Early on 20 January 2009, nine British new media innovators and I arrived at the Foreign Office for a meeting with the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband MP, to discuss how government can support this important sector. Over breakfast, the delegates, Mr Milliband, Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron and Sir Andrew Cahn explored this key area for opportunities in wealth creation, and to understand how the public sector can find new ways of working using new media tools.
The biggest challenge raised by the companies was the apparent dearth of funding opportunities for new start-ups in this economic climate and beyond. There are few investors in the UK outside London, and most companies seek funding from US sources.
Admittedly, the digital sector has a stronger ability to weather the storm than other market sectors; after the bubble of 2000 burst, start-ups regrouped and re-emerged from the ashes as ‘Web 2.0′ in 2005, aiming to generate businesses with sturdy and market-resilient plans that can face inclement weather. However, delegates called for funds to bridge the gap between £10-£250k, and to support training programmes for new talent into the digital and creative industries.
The Foreign Secretary, who has a track record as a blogger and new media enthusiast, also wanted to explore with his visitors the contribution new technologies can make to diplomacy and international problem-solving.
British new media developers excel at building social entrepreneurial applications, ensuring that their social networking, social software (e.g., blogs) and other social systems (e.g., search, data visualisation) work to ensure participation in the community.
New media leverages communities based on commonalities, rather than proximity, encouraging participation on an equal playing field. It has been crucial in breaking down international and social barriers, exposing participants first-hand to news and news sources, encouraging them to engage with people of different religions, cultures and creeds, of different abilities and languages. It is transforming the way our children learn, the way our teachers teach and the way we do business. In short, it has put the person back into the technology, lowering the barriers for knowledge and sharing.
Yet the challenge remains in opening up policy debates in such a way as they mobilise the many-to-many networks which new media supports. Delegates suggested using gaming technologies to break down boundaries of participation and communication, and to open up public assets to communities who may be able to offer better solutions than those that have come before.
The Business Breakfast was organised by the ICT Sector Team and is part of a series of meetings aimed at facilitating abetter understanding between business and government on key issues affecting businesses. Many thanks to all involved!
The attendees had been hand-picked to represent the spectrum of digital services developed in the UK, from innovators in social entrepreneurship and education to broadcasters and videogame developers: