ICT Toronto is (for now) a two-year project funded by the City of Toronto to develop the information and communications technology industry as a key sector in the Toronto region, with the following vision:
Toronto will become, and be acknowledged globally, as one of the 5 most innovative, creative and productive locations in the world for ICT research, education, business and investment by 2011.
As Joey noted today, judging from the web site and news presence not much has happened since the announcement in April:
It’s almost five months later, and it appears that not much has happened. I haven’t seen a press release since the one for their launch party, and a Google News search for “ICT Toronto” ends up without any results.
Joey goes on to lay it on the line:
In the meantime, Toronto’s techies, without any of the money or manpower earmarked for ICT Toronto have held 4 DemoCamps and a BarCamp, events which have gone a long way to fostering a sense of community and cooperation in the local tech scene. And of course, actually building information and communication technologies, something the suits seem to have completely overlooked.
This is hardly surprising. Silicon Valley was born of good circumstances coupled with the grassroots efforts of ambitious techies doing what they loved, not by government/business fiat. I’d call ICT Toronto a bunch of pointless martini-swilling stuffed shirts, but that’s an insult to martinis and dress shirts, both of which I happen to like.
David, Jay and I were invited to join ICT Toronto as “members” (really an ad-hoc advisory committee) back in June, which I blogged about here. Well, I attended my second breakfast meeting (no martinis, just mediocre coffee and croissants) yesterday sitting on behalf of Toronto’s BarCamp community, and wanted to share some progress, my thoughts and possible future directions. After the jump…
First of all, as with any government initiative, things definitely do not move in web time. Reality check for all unconference attending, blogging, Web 2.0, tagging, social media consuming Gen-X geeks and Millennials…. the grey-haired folks we know we need (for their experience, investment and wisdom) don’t live in our world. Have you tried explaining to your dad what BarCamp is? How’d that go?
Also, I have to say that Alicia Bulwik, the City’s economic development point person on the project, and several others in attendance do understand that they need the community: the young, the creative, the innovators.
What’s missing is that as a group they don’t have the policy “hooks” for community. This is not surprising, as the question of how government can engage with diffused communities of interest, communities of practice and ethnic and geographic communities is a difficult problem to solve. The aspirations are huge, but resources are limited for now. But the problem is solvable and inexpensive, thanks in part to the BarCamp ethos and social media practices.
What’s being done?
- Benchmarking Study (where does Toronto rank in the world)
- Marketing Program development (Toronto as preferred location for large companies)
- ICT Toronto Business Plan development (what is ICT Toronto, it’s role and how will it achieve its stated goals)
The Benchmarking Study is important, because the vision is for Toronto to be #5 in the world, but we don’t know where we rank today. The Marketing Program is expected and unremarkable, focused as it is on attracting technology companies to locate in the region – just like every other economic development department in every major city in the world. And yes, a real web site is part of the plan. They are also looking to set up an “Ambassadors” program to enable people who can volunteer a small amount of their time and attention while traveling around the world to make the case for Toronto as a place to locate. The boldest idea is to have an “ICT festival”, which could be great or a great disappointment, depending on how it’s done. A series of coordinated and exciting technology events around the region is an interesting idea, but it needs content in order to prevent it from just being lame. This is where culture and community have important roles to play.
In addition there was a presentation by Bill Hutchison, Chair of the i-Waterfront Advisory Council, on plans for ultra-broadband (1-10 GB/s) communities and a major digital media industry hub in the waterfront redevelopment zone.
ICT Toronto Business Plan:
The consultants developing the Business Plan, TSI Inc., presented a preliminary framework for a business plan. What is ICT Toronto? It is not another industry association, it shouldn’t duplicate anything already existing. It is heading toward a private-public partnership funded by government and industry, eventually with a CEO and staff working towards the stated vision. The consultants were looking for input into the plan. What should be its priority activities? What would demonstrate a quick success? What is the preferred startup mode? What would allow ICT Toronto to gain the financial and in-kind support from the private sector it needs to make a real impact?
What Should ICT Toronto Become?
I made as impassioned a plea as I could muster for the need for ICT Toronto to define itself as a convening body for the various communities of practice, interest and geography that make up the technology scene in the Toronto region. Developing an organizational and governance structure, hiring a CEO, getting funding in place are all important in the long run. But activity cannot wait for that infrastructure if ICT Toronto wants to achieve its goals in its stated timeframe…it will simply be too late.
Meanwhile, various communities of practice like BarCamp and others are doing great things on a daily basis around the region that create excitement, exchange knowledge and connect innovators to experience, talent and capital. These communities are important partners and strategic levers that can support the achievement of the vision. ICT Toronto needs to tap into them, support them and bring them together.
What is a Quick Win?
The best way to startup such an undertaking and create some excitement that draws in the various stakeholders to a collective project is to convene the communities and companies in a major forum, using Open Space or unconference methods to allow the passionate citizens of the community to participate, set priorities and pool resources. ICT Toronto cannot set a top-down direction without bottom-up legitimacy and support. Bringing everybody together is a first step towards a coherent strategy and plans for the future.
How Can ICT Toronto be Resourced?
ICT Toronto needs to define its value proposition to the large companies and government partners that can bring financial support and to the communities that can provide legitimacy, excitement, new ideas and in-kind support. In order to do this, mapping the value exchanges between the various actors in the ecosystem would be a good start to define that value proposition. Convening the companies and communities in a major forum offers the opportunity to articulate that value proposition. ICT Toronto should not be a charity, it needs to worth investing in and have a business case to support itself.
One of the committee members is looking for volunteers to help define the content of the ICT Toronto web site. A group will be coming together on October 19th to do a workshop on the Business Plan, and I plan to contribute to that. The next meeting of the ad-hoc ICT Toronto committee will be November 30th, post the municipal election.
One of my recommendations for right now is for ICT Toronto to invite members of the Toronto technology blogging community together to learn more about what is underway, engage their creative energy and create an ongoing line of communication that can further engage the communities that follow these influential bloggers:
Joey deVilla, David Crow, Jay Goldman, Mark Evans, Rob Hyndman, Mathew Ingram, Michael McDerment, Robert Oulette, Stuart MacDonald, Tom Purves, Rick Segal, Bryce Johnson
It is by embracing the emerging and established leaders of the Toronto technology community and their energy that ICT Toronto will be able to do something that is worth talking about. Otherwise, it risks becoming irrelevant in a very competitive world, where cities around the world are attempting similar strategies in this sector.