local digital activity.

I mentioned that there are many different elements of the digital scene within a specific locality, so thought it only fair if I have a crack at listing them.

  • Digital economy – where businesses are active in delivering digital services to the public, private and other sectors
  • Digital access – making sure people have access to the hardware and connections to the net to enable them to make the most of the opportunities the net offers
  • Digital skills – from beginners to more expert skills, helping and guiding people along their learning journey from computer and web basics to more specialised knowledge, such as development, or video work for example
  • Digital engagement – better use of the web by public sector organisations to increase participation and involvement in public service delivery and design
  • Digital media – use of online tools for publishing news and other information online. Hyperlocal news and that sort of thing, but also general non-place specific blogging, video, audio, photography…
  • Digital communities – networks of common interest or based around a locality, using the web as a platform for discussion and collaborative action

I suspect you could plot these things on a venn diagram, showing where they overlap. Wonder if there’s a sweet spot where they all overlap?

Who are the actors and groups involved in this?

  • Businesses – SMEs, freelancers, bigger and more established companies who provide digital services or products. Perhaps non-digital businesses as well, who can benefit from getting better advice and service from suppliers if they understand the issues a bit better
  • Bits of government – there are lots of lessons for the public sector to learn about effective use of digital, which could save money and improve services. Having a rich digital community with which the local public services are engaged members of can help improve knowledge and skills and deliver better results
  • Politicians – politicians are community leaders as well as representatives and a healthy number must be involved in the local digital community. Not just to learn how digital can help them be better at representing and engaging, but better at making decisions too – especially where technology is involved
  • Education establishments – quite a few universities and colleges now forge links with local businesses and startups, including housing them in incubator style office spaces. They are also, of course, full of people about to enter the job market, or start businesses of their own, which could make a considerable impact on the local economy
  • The voluntary and community sector – the opportunities in digital for the civic sector are considerable. Great work by organisations like Cosmic and LASA demonstrate this, and even more could be done with an active digital community within a local area – whether through social media surgeries or more formal arrangements.
  • Digital activists – there are people who care about the opportunities that digital offers and who work hard to make sure people are aware of them and make the most of them. Linking them up with policy people, local techy businesses and community and voluntary organisations seems to be really important to me
  • Individuals – of course, mustn’t forget them. People who don’t fit into any of the above groups but who, of course, have plenty of links with most of them, and therefore occasional interactions with them. It’s really important to keep these people in mind, whatever you’re doing

So there’s a lot of activity, and a lot of different groups and people with an interest in that activity.

It strikes me that there is a lot that can be done in an area to get all of this effort working better, more efficiently. Not through the creation of bureaucratic digital partnerships, but through simple, lightweight creative collaborations where different organisations work together to meet shared problems.

Digital inclusion activity (improving access to, and skills for using, technology and networks) seems an obvious one. It’s better for government that people use online channels – it’s cheaper. At the same time, those people’s own lives could be improved with decent web access and skills. That can then lead onto the devlopment of the local digital economy, whether for training providers or people that build websites, or services computers, etc.

What’s interesting here I think is the role that local authorities and other public sector organisations play in this. There are clear advantages for government if people are active online in the area, both in terms of service delivery, but also less directly, with successful digital economies developing areas and generating tax revenues.

But what can they do? Most attempts by councils to provide environments for community websites, etc, tend to be a bit rubbish – though I know there are exceptions. I’ve got some ideas and – being the big tease that I am – I’ll share them in my next post on this topic.