Now, I am not a betting man, but, I wager we are current seeing one of the most turbulent times in UK political history. For once in my life I am at a loss to understand if I am going mad or all of the politicians are. Whatever side you support, or if you are just an innocent bystander to the whole thing, democracy could never have been said to be more vibrant. And what a great word that is; democracy.
As Sir Winston Churchill so wisely noted, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
But this imperfect democracy is what ties us all together, and it is the mechanism of government in which the many, select the few to hopefully do the right thing on our collective behalf. Making something imperfect better is always a good thing.
So, when I saw the Big Society launched by former PM David Cameron in 2010 I thought to myself, hang on, you mean something we can all get involved in, money being trickled down to the grass roots, initiatives to engage and support our community, flipping the model of government so we, the people, can be actively involved in the things that matter for us. Make a difference together?
I was genuinely interested and excited. For a short while.
Fast forward eight years and we see the rise of ‘smart cities’ ‘smart communities’ ‘smart homes’ and a vision of a new connected society where technology and intelligence will create better ways of living for old and young and everybody in between.
So, when I think about the impact these ‘smart’ innovations may bring, I keep thinking of the big society. I wonder when will government put these disruptive innovations and ideas into the hands of stakeholder groups in the community. Put the power of innovation into the hands and minds of those who can benefit most, and who with a little but of education and some financial influence can help guide the development a future democratised IoT enabled society.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the Big Society became the Big IoT Society?
And, I think it is more than being just nice idea. In my view this is the best way of producing IoT and other technology innovations that are defined by the ultimate user of the service who is empowered to set the problem statement for the techies to solve.
So let’s theorise I have raided the coffers of a funding organisation who normally gives grants to tech companies, and grabbed £500k to invest in IoT initiatives in my home town of Newbury.
What is the first thing I would do?
I would gather together all the public service agencies, the charities who are at the heart of our town, the community groups, the colleges, the schools, I would go into care homes, into the care settings, into charity groups, and I would spend the first bit of money educating them on what IoT is and could for them.
I would educate them how applications can be developed and deployed, how AI or Machine Learning can bring fundamental transformations of the way people in the community can be cared for, connect with each other, made safer, their lives made easier to live, or simply their lives made more enjoyable. Most importantly, I would let them know how simple it is to build and prototype solutions that could be tried and tested in their specific environments. I would open their eyes to a world where unlike drugs, which need 10 years to go from idea to patient, IoT solutions can be built in days in the cloud and given a run out in the community in weeks. Make these groups disruptive developers.
I would then create working groups from those communities and set them a challenge and give them some cash.
Here is £25k each in the form of access to a development team and some technology, and now you set and solve problems what would change what you do and the lives of the people you touch.
Imagine what could come out of putting knowledge and the kinetic energy of innovation into the hands of the community.
Of course, much of this money may produce little of immediate commercial value. But that is the case of much of the money that is loaded into start-ups who today get most of the funding from government to solve problems they think need solving, but who have likely never been deeply engaged in the problem from the users end.
Not many 23-year-old start-up developers have cared for family members with dementia, or looked after their disabled child, or had to deliver hundreds of meals a day to elderly people living alone or provided social support to lonely or vulnerable people. But imagine if we put those innovators in a project with those that did and see if together they could do something amazing together.
Putting IoT into the heart of the community (hopefully you got the headline) and putting the big idea into the big society would create a sense of energy into how technology can help solve some of societies big challenges.
SME’s would be created out of these initiatives and existing ones could support these projects by engaging in the investment initiatives driven by these community teams. And putting tech innovation money into the grass roots communities to fund innovative solutions would create a local economy of tech jobs.
I doubt any politician or funding body is listening, but if they are, then go on, give it a go.
Worse case you end up with a town with the most tech educated community groups in the country. Best case you end up with a town of digital ambassadors for innovation that I am pretty sure will go away and at some point create something that will truly change lives.