Future Screens NI: A Framework to Deliver Opportunity and Growth within the Creative Industries

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According to the most recent data produced by DCMS, the Creative Industries has the most jobs (2.0 million). Growth is also apparent within the Digital Sector which accounts for 1.5 million jobs.  The number of jobs in the Creative Industries increased by 30.6% from 2011: three times the growth rate of employment in the UK overall (10.1%) (DCMS, 2019[1]).  The most recent figures from DCMS show that within Creative Industries, Digital and Telecoms sectors, fewer than 10% of jobs were held by those considered ‘less advantaged’, compared to the UK average of (32.3%)[2].  The Creative industries and the Digital have higher levels of participation of BAME and a greater proportion of employees who were born outside of the UK.  These figures illustrate that capacity exists within the Creative sector to realise diversity and inclusion as exemplified through significant capacity for expansion and some evidence of greater diversity.  That said the challenge of delivering diversity and inclusion persists. 

Nowhere is this challenge more paramount than within the Northern Ireland context.  Northern Ireland represents a society transitioning out of a prolonged conflict.  Growth and expansion within the Creative Industries within the Northern Ireland context presents the opportunity to create employment that transcends beyond the challenges of sectarian divisions and in doing so presents opportunities to those people and communities who have as yet been unable to fully benefit.  Future Screen NI which is a £13mn creative cluster in Northern Ireland funded by the Industrial Strategy via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), as well as the industry has openly identified this challenge and taken measures to resolve it.  These measures although at an early stage of development have the potential to transform both the creative and employment landscape within the NI context. 

The NI Creative Industries Cluster has the potential to be a sustainable creative ecosystem operating at local, national and international levels. It is built upon well-developed resilient and tacit networks and supports, economic, cultural, and social, whilst also having the clear potential for new, exciting and economically sustainable international capabilities. For a region emerging from a period of conflict and social and cultural division and dysfunction, the creative industries sector offers an alternative and successful paradigm for economic attainment, cultural expression, and personal growth. This has generated the potential for the creative industries to provide a more neutral space in a transitional period (outside the accepted cultures of binary opposition), differences between approaches to education and skills across divided communities, and the impact of deindustrialization (especially in working class communities). Whilst recognising that there is need to construct new narratives for the region, which are grounded in the economic, creative, social, and cultural ecology of Northern Ireland, and to bring these stories to the communities where they can most make a difference.

In order to achieve this the project has embarked upon a Future Focused Research and Development Stream with the overall aim of widening participation in the creative industries.  This ambitious endeavour is built upon a partnership developed between the Future Screens NI and the World Building Institute in Los Angeles which is led by Future Technologist, Alex McDowell, also well-known for his role as the Creative Director of the Minority Report.  World building is a design practice which has been applied to significant societal challenges in a variety of contexts including Berlin and Saudi Arabia.  The holistic and collaborative structure which is applied through world building is particularly relevant within the NI context given the unique nature of both the traditional and creative economy, and the significant socio-cultural challenges that persist within a society transitioning from a prolonged conflict.  The location of world building within both organic and fluid narrative presents the potential to devise a new framework which can be applied across a variety of significant challenges which persist including the need to generate a social and cultural dividend alongside economic growth, to build inclusivity and to both generate and share prosperity, particularly within communities and populations considered to be left behind.  The world building approach both identifies and listens to domain expertise that extends beyond the technical knowledge of both design and production generating seeds which can build a framework with the capacity to propel the development of infrastructure, generate and utilise resources, identify and resolve societal or cultural challenges, empower people and build capacity (McDowell, 2019)[3]. The framework will pioneer new technologies with the overall aim of sharing human and financial resources with those who have as yet been excluded.

There are of course already existing examples of good practice within the NI context.  The Gaming industry in NI includes a proliferation of young women entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of technical advances within the region.  The region is also home to a number of unique initiative which have the overall aim of broadening access to the creative industries.  Future Screens NI have funded an initiative with Farset Labs and researchers at Queen’s University Belfast which is exploring the ways in which immersive sound spaces can provide an accessible creative space for disabled musicians.  The region is also home to Paper Owl who developed the children’s TV series Pablo which follows the adventures of a five year old autistic boy. 

The region also has recognised strengths and unrealised potential in VR/AR, Machine Learning and Data Analytics.  Future Screens NI has the potential to act as vehicle to stimulate the creative industries and digital sector in a manner which advances the whole of society whilst recognising the need to apply technology towards addressing economic societal challenges in order to achieve better outcomes for the economy, society and the environment.  The World Building has the potential be extended towards addressing both the local and global challenge of developing technology for good.

Whilst Future Screens NI identified the need to leverage the social and economic dividend from investment in the Creative industries and is developing a mechanism to deliver greater diversity and inclusion building upon the uniqueness of both the expertise and challenges within the region.  There remains the added challenge to government to ensure that data and policy developments keep up.

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/811903/DCMS_Sectors_Economic_Estimates_2018_Employment_report.pdf

[2] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/811903/DCMS_Sectors_Economic_Estimates_2018_Employment_report.pdf

McDowell, A., (2019) Storytelling shapes the future, Journal of Futures Studies 23(3):105-112