Towards a Centre for Excellence in Digital Participation

So I tweeted an idea when I got to this part of the Digital Britain report on ‘Getting Britain Online’:

“[it will] will require provision of appropriate support including outreach, skills training, and demonstration of how people can get the most out of the digital revolution, delivered through tailored, local, community-based programmes building on existing networks”

And I thought that’s something I’m always being told Birmingham is ahead of the game at. Take a read of Be Vocal – there you’ll find plenty of examples of tailored, local, community-based. Why doesn’t Birmingham take a lead here, put a marker down? Not to presume a superiority and show everyone how it’s done but, just like the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice does (to which I have a connection and think is fab), provide a resource point for excellence to be nurtured, developed and made useful. That’s why it’s a centre FOR, rather than OF.

Now if you read Digital Britain it talks about Digital Participation in quite a specific way (and in doing so casts aside the much used term ‘media literacy‘). Participation would in effect be the responsibility of an organisation doing the equivalent job of Digital TV switchover and be charged with: “coordination and a clear and co-ordinated series of messages about the benefits [for being online]”. I’m thinking it’s gonna be a bit trickier than Digital TV switch-off which has an extremely compelling offer at its heart (“you won’t be able to watch TV as we’re going to switch off the analogue signal you know and love”). 

So the ‘Centre’ wouldn’t be interested in leading any ad campaigns for getting online. Rather, it’s about thinking through that participation bit. Participate in what? with whom? to what end? I think it would do the following:

  • Identify best practice
  • Nurture digital champions
  • R & D new engagement tools
  • Outline useful strategies for engagement
  • Show how this stuff works on the ground

It would be one way in which those charged with the participation stuff as Digital Britain describes it knew what good stuff looked like. It would give them insight, new tools, compelling stories.

In my mind it has a front door with a receptionist and long opening hours. I’m prepared to be swayed on that one but I’m not sure it should be tucked away on a campus (but I do think universities have a role here – at least one thinks this area worthy of study). Birmingham needs a big front door to digital participation or it does up until the point we’ve got everyone online and participating.

So I’ve had enough people now say, yeah, sounds interesting, let’s talk about it. I now plan to continue talking about it in a way that suggests everybody else has already agreed to it and it’ll be here before you know it. If you see me in the street I might mention it.

Oh and funding – not a clue at present but we’ll see….