A Creative Business Economy:
What does the future hold for Kent?

Inserted Update 29/01/2011:
The written post and comments below were published 17/11/2010 and formed my very direct expression of interest to get involved in the re-development of the Kent Creative Business Economy (towards making it fit for future purpose and twenty-first-century enterprise).

Organised by a partnership team (namely Media Tree), with a Chair representative from Maidstone Studios, this evening (17/11/2010) I watched and listened alongside approximately 70 other people, as four keynote speakers (a local government statistician, an academic from the University for the Creative Arts, the founder of a Kent-based Business Forum, and WiredSussex the Brighton based membership organisation for companies and freelancers operating in the digital/media/technology sector in Sussex) delivered a set of informational building blocks, after which a short question and answer session took place, and it is hoped a larger long-term conversation will grow across Kent – the aim of such discussion is and will be focused on how to best develop and support the ‘Creative Business Economy of Kent’.

I attended the event because I believed, and continue to believe, that such conversations are necessary. I write this post for all those whom I wish had attended but seemingly hadn’t heard about it.

Media Tree is an organisation that has been around for quite a few years (I’m not sure exactly how long but tonight I got the sense its been no less than six years), to date its been funded by public money (though it remains unclear to me how much money? what its been spent on? or what has been achieved over the period?) but in light of a recent review and the vast cuts in previously available government funding, Media Tree is now redrafting its strategic ideas and is actively looking to engage participants to improve the future of the creative business economy across the region.

Those of you who read my blog posts will already know that I’m passionate and vocal about this subject, what follows is my honest summary of the evening – as with most of my posts I’ll no doubt ruffle a few feathers with my own viewpoint but I’m simply saying what I believe needs to be said and I welcome comments and constructive criticism from all…

Who was there?

Approx. 70% of the room was wearing suits.
Approx. 20% of the room was academics.
I knew approximately 25% of the attendees through some means or other – I knew 2/4 speakers.
I’m a very active participant within the Kent Creative Community (and some might say Brighton and London too).
I first heard of the Media Tree event a few weeks ago, the information was passed to me through both of Kent’s Arts and Regeneration Officers (one of whom I know).
Media Tree appears to have a mailing list of 800-2000? But only 70 turned up?

What was said?

In my opinion tonight’s Chair talked much more than he listened – the speakers, Media Tree team, and the audience were worth listening too!

First off, the local government statistician introduced the facts, he was sharp and to the point. From what I saw of his figures, public spending (in the related areas) hit unsustainable levels back in 2002 but continued upwards until recently. Future forecasts predict continual reductions in public funding on a yearly basis for the next six years until we’ll once again achieve the more sustainable 2001 levels. In alignment with these spending cuts the South East’s Regional Development Agency (SEEDA) has been shutdown and is now replaced by a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). This new LEP is a partnership across Kent & Greater Essex (a much bigger area than SEEDA covered, and currently the largest LEP in the UK – in my personal opinion scale provides a potential strong persona and loud voice but its often short on coherent sentences, hindered by hierarchy, gatekeepers and committee decisions – but we must work with what we’ve got!).

For those unfamiliar, the background to a LEP is as follows: “[…the ethos: where the drivers of growth are local, decisions should be taken locally using a tailored approach to local circumstances. In this regard, it is envisaged that LEPs will take on a variety of roles including, on the planning front, assisting in the development of national planning policy, working with planning authorities to develop strategic planning frameworks and potentially even taking on other planning related activities including ‘enabling’ the timely processing of applications for strategic development and infrastructure (although quite what that means is not clear)…]”

In short, it seems that any future infrastructure or funding towards the development of our regions (including the development of our Creative Business Economy) must now be negotiated through the new LEP partnership, as well as a Regional Growth Fund (RGF).

This provides the first clue as to why Media Tree invited a statistician along to the event (a very smart move which laid down the facts, many of which I was unaware of). It also provides an insight into Media Tree’s currently favoured strategic position – to become a recognised regional organisation, a member-based and member-funded lobbying body to help deliver the required future infrastructure etc. (Eg. Who knows, we might well need high-speed broadband across the region at some point). Media Tree’s current team seem to hope it will soon become the Creative Business authority to the LEP – focused on the needs of Media Tree’s members and partners.

