30 October 2011 1 Comment

How can Technology improve life in Birmingham?

I asked Twitter for help with a brief talk I gave at Birmingham Art Gallery on Thursday night to spark and inform a discussion about ways technology could make a real difference to the city.

Chatting to people upfront of the day , I was struck by the number of times I heard people say “Actually, I was quite surprised by Birmingham” . Not scientific I know, but I googled “Birmingham” and “quite surprised by” and it seems they are not alone. 10,600,000 others have made that comment.   Outsiders may have a very outdated view of the physical city  and some also have an outdated understanding of  how people want and need to live and work there. So my question to Twitter was how could technology improve the experience of living ,working and visiting Birmingham?

Many, many thanks for your  ideas. It makes such a difference to be able to confront people who may be making decisions which will affect the city with the thoughts and concerns  of people who are living and working there. It’s so powerful.

Slide1The first thing you did was to convince a number of  social media refuseniks who finally grasped the value of the conversations you take for granted. Birmingham has a Living Lab project running to engage local communities in finding innovative, technology driven solutions . And as @podnosh points out  Social Media Surgeries started in Birmingham. I flagged up sites elsewhere like Change By Us in New York,  Dear London and the Amsterdam Opent open innovation project which invited suggestions from citizens to help deal with three issues the city was struggling to solve :parking bicycles. restructuring the red light district and encouraging people to generate as well as consume energy. These initiatives only work if it’s clear who’s listening and change happens.

As you can see you brought a range of ideas from very different perspectives

Slide3Free wifi across the city? Well sited and equipped co-working spaces? No mistaking what a difference this would make. Not only for people fed up with searching for coffee shops with decent speeds but for the 40% of people in Birmingham who are still not online. And is enough being done to support people who aren’t online or who are struggling with literacy? Birmingham is a young city – 37% of the population is under 24 – the youngest profile in Europe – but how aware are they of the opportunities offered by what is officially a Science  and Digital City. There have been some good initiatives from Birmingham Science City , Aston Pride’s Computers in the HomeStudent Access at Home and  Young Disciples Please add any others.

Slide2There  were a number of people at the event from the transport industry, so the desire for reliable real time information across the city was understood. They took on board the need to make bus and train information accurate, especially when snow or traffic issues meant erractic timetables. There was a also lot of discussion about how to make wayfinding much simpler, so it was easy for visitors to see that they were only a 3 minute walk from where they wanted to go.

@ccrpinkie’s comment about the need for an Oyster type travel card sparked a heated discussion. There was a feeling that rather than Birmingham devising yet another system, surely it was time to go beyond this and take the lead in insisting on a payment system which could be used in any city. A sense that you should just be able to swipe your card anywhere and get on to any train or any bus. Time to stop a myriad of incompatible systems sprouting up across the UK.

Slide4Making data available and crowdsourcing data to improve the quality of  information should be a no-brainer. Access to data means people can transform that raw data into useful apps or devise innovative solutions that the community needs. The London Datastore shows the potential this has for allowing the digital community to improve life for everyone.

One Response to “How can Technology improve life in Birmingham?”

  1. Liz Broomfield 30 October 2011 at 3:31 am #

    Thank you for taking the time to ask the people of Birmingham what we wanted to see, and crediting us so clearly for our comments – much appreciated!