Anyone familiar with this brief? “We’ve been working on this for nearly a year, but we’re not sure we’ve got anything good. You need to come up with a plan by next week that will save the world.” Alright, it’s not quite like that, but I was struck by the similarities between watching the Digital Britain Conference panel debates and the innumerable briefing meets I’ve been to over the years where the digital question has created an atmosphere of confusion, excitement, panic and opportunity amongst those charged with stewarding brands into the future. Everyone knows that a ‘lick of digital paint’ isn’t quite enough. But nobody knows quite enough to make a decision. And those that do know feel they haven’t been consulted.
In the case of Digital Britain, there are big unanswered questions. Defining ‘digital’ is problematic enough. Although the official consultation period was drawing to an end, it felt right to do something about these questions by posing them to a wider community of those who have been involved in the digital economy for rather longer than Lord Carter. From an original tweet by Bill Thompson on the backchannel at Gordon Brown’s Digital Conference, 12 unconferences were held (including London, Manchester, Glasgow and Cornwall) to discuss the interim report and provide useful feedback for the Digital Britain team at BERR. Most of the communication took place on twitter (unconference was, briefly, a trending topic). The outputs of these sessions were compiled and edited into a series of reports, and then edited into a single submission given in this week, which the Digital Britain team are reading ‘with interest’.
Will it make a difference? I hope so. Was it worth it? I guess so. As a whole new model of consultation it was an experience of our age, truly collaborative, intense, interested, bright people, with an interest in ‘doing something important’ and ‘doing the right thing.’ If only agencies could work this way.