New Forum pushed to see the big picture

Democratise the Digital Strategy, says TUANZ chief

TUANZ chief Ernie Newman believes the Digital Development Forum could democratise the Digital Strategy, making it “the nation’s strategy not just the government’s”.

The Forum’s first meeting is today, in Wellington.

Although the Digital Strategy wants ICT to serve our social and commercial needs most of the benefit so far has been in improved government services, says Newman.

“There’s been a lot of focus on government agencies getting online, and we’ve seen a lot of good and some outstanding websites. But stop someone in the main street of Ellerslie and ask them about the Digital Strategy and they’ll look at you blankly.”

Previous government ICT strategy initiatives have also suffered from being too much the government’s creature, he adds. But the Digital Development Forum aims to tap into a wide variety of views — and will be overseen by an independent chair not subject to government agencies’ controlling hand.

“We’re hoping to see a substantial number of organisations brought together, each with their own specific views and interests in using communications and information technology for commercial and social advancement,” says Newman.

The TUANZ perspective will be chiefly economic: “how organisations can use IT to function more effectively.” However, Newman expects a lot of socially oriented input to come from other quarters.

“What we’re looking for above all is action — ideas that can be put into practice.”

Some commentators believe the Forum is trying to bring together too wide a range of perspectives. While melding views is hard, Newman says, such meetings of minds tend to bring forward “evangelists” who have good ideas and powerful ways of presenting them. “I hope that others will stand back and do a lot of listening.”

InternetNZ executive director Keith Davidson says he hopes the discussion will help “clarify the differences between the National and Labour parties’ policies on broadband. Skills and jobs will [also] be top priority for a lot of people.”

Lawrence Zwimpfer, who is attending the Forum on behalf of the 2020 Communications Trust, sees the discussion moving beyond technical enthusiasts’ interests to embrace decision-makers who can fit technology into a larger picture.

“We’ve had some good schemes from community enthusiasts but we don’t have leadership from the city officials and mainstream business, education and community leaders,” he says. He hopes the Forum will embrace the wider perspective. “I’m looking for an integrated and practical initiative that goes beyond the talkfests we’ve had in the past.”

As an example of what can happen when a wider perspective is embraced, he cites the Connect Kentucky initiative, which became Connected Nation. It sought to bring broadband services to a remote, rural areas of the US.

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