Government's second-crack Summit to employ Second Life

A discussion reflecting the conference's themes will be organised in the virtual world of Second Life

Online forums, or even a Second Life presence, will be among ways of engaging in the debate at the Digital Future Summit 2.0 next month.

The organisers of the summit are, however, looking to avoid a technology-focussed discussion in favour of a “national conversation” on how ICT can be directed to the benefit of the economy and life of the country, says digital strategy programme manager Janet Mazenier.

“Often we discuss technology, but not in the context of an enabler,” she says.

The strategy is now only part of Mazenier’s job; she has the larger role of manager of digital development within the MED, while Reg Hammond, formerly handling ICT as a whole, now concentrates on the busy telecommunications reform side.

The government-run summit will take place over two days in Auckland with a packed timetable, and within two weeks a “heads-up paper” will be formulated for Cabinet “about the things that need to be focussed on”, Mazenier says.

One of the inputs to the conference to be launched at the event is a “broadband map” of New Zealand that will chart the supply of broadband capacity across the country and identify its sources, as well as attempting to provide a framework for procuring more and better broadband in areas of need.

Further down the track there will be a public discussion paper on points raised in the summit and the response to this will feed into a refresh of government’s Digital Strategy.

Summit organisers are also planning to set up a wiki, which will provide an ongoing public resource for ideas on the points raised at the conference.

The summit will not just look to the future, but will ask how far we have come in the two-and-a-half years since the Digital Strategy was published, Mazenier says. As one example, that document talked about 5Mbits/s as an aspirational goal for broadband.

“Now people are saying ‘why not 100, why not a gigabit?” Mazenier says.

“We’ve had huge learnings about how to run public/private initiatives,” she says. This has resulted in a growth of community-focussed network plans even in smaller centres such as Dannevirke.

Mazenier disputes any suggestion that the $795 price of registration for the Summit is likely to exclude people. As conferences go “it’s in the mid-range”, she says. A limited number of $395 places will be available for community organisations and young people; organisers are keen to get some Generation Y input, she says.

Some prominent non-ICT speakers, such as The Warehouse CEO Stephen Tindall, will help focus the proceedings on the prime objective — benefit to the economy. Tindall is the chair of the government’s growth and innovation advisory board.

“He’s a man who’s built a business of bricks and mortar and is now realising the potential of digital trading,” says Mazenier. He is likely to have and to stimulate ideas on productive use of ICT to boost business, she says.

Chris Anderson, author of the book The Long Tail, is relevant because it’s the international long-tail or niche markets that ICT permits New Zealand sellers to access. TradeMe’s Sam Morgan, another speaker at the summit, is a good example of this seizing of long-tail markets, says Mazenier.

Co-ordinating, facilitating and summarising throughout the day will be financial journalist Rod Oram.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, will speak at the conference dinner via videoconference. There is something of a “celebrity speaker” tone to this, Mazenier acknowledges; but as the successful operator of a quintessential Web 2.0 tool, he will no doubt have some valuable things to say. His speech is likely to be low-key; there is no intention to stir up some of the controversy surrounding Wikipedia’s reliability and processes, Mazenier says.

“We have to win the hearts and minds of the decision-makers” to the idea of a digital future, she says. Asked to identify the doubts they might have, she says it’s not so much a matter of doubts as of priorities; where does the growth of broadband rate alongside health services or roading as a place for central or local government to put contested funding?

Digital technology will naturally be used extensively at the summit, both as an aid to discussion and as a showcase of ICT capability. Two notebook computers will be available on each table of 10 people, allowing delegates to “instant-message” ideas and questions to the podium, where they will be projected on the screen. Mazenier says it’s not clear how orderly a mode of expression this might be, but experts are working on appropriate prioritising algorithms.

As many as 550 delegates are expected to attend.

The proceedings will be webcast to Wellington. Organisers in the City Council were in the throes of arranging this at presstime last week.

In another attempt to capture the Gen Y segment, and as a showcase, a discussion reflecting the conference’s themes will be organised in the virtual world of Second Life.

There are no plans as far as Mazenier knows for a digital avatar of David Cunliffe or Rod Oram to coordinate this debate.

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