Dear Mr Whitby – Raw Data Now

It’s been a bad day for Birmingham’s creative economy. The BBC is shunting a whole load of jobs (“over 100”) in networked factual programming from here to Bristol and Cardiff. So what now?

Since the early 2000s the regional strategy for the West Midlands creative economy (as developed by Advantage West Midlands and later Screen West Midlands) has largely emphasised ‘digital’ at the expense of a broader definition of media content creation. Earlier today I thought perhaps we’d backed the wrong horse for all those years, allowing Salford to come along with cheap land and shiny buildings and lure the BBC to their MediaCityUK.

But I’m not here to dwell on that. I actually think some conditions were created that allowed new web entrepreneurs to set up and flourish as well as ensuring more established firms stayed in their city and diversified their offer. I think we did back the right horse but we may have all been thinking of different horses as we tried to collectively articulate Birmingham and the West Midlands’ offer. That is, we never really knew what ‘digital’ meant.

But, as I say, I’m not here to dwell on that. What really got me irritated today is Councillor Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham City Council, bleating on about Birmingham getting marginalised when he could actually do something to help Birmingham become a thriving centre of digital creativity.

It’s simple, and if he hadn’t side-lined the City’s digital agenda to the completely uninterested Deputy Leader Councillor Tilsley, I think we’d be a lot further down the road than we are. Here’s a message from Tim Berners-Lee to make it clear what I’m asking for:

Bright People do terrific things with Raw Open Data. Yesterday the council launched an Open Data project called Civic Dashboard. Mudlark, a company with bright people, made something useful by cajoling the council to give up their data to make it happen. Some good people within the council helped get that data out. I’m guessing it was a tortuous process to bring it to life; so tortuous that I bet none of them are in a hurry to do it again. But beyond this project there’s nothing. The City’s Open Data page is kind of embarrassing.

So that’s where we need Mr Whitby. While he’s still in office he needs to take the digital agenda under his wing and order his senior people to get with the digital stuff. He needs to re-work the deals he’s done with his private partners such as Capita (who handle Brum’s IT) and get them to stop hugging data.

Now that the aforementioned strategy writers (AWM and SWM) have shut up shop we’re in a bit of a vacuum. But rather than sideline the digital agenda and lament the loss of those BBC production jobs we need to embrace it more than ever.

So let’s write a new strategy. Wearing my ‘Chair of Birmingham Science City’s Digital Theme Group’ hat (I know, it doesn’t actually sound like it means anything but is a group of business-owners, public secotr types and researchers who meet once a quarter to try to get projects off the ground) I’m starting Birmingham’s brand new Digital Manifesto for Growth. Here’s the first line:

  1. Stop pissing about and get that data freed up Mr Whitby. Exciting things will happen. Honest.

You lot can write the rest.

3 thoughts on “Dear Mr Whitby – Raw Data Now

  1. Not sure I totally understand this.

    Are you saying Manchester/Salford’s NDAs ploughed investment into cheap land to lure the BBC, whilst we channeled investment into vague conferences about hyperlocalism and open data?

    You might have a point.

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