Throughout July & August our space will close at 4pm on Fridays. All other weekdays remain the same.
ODI Leeds

A Digital Strategy for a City Region

Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to spend 2 hours with Leeds City Region LEP being asked what should a digital strategy for the region look like.

This is a hard question for someone like me who is passionate about the place but also sometimes frustrated by the rate of change that I know is needed to make a difference and really move the needle.

We reviewed proposed visions, ambitions and actions, and proposals - which, were ok, but from my perspective come from the wrong place. We were starting from the position of Digital or Smart City Thinking, not what does our City or Region need to do to be a globally competitive place.

Digital, in the words of Stetsasonic "is a tactic, a portion of my method a tool." - #tune.

So what do I mean? Well I'm taking my own advice and doing my thinking in the open on the web.

But before I get into that - Leeds City Region.

A grown-up, Northern European, sophisticated place - with a rich history and communities across its geography that have world class people, institutions, organisations and businesses. We are not well connected and certainly don't contribute enough to UK GDP, but we have many assets that make this a great place to live and work, with the opportunity to be world class. Any digital strategy should want to be world class but also needs to accept our situation and work with what we've got, not look for blockers to an imagined promised land delivered by digital.

We started the conversation, as these sessions always do, with a discussion about geography and a bit of whataboutery - for example, how will this help a sheep farmer in Halifax, or has the requirements of Wakefield been considered, and Leeds always gets all the investment. In my view, we all need to get over these sort of conversations and focus on what we can change not what we can't.

I'm not an economist or urban designer (Environmental Scientist by training & Civic entrepreneur by accident), but I do understand data and that we live in complex and changing times.

Check out Centre for Cities on this http://www.centreforcities.org/reader/cities-outlook-2017/ .

Dave Snowden for complexity http://cognitive-edge.com/blog/systems-thinking-complexity/ and Tom Forth for data and the North's cities and what we can do https://www.tomforth.co.uk/mostimportantgraph/

In simple terms, Cities create more and better jobs. Things are complex - accept this, don't look for magic bullets. Experiment, feedback, amplify what works, dampen what doesn't, and invest in homes and transport that connect people to places and jobs.

So what could that mean for a Leeds City Region Digital Strategy?

On the way home on the bus, I came up with five points:

1. Build more houses - where they are needed - use data to help make good decisions about where to put them - digital techniques to streamline the planning process and technology to build them quickly, efficiently - with great design.

2. Have less vehicles on the road & more bikes - this means a great transport system within our cities - it includes less connected and autonomous vehicles and certainly means lots of investment.

3. Connect us to more cities in the North. Imagine if the City Region was within 30 mins of the centres of Liverpool, Hull, Sheffield, Manchester by train. And the transport system was such that it would be daft to use the car, world beating internet connectivity everywhere.

4. Get control of more cash & decisions - Devolution now, I know there are enough people in the region who have the ability and the wisdom to make the right decisions about what we do with the cash we have for Skills, Education, Business support and all that a grown up democratic place should have. The quicker we get control of that the better.

5. Have more fun - self explanatory really - if we want the brightest and best to come here, to stay and make a future it has to be fun.

What could we do tomorrow with Digital?

Well digital lets those who need to communicate widely, openly and often. The approaches we have developed at ODI Leeds are all about creating assets and methods that let people - individuals and organisations - "reach in" when they are ready, when they need to and without gatekeepers. Any digital strategy from the City Region needs to do this. The engagement model is turned on its head - those that need to, can find your thinking & insights, your data your assets on the web and ask questions in real time.

Roger Marsh has stated that Leeds CR LEP will be the most transparent in the country - we'd use the language of being "Radically Open" which means open by default and using language of why wouldn't we publish this? Not why should we publish this? Creating data and digital assets that anyone can use and re-use.

And we should start with this digital strategy - don't wait until all the consultation has been completed.

So lets publish and be radically open - what's been done so far and why? What's planned next? Initial findings? The ambition ? Who's been consulted - who hasn't, who would like to be? Create an open working document with comments on and commit to responding.

What can we do in the longer term? Watch this space, got some more thinking to do - hint it might include new institutions.