The launch seminar of our ESRC Seminar Series, ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights’, was held Friday, 1 April 2011. This first seminar was held at the Centre City Campus of the University of Wales in Newport and hosted by the School of Art, Media and Design. Professor Gillian Young, recently appointed at the University of Wales, and Principal Investigator of the ESRC Seminar Series, chaired the launch. The Web site for the series is at: http://idl.newport.ac.uk/digitalpolicy/
This first seminar was entitled ‘Digital Wales: Inclusive Creativity and Economy’ to take full advantage of key speakers and participants from Wales, including: Cardiff University Professor Ian Hargreaves, one of the founding members of the Ofcom Board; David Warrender, Director of Digital Wales for the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG); Alan Burge, Communities Directorate for the WAG; and Rhodri Williams, Director Ofcom Wales. This worked well, in part because Wales has placed a real priority on a set of initiatives around a ‘Digital Wales’, focused largely on the creative industries, but also on access to next generation Internet infrastructures. http://wales.gov.uk/topics/businessandeconomy/publications/heartofdigitalwales/?lang=en
The discussion was wide-ranging and engaging – too broad to be summarized here, but it will be summarized in due course on the series Web site. However, Professor Young has posted a short overview of the objectives of the series online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzKZF6Ff7JY
I came away from the launch seminar more fully convinced of the value of having a focus on specific local, regional and national initiatives, such as Digital Wales. It anchors the discussion in a specific setting and provides an impetus to discuss specific projects, such as initiatives in video production across Wales. My own contribution to the forum focused on providing one perspective on the agenda for the series as a whole. I argued that the series could make a contribution by focusing on the UK context and the particular issues raised for nations, and such issues as rural access, the vitality of small businesses, and emerging debate over the ‘big society’. In addition, I thought we should focus on clarifying distinctions between initiatives relevant to network individuals, as well as networked institutions. And of course we need to address key issues of infrastructure, content regulation and new policy, such as the drafting of a new communications act for the UK.
My other point was the there were several ways in which academic participation in this policy discussion could add value. One was the role we could play in assessing alternative policy initiatives from the perspective of connectivity, creativity and rights, among other criteria. We should be particularly well equipped to bring evidence and empirical research to bear on these issues, and be well positioned to question taken-for-granted assumptions about the impact of policy. Secondly, we should be well positioned to provide a neutral meeting ground for discussion among a full range of stakeholders. We may have interests and preferences ourselves, but our primary incentive is to be open, and accountable as academics. If we do not provide a neutral meeting ground, our reputation is at risk. Thirdly, we should have a special role in putting local developments, whether in Wales or Britain as a whole, in a broader context, whether that be global trends or the broader ecology of particular policy areas. I used my work on the ecology of choices shaping freedom of expression as an example. Finally, I hope that the participation by academics opens up discussion of the policy process in Britain. Is the policy process providing adequate opportunities for debate? Is it sufficiently transparent and publicly accountable? Is government tapping the expertise of citizens? My own sense is that progress could be made on all of these fronts.
Slides for my own presentation are posted on Slideshare at: http://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/towards-an-agenda-on-digital-wales-2011