First Forum workshop raises multiple issues

Primary and transport industries, Maori and youth under-represented at meeting

While there was a big turnout for the first meeting of the Digital Development Forum, with representatives from many sectors attending, the primary and transport industries were under-represented. They had also been lumped in with general “business” — despite their facing specific challenges, said attendees.

Maori were not specifically represented either, nor was youth, although yMedia’s co-founder, Adele Barrow, provided a Generation Y perspective in the ICT sector discussions.

Also, Ripeka Evans, chief executive of Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa, the Maori doctors’ association, was the sole representative of the health sector, although health has repeatedly been identified as being the sector set to benefit most from ICT development, particularly in broadband.

The Digital Development Forum is charged with steering the government’s Digital Strategy.

The representatives from the various economic and community sectors met in separate workshops for the morning session of the all-day meeting. This led one delegate to remark that, while ICT is often told to break down the walls of organisation silos and share information, “Here we are working in our silos”.

However, it became clear during the afternoon session that the various sectors had, independently, come up with very similar action points.

ICT is no longer just “techie”; it has now become part of the everyday vocabulary of business, said Paul Winter, convenor of the business sector. This means it is crucial to pick out specific successful projects using ICT and package them into good stories to spread around the community.

He added that in forming themselves into sector groups individual organisations would start to feel a tension between cooperation and their normal stance as competitors, said Winter. To what extent do we trust one another he asked — consciously echoing a key theme of the forthcoming election?

Although cutting ICT strategy loose from government “apron strings” is a key aim of the Forum, Winter thinks government should use “soft sticks” to push Kiwis into fuller awareness of ICT’s value, for example, by encouraging use of online government services.

While scrupulously avoiding talking about copyright, Chris Lipscombe, convenor for the creative and cultural sector, said he was concerned about how to license and extract value from content.

He argued that, while it is appropriate to consider alternative business models, “it is absolutely about understanding the value of content.” But, equally, protecting and distributing publicly valuable information should be given attention, and New Zealanders should be made to feel comfortable and confident working in public digital spaces.

Wayne Hudson was drafted in at a late stage as spokesperson for the ICT practitioners’ sector — an irony given that earlier this year Digital Development NZ organisers told him his Software NZ Alliance might be better placed in a subsidiary lobby group that was not part of the Digital Development Council top table.

Hudson emphasised the need to raise awareness of ICT among people in general, to combat fear and distrust of the internet, and also to build digital competence, with the help of relevant training.

The pervasive role of education was emphasised by education convenor Derek Wenmoth, who pointed out that his workshop’s range of interests stretched way beyond the bounds of teachers, to those who had a community education function. For this reason their priorities overlapped with those identified by several other groups, he said.

With ICT, education shares the task of “transforming” established ways of thinking and doing business, he said. But, rather than being at the point of integrating ICT into the community and business, we’re still at a transitional stage, he said — “like bolting a steam engine onto an old sailing ship”.

While broadband was not a workshop topic — government gospel being that the infrastructure is well under way — most convenors made some reference to what Hudson called “interoperable, affordable broadband”.

Paul Duignan, speaking for the community and voluntary sector, suggested that for those with lower-speed connections — a particular problem in rural areas — there should be some “filtering” of the tremendous range of content available online, so people could focus quickly on issues relevant to the sector.

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