It’s tricky to find a way of discussing Brexit positively that doesn’t descend into confusion, fantasy free trade or worse, ranting, recriminations and refighting the campaign.  In Newcastle last night 30 people from the region’s digital sector played a new ‘Back to the Brexit’ game that gave the audience a vehicle to talk positively about the future.  The session at Campus North was convened by Thinking Digital and GeneratorNE (thanks to Herb, Jim and Emma in particular) and as part of my work on Brexit and the digital sphere for Carnegie UK Trust.  It follows on from sessions in Cardiff and London.

I gave a short introductory talk setting the scene (the Supreme Court decision had been that morning) – slides here. Then I set a ‘Back to the Brexit’ thought experiment for the group:

Imagine it is about five years after Brexit – say 2023.  All EU funding has stopped (a big issue in the North East that can dominate discussion).  You each have to answer three questions:

What do you hope the digital sector in the North East will look like in 2023?

What would be your advice from 2023 to an 18 year-old leaving school today in 2017?

From a 2023 perspective, what actions do you wish that the government had taken from 2017 onwards?

We set people off for 30 minutes with PostIts to write answers, a board for each question and, crucially some beers and coffee.  We asked them to chat to each other with strictly no refighting the campaign.  Then reconvened as a group around each board and discussed people’s suggestions – which were a strong mix as below.  People seemed to enjoy it, several said it was the first time they had had a chance to discuss Brexit creatively and positively, even if they hadn’t backed Brexit themselves.  Thanks to everyone who took part for a good humoured, constructive session.

If you like the model and would like me to run one of these with you drop me a line or just blatantly copy it, which I am sure people will do anyway – but it would be nice if you could acknowledge me and let me know how it goes though in the comments below.

Here are the suggestions people shared on their PostIts (any errors are mine in transcribing):

What do you hope the digital sector in the NE will look like in 2023?

Build on what we are already working towards

Sustainable innovative hub

Network of small indy experts in support of each other

Lots of companies trying to get on and share to the benefit of them and their customers

It’s not going anywhere, let’s make it better

Smart industries re0imagine manufacturing through digital tech

Supporting research and academia

Biggest success story of brexit

Become more competitive globally on digital services

Vibrant diverse range of businesses supporting a growing recognition of region as outstanding international hub

Vibrant SME sector in the NE

Bigger better visible, the busiest and most profitable post brexit sector

Self sustaining

Long term, stable local job creation

Replace ESF with HMG money

Digital user experience technologies creating empowering experiences

More companies locating here

More digital design opportunities

Cosmopolitan society with people from all over the world

A large proportion of local people employed in the sector

Philanthropic money, rather than relying on EU funding

World leader in tech and digital

Digital is pervasive neologism

Better than having remained

British owned digital companies

Lots of scalable digital companies securing global markets

Sharing and collaborative approach – less siloed

Agility and creativity from organisations (currently) dependent upon European funding

Innovative, creative, world-leading, competitive, collaborative

Biggest industrial contribution to the NE economy

Coherent, tight-knit collaborative cluster

Retain our digital talent, trained locally

Leveraging local talents and resources

Not just sustainable but profit making and possibly research-rich and led

Partnerships between government/universities and tech organisations

Ambitious and confident

Don’t think of ‘digital scene’ – everything is digital and ‘scenes’ are transitory

Be brilliant and bore people with greatness !

Bigger, more sustainable

Strong, integrated and connected sector, clustered in a geographical location


Advice from 2023 to an 18yo leaving school today in 2017

Do a degree apprenticeship

Learn coding, leanr how to work w techies

Learn and keep learning – business skills, languages, digital specialisms

Collaborate and share ideas

Get industrial placement experience

Keep study options broad – don’t specialise too soon, be creative

Find your niche, go global

Learn to code and feed your passions

Get plenty of work experience in different types of organisation

Learn foreign language because mainland Europe has stopped speaking English

Follow STEM disciplines, acquire some digital skills

Whatever your subject do a law conversaion course – lawyers and accountants will always have work

Learn leadership skills early on

Learn about bots and AI

Crossover – IT and something else

Travel (x3)

Develop your identity as a global and local citizen

Learn to code – even if you don’t do it as a job (x2)

Do an apprenticeship (x2)

Take languages and cultures seriously – have at least one other language (x4)

Have/develop/learn hard and soft tech skills

Be interested in current affairs

Be curious

Develop problem solving/critical thinking skills

Work hard

Consider international university/tech courses outside UK

Learn and play. Get good at what you do.

Develop your soft skills

Do practical vocational skills

Move to San Francisco

Expand your networks

You get what you give, keep on persevering

Be excellent at solving problems

Become the best you can in what you love. If you are good at what you do you will have work.


Actions for the government from 2017, reflecting a 2023 post Brexit perspective:

Replace ERDF money with UK regeneration fund

Invest in digital infrastructure

Listen to the sector – really listen and take action based on key messages

More control over levers of change at a regional level: regulation, tax incentives, investment, borrowing

Realise that digital permeates all industry now – tech is a thread that keeps business moving

Theresa May – live a day in our lives

Understand success stories

Listen to experts and those in the industry

Significantly increase the number of tech visas

Investment in digital skills/capabilities/training/r&d

Dictate the terms of the UK leaving the EU. Take the approach that the UK will be stronger outside EU

Reform school curriculum to completely embed digital – make UK a world leader in this

Invest real money into tech sector and skills in the North East as well as the North West

Make funds accessible direct rather than through quango bodies

Realise everything will be digital

Use Brexit as opportunity to provide significant investment in digital and physical infrastructure to support business

Understand and appreciate differences in the regions

Reduce red tape

Invest in education

Visit the North East and talk to businesses and sector bodies NOT the LEP or academics

Put it all on black – be brave

Make sure the education system allows lads to experiment with their skills and expectations

Jurgen Maier should be based in 10 Downing Street

Devolve power from central government

Ensure access to Digital Single Market

Encourage young entrepreneurs and student exchanges

Invest in infrastructure – give people a reason to live here (in North East)

Invest in education

Break up BT

Develop graphene based IP

Embrace the value of IP

Allow for the free movement of the right talent into and out of the region

Get involved in European non-EU organisations such as BEREC

Fund FE and HE establishments by replacing EU funding to ensure that tech skills remain in the UK

Measure and recognise the scale of the digital sector to the economy

Create spaces for companies to start at no/low cost.

Agree a free trade and open borders deal with Donald J Trump

Ring fence ERDF funding for business support

Tell the truth, answer questions

Fireside chats with tech firms – to bring a rounded understanding



Original source – Talk About Local

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