Thursday, February 12, 2009

Are we competitors? Or collaborators?

This week I've managed to catch up a little with the Power of Information Taskforce "beta" report, geniously (not a real word) put into a Wordpress site allowing anyone to head over and comment on each section.

Today I also had a quick squint at the Digital Britain interim report - or the executive summary a least. Those of you wanting to check this one out in Wordpress will want to run over to the rather less official version at

Comments and access aside, what struck me was the division in attitude taken by each. On the one hand, the POIT report seems to be about working out how we can start opening the doors, giving people access to data, encouraging experimentation, and shift data from where it's created to where people want it.

On the other hand, the exec summary for the Digital Britain report seems ensconced in the idea that we need to keep up with other countries - or, preferably, lead them in all the league tables we're able to league in.

From experience and instinct, it seems to me that those who are open to collaboration are more likely to a) produce things and b) collaborate again in future. On the other hand, seeing the world as a race just means we worry more about how we're doing in relation to others, rather than in relation to ourselves.

Perhaps, in other words, we're falling behind digitally precisely because we want to keep up with others, rather than work on what actually needs fixing, and what people actually want. Competition gives us excuses, collaboration gives us energy.

If we're going to change things, we need to start seeing everyone - and by this I mean our neighbours, our councillors, our politicians, and our friends in other countries and other industries - as potential energy, as possible links. We need more collaboration, but as long as we think of collaborators as potential competitors in some made-up chart that really doesn't mean anything, we're never going to seize the full potential of those links.

I'm not saying competition is a lie, or isn't sometimes useful. Just that being "better" than others shouldn't be our motivation - we should instead simply try to be better than ourselves.

Progress doesn't care about league tables.

No comments: