Event Report: #Manchester #madf or a digital future. A green one? Not so much.

Attention Conservation Notice: This is an account of a two hour ‘debate’ about Manchester’s digital future. Nobody brought up climate change as an Issue.

A panel consisting of Dave Carter (Manchester Digital Development Agency), Dave Mee (Madlab) Tim Roberts (I-Com) Ernima Ochu (Squirrel Nation) and Dr Alex Roy (New Economy), with Martin Bryan (smc_mcr) in the chair

Ironically, for a meeting all about networks and interactivity we started without a “turn to the person next to you/behind you and introduce yourself”. Instead we had each speaker introduce themselves and then answer questions from the chair, with periodic check-ins with the audience to see what answers they had to these questions. The panel, and the audience, were up to the task of keeping it interesting, but there were a fair few unanimated faces when MCFly looked around the room periodically…

The first question was “What’s the most important decision for Manchester’s digital community in the next three years.”
Dr Alex Roy (“Head of Research at New Economy, and responsible for – among other things – the statistics about football’s benefit to the economy) reckoned it was to ramp up the city’s international profile, leveraging the beeb, the football clubs, the music.
Erinma Ochu (who makes films and art and gets communities involved) said it was about local groups (e.g. A community choir) learning how to use online tools to amplify their voice, around fund-raising, for example).
Tim Roberts (of Icom, “one of the largest digital organisations”) said Manchester was going to have to get off its backside and invest in small businesses. I could be wrong, but he seemed to not like all the money going to certain corridors of the city.
Dave Mee (“Madlab is a youth club for adults”) extolled the virtue of Fab Lab. Wot’s a Fab Lab? “A Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) is a fully kitted fabrication workshop which gives everyone in the community from small children through to entrepreneurs and businesses, the capability to turn their ideas and concepts into reality.”
Finally, Dave Carter (“MDDA is about digital inclusion, open innovation, data networks, smart cities/smart citizens”) reckoned it’s about
a) infrastructure – there may be trouble ahead – (cites Will Video Kill the Cloud Star?)
b) start-ups universities needing to be more modular, mash-ups (MCFly’s term) of work and study
c) punk finance (in the way that it used to be ‘learn three chords and go form a band’ it’s now ‘find three ways to raise money on-line and you’ve got community finance”

Next up – How is Manchester faring?
Everyone thought not so well.
The Chattanooga Geek Hunt got a mention by Dave Carter

How is connectivity for you?
Tim Roberts “It’s a disaster”, and was echoed vociferously from a business guy in the audience.

What about skills retention?
Well, said Roberts, there’s the bigger issue that the universities are not turning out the right kind of graduates; “ the standard of interns is “appalling”
Dave Mee pointed to how hard it construct a course when the technology is moving at such a rapid rate that a three year degree course is out of date by the time a cohort is through. He gave a shout out to the intriguing-sounding omniversity.

What skills is Manchester lacking?
“Absolutely everything” said Dave Carter, giving a shout-out to NESTA’s “studio schools”
Erinma Ochu pitches in on the need for more than just digital skills. She’d like to see a kids TEDx to hack a new curriculum. And mentions a youtube film “You can’t be my teacher” that sounds interesting. [I’ve had a look. It is]

So, how does Greater Manchester benefit from this digital economy?
After Dave Carter’s point that Manchester itself has impressive levels of child poverty and adult worklessness, there was discussion of the standard high-fibre diet prescriptions (nice fat broadband along the Metrolink expansion etc). Making sure opportunities were there for uber-deprived neighbourhoods

Various discussions about schools and IT, and how business can help universities, and a pointed comment from the floor about the recent Digital Skills Summit not getting enough (business) support.

How to get folks knowing about what’s going on? A tech blog? More quangos (as if there were money for them). A central depository

Then – extraordinarily – “Is it we don’t sing Manchester’s praises enough?
Riiiiiight. There’s um, not enough boosterism in Manchester…. tumbleweed.
Dave Carter at this point mentioned San Francisco’s creation of a Chief Innovation Officer.

Erinma Ochu, reading, it seems, off twitter, pointed out how few women had been heard from. (to this point it was just her – intermittently – and one female from about 10 or so questioners, in a room with a male to female ratio of about 3 to 1.

The chair responded by saying that there had been the intention of a second woman on the panel but that “you can never engineer representativeness. When you open it up to the floor anyone is able to speak at any time.”

This is an extremely interesting assumption, that should have been challenged there and then (my bad). It might be worth reading this wikipedia page. Or this one. Or this extraordinary piece of writing about class and privilege and education from Boston MA “The boy next to me sings all the time.” To state baldly that everyone enters a given space with the same amount of cultural capital, confidence etc is problematic.
And surely the phrase “we’ve heard from a lot of men. Are there women who’d like to ask questions?” might be like touch screens – initially odd, but then unremarkable?

Anyhow, Ms Ochu’s intervention seemed to encourage the XX chromosomers. One piped up and pointed out just how important it was to have an ecological view (in the sense of networked actors, big and small) rather than a ‘one big central point’ notion, and this was followed by someone else making a comparison with Manchester’s cultural organisations and their networking.

Final Question from the chair – what is Manchester’s digital future?
Alex Roy – no single quango; you out there doing it
Erinma Ochu – possibilities of data archives and story telling
Tim Roberts – Manchester’s great
Dave Mee – Build the future rather than anticipate it. The Web is basically the printed page on a screen, we need to look at new spaces.
Dave Carter – Look at the idea of 3D printing. If in ten years time homes and businesses have this, where are we training people now? And a repeated slogan “infinite bandwidth, zero latency.”

So, after all that; The elephant in the room.
If this meeting had been held three years ago, someone would have mentioned the Pending Ecological Debacle. Someone would have at least paid lip-service to the consequences of treating the atmosphere like a sewer. But the “environmental movement” has made such a poor job of keeping the fate of the earth on t’agenda that, now that the media is not mentioning climate change, the techno-geeks are able to sit around for two hours and talk about “the Future” without talking about how we will need all our smarts, including our digital ones, for the very rocky road ahead.

Oh well. There’s always next year.

smc_mcr is pretty good at what it does. The next meeting is in early July, and will be worth going to.

Marc Hudson

Further Reading:

Eaarth by Bill McKibben (he bangs on, in t’second half, about the importance of the Internet)
The Green Digital Charter*
Jjasonwhatsinseason.wordpress.com “Seasonal ideas for local and organic produce in Manchester and UK”

* Dave Carter said afterwards if he’d recognised the MCFly reporter, (whom he last saw with a crewcut), he’d have thrown in a reference to the Green Digital Charter to head off criticism. My wife loves long curls, Dave; what’s a dutiful husband to do?


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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4 Responses to Event Report: #Manchester #madf or a digital future. A green one? Not so much.

  1. Sam says:

    I remember Dave Carter who was a leading campaigner in opposing council cuts in the late 70’s. In the 90’s he was implementing them.

  2. I’ve been wondering about this question -here’s a posting on Smart meters and the internet of things, on Energy Royd. Don’t know if that’ll start any useful train of thought for anyone else.

  3. I noticed the Green Digital Charter, mentions Eurocities, I know Leese was Chair of this organisation with offices in Brussels. But what it is supposed to do, I know not. Most of the Science Parks in Manchester are Data centre which consume large amounts of energy and pump out masses of hot air. I did pass onto Nigel Murphy a suggestion that they use the waste heat from the data centres to heat community greenhouses on the vacant land next door. But I got my normal response.

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