Remarks not made

We’ve just come to the end of the National Digital Forum‘s annual conference, NDF2013. I’m on the board for NDF and organised this year’s conference. It was a true privilege; I wasn’t alone and worked with some wonderful and deeply committed people (you all know who you are I hope) and had the delight to meet four wonderful keynote speakers from the US, UK and the Netherlands, and a whole host of speakers and attendees from New Zealand and Australia.

At the start of the conference I had planned to offer up a few things that have buzzed around my head over the last however-many months. Running out of time, I left it all out, but here’s what I would have said. Short and I hope to the point.

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It feels a bit like we’re close to a tipping point. Maybe it’s that there are now enough people doing enough work in the digital area, and digital is now so infused in how society operates, that we’re on the cusp of real change.

I’m thinking of work like Te Papa’s recent commitment to make 10,000 images available for free download and re-use this fiscal. Sure, some will say 10,000 is a drop in the bucket when you think abuot a collection like Te Papa’s, let alone the combined collections of all New Zealand collecting institutions.

But it’s a start, and a hugely significant start at that. So big ups to them.

Who’s going to follow? Who isn’t? Or are we on the verge of the great openness wars of the 21st century where institutions vie to release more open content than other institutions?

There has to be a point to all this, and to my mind the point is simple: we’re here to make people’s lives better, now and in the future. We have to be thinking of people – our users – in every decision we make. We’re here to enrich their experiences, give them stronger and deeper experiences with their culture, their communities, their stories and their histories.

As anyone who’s tried will tell you, measuring the value of our work is fraught with difficulties. Simon Tanner will address that with greater insight than me later this morning, but I’d like to share this quote.

It’s from Ganesh Nana’s chapter in Max Rashbrooke’s book, Inequality: A New Zealand crisis:

…it is difficult to escape the conclusion that much of our decision-making remains driven by narrow financial analysis based on monetary measure of benefits and costs.

It’s on us as a sector to take on that kind of thinking and argue for a much broader concept of value. We need to argue for – if not fight for – a definition that includes the worth of our work and its contribution to cultural and social well-being. And beyond that we need to take seriously the contribution our work makes to a more equitable society.

There are perhaps times when we all question why we work in this sector, rather than chase money in the private sector or follow a more lucrative career. But our work has an effect, a direct effect on people – user and communities, groups who put their trust in us to guard and protect their taonga, people who draw on us for education, inspiration and a sense of belonging.

We serve our communities and we believe that serving them improves their lives. That’s why we do what we do.

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As I said, it was a wonderful conference and many of the speakers said much more on some of the ideas above than I could ever hope to. My deepest thanks to all who contributed so much.