Viability of Digital Derry questioned

AN evaluation of the bid to expand the digital content sector in the city has praised the energy of Londonderry Digital Champion Mark Nagurski but questioned the long-term sustainability of the initiative and suggested governance needs to be tightened up.

A check on the progress of the whole Digital Derry project found that all the targets set out in a funding letter of offer were achieved or exceeded and that much of this was down to Mr Nagurksi.

But the long-term sustainability of the scheme has been questioned. Northern Ireland Business and Innovation Centre (Noribic) which conducted the evaluation, said self financing models should be considered in future.

Last year the Sentinel reported how Mr Nagurski reckoned he needed to find £5m - probably from private sector investors - to create 100 new digital companies in the city by 2015.

“It is a back-of-an-envelope calculation, but 100 companies with £50,000 of seed money each is £5 million. I guess that the public sector in Northern Ireland will not write us a cheque for £5 million, although I would appreciate it, in which case we need to figure out where that money will come from,” he told an Assembly Committee.

Now Noribic has submitted its final evaluation report to Derry City Council, Digital Derry’s authorising body.

It suggested the governance and structure of Digital Derry’s Digital Action Team needs to be tightened up and its role as an ‘impartial broker’ must be maintained.

Several weaknesses were also found such as in the area of data collection. So much so that “measuring and verifying some of the output metrics was not possible.”

Another weakness was the level of engagement with schools.

The report, which has been presented to the Derry City Council Development Committee, stated: “One of the activities in the original action plan that was less successful was the engagement with schools.”

The report also said that whilst Mr Nagurski attended many regional, national and international conferences, promoting Digital Derry, the delivery of feedback from these events could be improved.

“Post event dissemination of information to Digital Action Team Members and digital businesses could be improved,” the report found.

It also stated that: “More integration is required as several organisations in Derry operate within the digital and creative sectors.

“These organisations regularly deliver initiatives and host events and these should be co-ordinated and timetabled under the Digital Derry banner to maximise the benefit to the city.”

Equally, Digital Derry must have the support of its partners and stakeholders.

“Its activities must be seen as complementary to existing provision and expertise and ensure that there is no duplication of service. Digital Derry must be transparent and not seen as setting up ‘in opposition’ to existing organisations,” the evaluation stated.

Notwithstanding this critique “sector animation and promotion was undoubtedly a success” and Digital Derry “created a very tangible buzz which has accelerated the growth of the sector.”

A high level of activity in the city, and beyond, was also reported over the last 18 months.

And the report stated: “Much of this success has been down to the enthusiasm and energy of the Digital Champion, Mark Nagurski.”

It added: “All of the targets outlined in the Letter of Offer were achieved or exceeded for number of events, website hits and media profile.”

The project team also developed additional activities (Seed Comp and Creative Industry Innovation Fund) and leveraged additional funding which in turn reaped additional outputs and added value to the project.

The report also suggested the continuing promotion and development of last year’s Culture Tech conference as an international event such as the world famous SxSW festival in the United States. It said Digital Derry’s brand was very strong and should be exploited.

“Sustainability post funding is a real issue and self financing models need to be explored. If Culture Tech was be expanded and developed carefully into an international event along the lines of SxSW, there is the opportunity to derive significant surplus to maintain some of the Digital Derry activities post funding,” it says.

“The Digital Derry brand is very strong and consideration must be given to how this is further developed and exploited. The dropping of the Digital Derry brand from activities such as Culture Tech is a lost opportunity to make a recognisable brand impact,” the report concluded.