Creativity Brand

The government's digital strategy has a glaring omission – creativity

By Jon Davie | UK chief executive

March 1, 2017 | 4 min read

Today’s announcement of the UK government's digital strategy is a welcome indication that our leaders recognise the role of technology to shape the country’s future on the world stage. Aiming to achieve a ‘world-leading digital economy that works for everyone’ is also a fitting aspiration as diverse population require divergent tech to meet their needs.

But of course, there’s a ‘but’. The strategy meets a minimum requirement of recognising the opportunity but its glaring omission of the creative industries should be cause for concern.

Westminster

STEM disciplines are front and center of the strategy – particularly when it comes to engineering the future of AI. However, the government’s blinkered view of tech as the sole preserve of scientists and engineers forgets the only way this investment pays off: if we can make those innovations valuable for customers around the world.

Without creatives like designers and writers working closely with technologists, we risk valuable innovation never leaving the lab.

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When Google hired comedy writers for its AI assistant, or when Microsoft recruited a Hollywood screenwriter to lead a team of poets and playwrights for Cortana, they weren’t giving struggling artists a helping hand. These professions trade in empathy and a deep understanding of human behaviour, skills which aren’t accounted for in the government’s STEM focus.

Without them, I fear that we sell technology short.

First and foremost, I would have the government champion a ‘STEAM’ message in its digital strategy, integrating artistic skillsets into the digital talent it wants to promote. The good news is that the UK already has a lot of that going around.

We have the finest creative institutions in the world, like our next-door neighbours at Central St Martins, but we need to look beyond London to see the full depth of our talents. If Brexit is set to stem the flow of European talent, regional investment by government and business alike will be our best bet to compete on a global stage.

Looking west, Bristol is a shining example of how to do it. The region’s design and TV heritage has been invigorated with upgraded digital infrastructure and ample support for its thriving startup community. Numerous industry hubs in the region cultivate a creative, knowledge-sharing community which bridges the realms of technology and creativity – and I am proud to say that Zone is a part of that.

But Bristol is by no means the only part of the country where this can happen. Manchester’s media credentials and Cambridge’s burgeoning reputation for AI mean two more rich talent pools for business and government to tap. Nesta identified a total of 47 ‘creative clusters’ around the UK, proving just how much more potential there is to be found.

The strategy is a strong starting point, and one which rightly ties business interests to the country’s future success. The next step is to bring the creatives on board as well.

Jon Davie is chief executive at Zone

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