Creating Connectivity Across Manchester

14 Jul

Thanks to all those who attended the Place Based Innovation Workshop on July 8th in Manchester Digital Development Agency – especially, those who had worked for Manchester Knowledge Capital who initiated many networks for social entrepreneurs and started the thinking about developing the capacities for a more innovative Manchester. The world has now moved on – but we will miss those intermediaties like M:KC that were forging a new architectire for conenctivity between innovators, companies and public bodies.

Those who came to the workshop had diverse views but most agreed that there was a need for more than projects and exchange networks, and this stemmed from as concern that we need a new innovation framework, and the narrative and connectivity across the city that would support this. The New Economy is carrying on this work, as are other agencies and the Sharpe Project which had had their Summit on creative and digital industries in Manchester earlier in the month. Danny Meaney from New Media Partners is writing this up as a strategy document (

One of the things that came out clearly from the meeting was the need for a stronger narrative for place-based innovation that persuaded leaders of the need for a systemic approach to innovation as a problem-solving tool that nurtures strategic thinking, as well as creative exchange between under-the radar innovators and business and public leaders. Manchester is a very creative place and has a history of innovation – but creating the conditions for innovators today is not only about support for individuals but also about fostering the mechanisms and connections that lift debates and generate solutions and the new relationships that will nurture future collaborative problem-solving. Those in Mad Lab do not need managing but a more open-system where their ideas and talent gain visibiliy from business and politicians and the public. As someone said, social media makes it possible for individual grapevines to become open and inclusive.

Some of us also believe that we need to allow ourselves more time to reflect on what a more innovative Manchester would look like, not just for business and creatives but for local people. The reason we need a more systemic approach to innovation is not to manage and control it but to share thinking and learning, and to lift the debate about where and when innovation is needed, and why. Most people think innovation is a matter of more technology and gimmicks and do not recognise social innovation as innovation at all.

In unpacking our ideas we started to come up with some ideas of what we could practically do:
The following were mentioned (in no particular order):

* keep the conversations going through events and on-line
* work with other other emerging networks, ie with Art’s (Cornerhouse and Creative Industries (Sharp)
* creative a neutral space for events and debate
* develop an Manchester Innovation narratives based on place rather on individual services or businesses
* Use open-source techniques to solve local problems in conjunction with community groups
* develop ideas for the Local Enterprise Partnership

I’m sure there were many more…. please comment

In terms of creating neutral spaces it is possible to host events in MBS and MDDA who also volunteered their ‘Living Labs’ as a way of anchoring collaborative problem-solving.

This was only an introductory conversation which I’m sure I haven’t done justice to – there is surely something about filling the spaces between so many projects and networks by creating a narrative for a systemic approach to place-based innovation.

Su and James
Comments please


4 Responses to “Creating Connectivity Across Manchester”

  1. Andy July 15, 2011 at 9:24 am # is an on-line platform for the creative community in Manchester and across the UK. It is a Community Interest Company managed by Cornerhouse and The White Room and supported by Manchester City Council and The Arts Council. CT would happily act as a conduit for this debate.

  2. Manchester Beacon July 18, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Hey Su, might be interesting to create synergy with this… Hackademia conference I see that City Camp are already partners… lots of joining up and connecting dots…

  3. Dave Sanderson July 20, 2011 at 8:06 am #


    Thanks for organising this; I’m very pleased that you picked up the baton and have started running with it. Manchester MUST not loose its way with innovation at this time…..right now we need economic development and more jobs. I happily accept that innovation can happen anywhere (eg dance, community organisation) but if the city needs jobs, they are best created by existing, smaller, aspirational businesses and that is where I would like the focus to be.

    There’s been lots of good research and writing on place based innovation as I’m sure you know – the Innovation Nation white paper (remember that?) had a good chapter. See NESTA’s work too. It is a contact sport, which is why it happens best in specific places – like cities. So people need to come together. If we are wanting SME / gazelle created jobs, then those businesses must be there. They often have loads of ideas for new products / processes / services – that’s why they are growth firms – but lack various things that are stopping them SUCCESSFULLY putting them into practice. It might be finance, technical ability, the right sort of business plan, organisational ability etc – many of these boil down to people or resources more generally, and sometimes ideas. So to me, a key function of a city based innovation network is to help the leaders of such firms find the resources they need to add value and expand.

    This was the idea behind the Corridor Connections project; get some businesses together, identify some issues, then put the firms together with a mixed group of people who might help them solve the problem. Not sure it has worked as intended despite best efforts. But I certainly think that any city based network must have a number of probably industry or market specific nodes eg green technologies, digital entertainment, financial services, where businesses and individuals interested in those markets get together to hear a provocative talk, debate, and hopefully engage.

    There are already sector specific ‘clubs’ for some sectors (not markets!) but I don’t think they come at it from an innovation network angle…but some could be potential starting points. I’d certainly prefer the activities to be user driven, rather than organised by New Economy or an academic interest. But they will need a champion to drive them, and help from the academic and public sector with facilities / publicity / wine would be great!

    Hope this helps. Let’s keep talking and plan another event post-holiday season.


    Dave Sanderson (ex NWDA Innovation Manager (Areas)
    07769 936887

    • sumaddock July 23, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      HI Dave, Thanks for that – the problem is always not knowing the theory but opening up the system- I think networks can flourish with little help
      quite often when people are motivated, its their interface with leaders and government that frame the infrastructure that is problematic, almost all of us operate in our own cliques
      and those who have the power to radically change the way we do things often feel as powerless as everyone else. The culture of technical solutions has resulted in a passivity
      in government. What I think is a real opportunity at the moment is that there is much more of an appetite for reflection and for not assuming old knee-jerk solutions are the right ones,
      but there is a danger in Manchester of assuming we have all the answers inside the city gate. Best Su

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