Now I’ll come to the academic speaker, whom I’ve met before and whom I respect for his work, but who’s presentation seemed less about how the University for the Creative Arts could help develop and support the regions Creative Business Economy in the future, and sadly more about how UCA do/continue to lead it – please remember that there were other academic institutions in the room and we’re supposed to be inspiring open-dialogue and relationship-building not closed-monologue or elitist membership clubs (this may just be my perception so I’d really like to see/hear your comments if I’ve miss-judged this). As alumni, a sessional-lecturer and a consultant to UCA I’m enclined to suggest that it may have appeared to others as self-interested propaganda (I don’t know if this miss-judgement might be down to UCA or a lack of briefing from Media Tree). I’ll simply justify my comments by saying that the evening was hosted inside a venue called the Joiners Workshop, during their talks the local government statistician, the academic and the Chair all made statements about how innovative the venue was and aligned some organisational self-interest to it but the harsh reality is that the venue has been a rather large flop and a miss-spent, over budget waste of cash in terms of the ‘Creative Business Economy’ both in Medway, and in Kent. Almost every guest I spoke to commented on how hard it was to find via car and how there are no direct public transport links, and there wasn’t one student in sight (surely they are part of the future of our Creative Business Economy and they should have been invited along?).

Next is WiredSussex, the Brighton-based membership organisation for companies and freelancers operating in the digital/media/technology sector in Sussex. This presentation explored how an organisation might develop member networks and services, and explored the needs of diverse creative communities and the development of a collaborative infrastructure. Its focus was on supporting an existing community, not the development of one from scratch – it also recognised that much of its Brighon-based creative economy starts off as non-profit driven, but simply a personal passion or an attempt to improve a CV. It also explored Brighton’s culture of open-dialogue and collaborative innovation and introduced the fact that some of Brighton’s greatest successes have actually been started and continue to be driven by community catalysts and entrepreneurs (I admit I smiled when theskiff.org got name-checked). In short, WiredSussex does its best to understand and support its community without wanting to own or constrain it – the presentation also covered how the organisation itself began as a funding partnership between business and a regional development agency but this actually hindered its progress so its now run solely as a business with active participants.

Last, but far from least in my speaker rundown, comes the founder of a Business Forum, who gave a brilliantly inspiring presentation. This was not your average business network, at least it certainly didn’t start out that way. The story began with a highways dispute outside a local set of shops/businesses and a successful two-thousand strong petition to stop the building of a roundabout which would have removed the parking bays from an entire row of shops/businesses, thus reduce their trade and likely close them down. A later attempt by the same council to put bollards in place ignited the same catalyst business owner to call to arms a group of local people and businesses (large and small) to fund a lobbying campaign – this campaign focused on local value and therefore bought a community together with a common goal (it just so happened that many of the supporters were business people). Not only were friendships and understandings found and built, but also the campaign proved successful. Since this point the business minds within the group have developed a sustainable financial and network model in the form of a Business Forum that not only encourages local economic growth but also has local and social value at its heart.

Finally I come to the Q&A Session and my summary.

The Q&A session was short, the Chairs voice overshadowed the speakers answers, and most of the questions used traditional business and policy language: LEP, Infrastructure, Growth, Creative Sectors & Corridors, Strategic Bodies, Business Resources, Entrepreneurial Education, Partnerships, Tender Opportunities, Advertising, Members… etc. – and reading between the lines it seemed many attendees wanted to know about the depth and breadth of the future funding pot rather than discussing what the future might require, or more importantly what has been required but not delivered since 2002. And as much as I heard the term success mentioned, I didn’t once hear anyone ask what it might look like or even how it might be measured?

I must admit that I got to ask the final question of the evening and took the opportunity to make what I felt was a very overlooked point – I got what seemed like a verbal brush off by the Chair – I’ll close this post with the very same point, if not a little longer:

I’d like to draw a distinction between two very fundamental issues that I feel need to be considered and discussed in much greater depth. Much of this evening has been framed around developing Media Tree into a business network supported by paying members (using the Business Forum and WiredSussex as successful case study examples) and developing that same network into a regional body to help build links and partnerships across education, enterprise and the new LEP (using UCA and Government Statistics to show capacity, want and need) but as I see it a rather large problem remains…
Wired Sussex has been built upon Brighton’s open-culture, and the inspirational Business Forum found its strength and unity through uniting people in active participation for social and local good – both are successful and valuable to their members because they support and build upon pre-existing core values and culture. I feel it safe to say that WiredSussex and the Business Forum recognise their true value and USP isn’t based on financial growth or even business, its based on an open-culture and peoples relationships one-to-one – if both organisations shut down tomorrow the membership income would stop but the culture would likely remain.

Kent on the other hand has no such culture. E.g. every design company sees another as competition instead of an inspirational sounding board and support group, and they pitch against each other instead of in partnership with each other – they compete on price instead of value for all. And in my experience many Universities do the same; their focus has shifted from student selection and retention through an inspired culture and social campus, to a recruitment model that focuses more on assets and stakeholder income than it does on student development and graduate quality.

