Following Reboot Britain

Jonathan Kestenbaum, CEO of NESTA at the rostrum
Jonathan Kestenbaum, CEO of NESTA, at the rostrum

Managed to make it over to Reboot Britain today. Half of it anyway.

It’s been a while since I’d been at a conference (if one can still use that term for such an event). And, I am glad I had the opportunity (thanks to Nick for the allowing the time, and Steve and Tiffany for arranging).

It was great to reflect on issues of the day and those of tomorrow, especially in such good company – such as Steph, Mark and Jeremy, and fleetingly Milica, Robin, Kathryn, Paul, Mick, Andy and Andrew.

I learned a thing or two – which I will muse on in another post – but I was also left wanting.

The source of my disappointment – the opening speeches from Jonathan Kestenbaum, CEO of NESTA, and Jeremy Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture. Nothing wrong with the delivery as such, both are very able and informed speakers who are more than qualified to open an event such as this. My problem was with the level of the pitch.

Reboot Britain was an event for doers – people who are both the boot and the foot in it – and a great event to applaud and encourage them. There was too little in the speeches for the people in the audience. You can’t talk at these sorts of people about innovation, because they are it. You can’t regale them with tales about clever wikis because they are the ones who surfaced the stories.

Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive, but my reading of the reaction to the speeches was that the delegates were disappointed that ‘the vision thing’ had taken the place of policy and plans for delivery. It may seem dry but when you are swimming in hyperbole, the man who offers a bit of grounding is sought after.

The difference between the views of the centre-left or the centre-right about what the technology will let people achieve is very slight. Any politician (or public sector Chief Exec.) who is serious about using technology for economic, political and social change needs to know that we’ve had the horizon-scanning, and now it is time to set out the stall.

Start talking about the investment, the skills, the timescales, the desired results, the benefits, the shortfalls, the trade-offs and the policies and legislation you think are required to make it happen. All of that important enabling stuff that requires leadership.

Don’t worry about getting it spot on first time, right now. After all, the spirit of the thing is to open up, take feedback, seek collaborators and develop iteratively. But you still have to say something you can be judged against. I think that is what the delegates of Reboot Britain would have appreciated.

Nevertheless, the frustration in itself was enlightening. I thank the speakers for their time and I declare it a morning well-spent. I look forward to the next Reboot Britain ‘prearranged-meeting-with-an-agenda-for-the-exchange-of-information’.

You can find out more about the day at www.rebootbritain.com, and I recommend downloading the ‘Reboot Britain’ essays commissioned by NESTA.

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