North West (by North) Digital Communities

The Manchester Mark I - first stored program digital computer (c. 1949). From the University of Manchester, Computer Science Dept

The Manchester Mark I - first stored program digital computer (c. 1949).

It seems I’m spending increasingly more of my free time at that brilliant space known as the Manchester Digital Laboratory. Last Wednesday night, the, erm, Madlab played host to a meeting of North West Digital Communities (NWDC), and I went along to fly the flag for the Social Media Café.

NWDC is a forum that brings together the leaders of digital communities in the north west, with the aim of improve the local digital community by sharing resources and pooling ideas.

These communities are incredibly diverse, representing a wide-range of tech interests; technology users groups; communications and small business. It’s also true to say that there is huge overlap and many people involved in one of the communities will be involved in at least one other. Colleagues from Geekup, Madlab, Manchester Free Software, Manchester BSD group and others were all in attendance.

One of the things discussed at the meeting though was NWDC’s lack of ‘visibility’. Though collectively representing easily hundreds of members, groups don’t know that they’re part of a wider community. This means it’s harder to know about other events happening locally in a similar sphere and can potentially lead to overlap or new groups being created when getting involved with existing communities could provide access to an instant pool of interested individuals.

Groups at NWDC also have one huge thing in common – many people who attend are freelancers, small businesses owners or employees,  or social enterprises. To some extent, this sets it apart from larger trade bodies like Manchester Digital (who are of course NWDC members but operate in a different way).

With better profile and visibility, NWDC could act as a collective voice for these groups who are often under-represented when it comes to influencing the local digital business community within which they operate. Larger businesses are potentially able to allocate time and resources to influencing change, through membership of Manchester Digital particularly. Small businesses and freelancers might find that more difficult to justify, particularly when any sort of paid-for membership often demands tangible value for their return on investment.

This is definitely a view with which I personally strongly agree. Amongst those who were able to attend, it seemed there was also a clear enthusiasm for improving the profile of NWDC, by cross-promoting it to their groups and exploring how it can better serve its members through its collective membership, bearing in mind the above.

One of the first steps will be to better implement and publicise a shared calendar of events. Development of a common, open-source platform for user groups in the region (and beyond) is also being explored. These volunteer-led activities from a group made up totally of volunteers with a passion for the region, for region and for digital are a very obvious example of ‘return on investment’.

Finally, many of us this week are longingly/jealously reading tweets emanating from Austin, Texas; attending the NWDC meeting reminded me of the diversity of talent that we have in Manchester, which makes it a natural destination for anyone interested in digital technology, communications and enterprise.

Perhaps we don’t need a glitzy festival of music and digital innovation – we’re surrounded by our own constant and limitless supply of both! We are, perhaps cringingly, our own continuous  Northwest by North…

Do you have any ideas about how North West Digital Communities could raise its profile? Want to get more involved or hear about what it does? Leave a comment below and visit their website to sign-up for email notifications.