The final point I’ll make in regards to UCA’s position, and quite a few others in attendance last night, is that they appear to have what I find to be a rather odd definition of ‘Creative Business’. Sure UCA caters for the ‘Creative Arts’ but from where I’m standing this is only a small cross-section of the future creative economy. What many need to learn is that imagination is not the same as creativity. Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level. Creativity goes beyond linear and logical thought to involve all areas of our minds and bodies. People (you) can be creative at anything at all – anything that involves intelligence. It is because human intelligence is so wonderfully diverse that people are creative in so many extraordinary ways… writing, music, dance, theatre, math, science, computing, philosophy, business etc.

In my view every business, employee and citizen has the potential to be creative, and if we’re trying to inspire and develop the regions creative economy the first thing we need to focus on is inspiring a creative culture, not a membership network or Creative Business authority.

I argue, as I have done for a number of years now.
If we wish to inspire the Creative Business Economy across Kent, we must first support creativity at every level – we must first identify all the individuals, circles, groups and networks that are already doing good work – we don’t need another network or to recreate another wheel (Vince Cable is already trying to do that), we just need more transparency, support, participation and sharing across those we’ve already got.
We need to inspire open-participation, not elitist membership.
We need to encourage transparency and creative expression – a culture of learning through doing and it being ok to make a few mistakes as long as they’ve been learned from.
People need to wake up and realise that there isn’t such a thing as creative industries, every industry has the potential to innovate – creative economies create themselves, and in today’s world its often business, government and education who are the last to notice the change.

I’ve set out my current approach and focus here if anyone is interested:
http://fellow.ventures/2010/09/tuttle-the-facilitation-of-participation-and-community-101

And I’ve set out my future plans here:
http://fellow.ventures/2011/01/creating-a-disruptively-better-economy

I am not knocking last night or anyone involved, these discussions need to be had and I urge everyone to get involved and drive things forward for the future, and for the better. More information about Media Tree and making a Formal Expression Of Interest to get involved can be found here: http://www.mediatree.org.uk/shaping – you can also subscribe to the Media Tree mailing list.

Q. What do we actually need? #DigitalEconomyBill #debill

Q. What do we actually need? – Please put forward your answers…

*a better process for finding & writing to an MP* ???

A site that has a generic letter to an MP that covers all the major issues with the existing Digital Economy Bill – in the form of a concise list that uses plain English not technical jargon or long words.

Such a letter would be in the form of clickable/selectable/applicable tick boxes to highlight what paragraphs the letter writer wanted to keep or amend. Once selected the text is 100% customisable. The User adds their name, address and based on their postcode a selection of MP’s is displayed (they can select all of them if they so wish). The system tracks the receipt of such a message and sends a tweet out to the users network that is trackable – a GoogleMap is created of letter senders. Perhaps Audio and Video messages too? Plus a feature that allowed Bloggers to submit their related blog posts (just like the http://www.blogactionday.org) ? with an integrated Twitter Avatar feature?

Is this doable? Is it worth doing?
How long might it take?
Who might be able to do it easily? The following sites/APIs already exist:

http://www.theyworkforyou.com
http://belocal.com
http://www.writetothem.com (run by http://www.mysociety.org)
http://www.hearfromyourmp.com
http://tweetminster.co.uk
http://www.parliament.uk/about/contacting/mp.cfm
http://audioboo.fm

Who might sponsor such a system? Google/Yahoo/eBay/Facebook

I feel helpless & pissed off, this is extremely unusual!

I write this at 20:37 on Friday 4th December 2009

For me this has been the toughest and most unproductive week of this year – my mind is elsewhere…

I’m frustrated and extremely concerned that very few (Designers, Developers, Freelancers, Bloggers, General Public, Politician’s etc) seem to recognize a major problem looming above us – in addition to that of next weeks Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

I urge you, please do your own research into the proposed Digital Economy Bill – trust me, its a big deal and it needs to be stopped!

Its likely The Bill will be passed by the House of Lords on the 16th of December, and it’ll be heard in the House of Commons on the 6th January.

Please help spread this message in any way you can! Things you can do:

Add a Twibbon to your Twitter Profile
Write & Promote a blog post and Tag it with #debill or #DigitalEconomyBill
Contact or Write To Your MP < this is the most important! MPs need to be aware of the problems!

 

Share your Creative Freedom!
Connection is a Right!
Only 40 days left until YOUR Freedom is disconnected!

As my dad says, “Son, you need to think before you speak
… I urge you, please consider this statement as I have done and make your own voice heard:

Your ‘Freedom of Speech‘ is *no longer valid* if YourFreedom to Think‘ is removed! – be it about what you might say, do, create or whom you might collaborate with or be inspired by.

