Here's my reflections on The Big Debate event. Speaker-wise Charles Leadbetter and Toby Barnes were great, but David Harris must have thought he was speaking at an advertising event circa 2000. Far too long was spent on them talking though, and not enough on the rest of us having some structured discussion. The final "ideas" list could have been done in the first 10 minutes and had no hard actions.
But I don't want to spend this post griping, I want to contribute. So here is my "Top 4" actions (sorry couldn't get to 5!) that I'd like to see taken as part of an "invite the pirates" initiative, and which would certainly help the pirates like myself who are already here. The first three should be do'able quickly and cheaply, the other might take a bit longer but can at least be projectised..
1.Open up the local HEI student cafe areas to SMEs, making them co-working spaces where collaboration can naturally happen.
I'm lucky that I spend a lot of time visit regional and other HEIs. Most have nice cafes full of students working in ad-hoc groups, and wi-fi and power. The Saltire Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University even has lightweight igloos and tents that students can drop over the tables to make ad-hoc project spaces. Whilst my meetings usually involve staff rather than students there is a) a nice buzz about being around students and b) from screens and books and posters you pick up a bit about what is going on.
So why don't we "formalise" this. Why not let SMEs make use of these same spaces - so that we can build informal links with the students - growing their awareness of us and of real business, and our awareness of their individual and collective capability. And we might even agree to give the odd guest lecture for the privilege!
2.Ensure that every HEI has an RSS feed or web service giving a) key details of each member of their research/development staff and b) details of each paper/report produced by the HEI
One area that we really struggle with is finding out who in our local HEIs are expert in the areas we are interested in. Over 5 years we're getting there, but it takes a lot of effort and I'm sure is not 100% complete. The Index Voucher scheme has been useful quite apart from the cash in finding out who's who, but we need something better.
So why doesn't every HEI clearly advertise an RSS feed or web service where I can track by keyword any paper, project, report, activity or people in the areas that interest me. We're not talking about a portal, something they have to maintain separately or I have to go to separately, but a feed straight out of what one would hope would be existing systems, and straight into my existing RSS reader.
3. Every company should post an RSS feed of student project ideas
The flipside of 2. When I visit HEIs I'm often asked if I have ideas for student projects - but chances are that I have my ideas at a different time from when they want the projects. And the lecturers appear to be crying out for real commercial projects. So every SME should post ideas on their web site as they occur to them, make them available on an RSS feed, and let the HEIs aggregate and search then as needed. Again no portal, but a great mash-up of project ideas. The benefits should be obvious - students and lecturers get real ideas and commercial input, companies get interesting work done for free.
We could even extend the model to embrace freelancers and bounty projects (Pirates again), and maybe even peer-to-peer B2B collaboration.
This is one we can do for ourselves, and the Daden project feed will go live by the end of the week.
4.Create urban (and rural) based hubs
The recent debate out about the Digital District had a lot of people calling for the emphasis to be city-wide, not just Digbeth. And talking to people in the Birmingham Library Service there's a lot of talk about how neighbourhood libraries are integrated with the new Central Library. And with others there's been talk about how we can make better use of school premises - particularly as they get revamped for the the 21st Century under Building Schools for the Future. And Moseley now has Moseley Exchange, and I've always been a great fan of the old Telecottage concept - no longer as a tech hub but as a co-working hub. So whilst I see the merit for a focussed physical centre for our Digital efforts (and Digbeth is nicely on the #50 bus route), I can also see the benefit in finding a way to federate that District out through a series of hubs based on existing infrastructures into the urban villages and neighbourhoods of Birmingham, and into the market towns and rural villages of the West Midlands.