Just returned from an interesting seminar organised by Falmouth University Innovation Unit on how researchers can
help communities and SMEs can use digital connection to galvanise more innovative services and business practice.
The Falmouth AIR project is a new portal for connectivity in the SW made possible by major investment by BT and EU Convergence Programme, led by Professor Mike Wilson, the Innovation Centre has various projects on the go that will bring researchers closers to local communities and local businesses. The work with BT called the ‘University of the Village’, financed by the AHRC Connected Communities programme is widening their way of providing learning through life, experience, creative arts and design; another programme connects Falmouth with Aberdeen and Glamorgan Universities and promotes the specific needs of those in rural areas in Scotland, Wales and the South West- this is training post-graduates in ‘engagement’, and tackling local problems such as poor tranport, home health-services etc by co-designing solutions with local communities that involve digitial technology. This work is financed by the EPSRC at firstname.lastname@example.org
Digital connectivity is helping drive much more public service innovation through co-design and co-production – although there appears to still be a focus on the practice of ‘engagement’ rather than on finding out what people what to engage in. Too often academics want to define the problems and then go out and ‘engage’ about what they think is important,in fact co-production rarely works unless focused on what that local people themselves care about. Asking people what they think about fast-broadband when they have no idea how it can be used is unlikely to increase uptake.
Similarly, the business community are crying out for researchers to find out what problems they face rather than sell them a new ‘App’ or indeed expect them to come up with new ‘app’ ideas. As it turns out, those SMES that the workshop said that what they cared about at the moment is reducing costs, if high speed broadband helps them do this then they’ll buy it.
The government’s plan to get 90% of the country connected is not merely a question of laying down the infrastructure but of local people and businesses seeing why they should use it, and pay for it. Too often it appears the government are keen on public sector financial cuts but weak on how to build the capacity for growth. In Cornwall 89% of private scetor productivity comes from SMES, and micro-SMEs at that – supporting this sector is critical to the local economy and local resilience. Its really positive that a university like Falmouth is trying to connect to this sector.
It is significant that it is the university taking a lead here in this development, demonstrating what many more universities could be doing to support place-shaping and the local economy.