The Digital Britain Report published in June 2009 and Digital Economy Bill proposed in the House of Lords sets out a vision for the future that has already raised many questions and set-off many alarm bells regarding data governance, information censorship and content licensing – in short its a massive melting pot that will effect the entire Digital Landscapewhich in turn effects You and Your Freedom to Think!

Whether you’re a technology fan or not, its important for you to recognize that your bank statements, medical records, credit card transactions, phone connection, driving theory-test, wages, job applications, newspaper articles, txt messages, emails, television channels, internet services, music and even radio weather forecasts are now digitally connected and delivered – that effects your Right to Privacy and your Freedom of Speech. Obviously it needs some extremely serious consideration, however it appears to be being rushed (pushed) through in front of an election (less than 40 parliamentary days away) – this concerns me *and all of us* greatly!

Putting our Right to Privacy and our Freedom of Speech concerns aside; as a creative fellow the Freedom to Think, be inspired and inspire others is of utmost importance, I prioritize it over making money and I recognize it as more important than my Freedom of Speech. I choose to share and distribute my works and ideas openly using Creative Commons Attribution and I’m inspired by other peoples open content, ideas and conversation daily. I regard closed mindsets, corporate governance, copyright systems and patent laws as *the biggest barriers* to creativity, education, communication and innovation.

I’m not saying that making money from an idea is a bad thing – god knows its on my to-do list but I firmly believe that someone else should be able to access and share my ideas (or use them in a new way) provided they are not using them for financial gain or devaluing my design credit – in my opinion copyright and patent laws need to be redesigned to accommodate this – just imagine what we could do for charities and positive social change!

But I say again, its only the tip of the iceberg and it’s a waste of time campaigning for such things right now because we’ve got more pressing matters to handle!

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Technically, the following act is illegal. Imagine if these laws were applied to your conversation, your ideas and your Freedom to Think:

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I know I’m not the only person who thinks sharing ideas and information without boundaries is truly the key to economic growth, creative enterprise and innovation but from what I’ve seen and read I’m failing to find any evidence that the UK Government or Lord Mandelson are on my wavelength in any way, shape or form.

UK Government, driven by Lord Mandelson, recognizes that our existing communications infrastructures need to be updated. They plan to modernize us with some digital pipework, building blocks and legislation to cope with the futures demand; and to support economic growth, enterprise and innovation – this in itself sounds great!  but…

Whilst Lord Mandelson (Business Secretary and Minister for Information) is driving forward Three Strike proposals to disconnect people from the Internet in the event of copyright violations we are wasting our time arguing that copyright violations may or may not be illegal and do or don’t warrant punishment. The simple fact is this, content in all its forms is now as freely available as conversation and you can’t listen in on every conversation or introduce a giant swearbox – the ‘Business Secretary and Minister for Information’ must surely realize that the businesses of tomorrow won’t actually have secretaries, nor will information be administered – I’ll also suggest he’s smart enough not to care about our squabbling as it only buys him time to push, push, push…

If your mind is stuck on having the Internet as a Human Right or Legal Right as its already viewed by some countries in Europe then you need to look at the larger Digital Landscape and the scope of such non-future-proof policy making: If I download a pirated film, will I be disconnected from accessing my bank account or banned from attending my online Open University lecture?

Hannah Nicklin‘s recent Open Letter to Peter Mandelson was perfectly crafted, information packed and said everything it needed to in terms of a protest letter but as she points out in her more recent blog post ‘Its not working‘ – we need a more directed approach and real-world Campaign – so has anyone got any ideas?

Last Thursday (24th November 2009) I went to London to meet the founder of Louder.org.uk and the OpenRightsGroup.Org team. Together we are proposing a campaign (be it online, offline or preferably both) that focuses on today’s digital economy creators, thinkers and makers – tweeters, bloggers, designers, developers, musicians etc…

The ultimate freedom is the freedom to think, to express, to have a voice, to create, to share, to connect with others, to collaborate, to innovate, to inspire and be inspired.

Share your Creative Freedom! Connection is a Right!
We’ve got 40 days until YOUR Freedom is disconnected!

PLEASE call your MP to tell them why the Digital Economy Bill shouldn’t be pushed through before the election << CLICK LINK << and if you want to help directly please email freedom@fellow.ventures
Share Your Creative Freedom! and spread the word!

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Disclaimer: The ’40 Days’ reference is based upon ’40 Parliamentary Days’ as suggested in conversation by the Open Rights Group – these thoughts fell from my fingers into the keyboard – they are my honest opinions and open thinking because that’s what blogs are for right? Please do comment or contact me directly if you feel I need to correct or adjust any details or references…