The Future of Cognitiv

The Future of Cognitiv

Earlier this month, Cognitiv members, and other businesses with an interest in our sector, gathered at IndyCube for our April meetup. The whole theme of the event was around collaboration, something which is not only a key element of success in business, but one of the cornerstones of the original establishment of Cognitiv as a group in 2014.

At the event I spoke about Cognitiv’s history and also set the tone for a conversation about our future direction, with partnerships at our heart.

Jim Farmery, the Council’s newly appointed sector manager, talked about his first 6 months in the job and summarised some of his initial findings across the district; he spoke about some exciting projects, including a tech accelerator that has been brought to the area, the expansion of the College’s University Centre, Tileyard Studios and further expansion of Production Park. Jim’s a highly-experienced practitioner with national level experience and believes passionately that Wakefield is really going places and we have some amazing opportunities ahead of us.

We also heard from Adrian Spawforth, Chair of Wakefield Bondholders. Bondholders is a membership organisation of Wakefield businesses who also work together to collaborate and facilitate the assistance of the promotion of our district as a great place to visit, live and invest. They have seen amazing growth, from 6 members to over 150 in little over two years, and are now setting up sector marketing groups for the district’s priority sectors, of which creative and digital is one. The idea is that all sectors will be represented, but then report back into a central board who can allocate funds for projects that will benefit not just the individual sectors, but the district as a whole. This unified approach is welcomed and something which has been needed for some time. 

We were then inspired by Andy Green who reinforced the tremendous benefits of creativity in tackling a more complex world and how by utilising our inner creative initiative, and utilising our networks and partnerships, we can develop leaner, faster and more commercially savvy solutions to our future challenges.

The message from all our speakers last night was partnership. And this is highly relevant, because Cognitiv now needs to reflect on its future direction and how partnerships will define our future.

It was 2013 when I first wrote a report, at the request of Wakefield Council, to map out a roadmap for our sector and highlight some of the short, medium and long term challenges. Since then, so much has happened including:

  • The creation of Cognitiv as a vehicle to bring a unified identity to our sector and foster collaboration, representation and promotion;
  • A growing membership of students, individuals, businesses, cultural and educational organisations;
  • Hosting well over 20 well attended creative/digital/business events, including national speakers from Google, Microsoft, the BBC, Tech North and BT – we’ve brought brands to the district who would previously have never come to Wakefield;
  • Supporting Wakefield Business Week - Cognitiv events have consistently been some of the best attended, promoting our sector and you – the members – within it;
  • A partnership with Code Club, a national campaign to facilitate after-school coding clubs at local primary schools to try and support critical skills development in our young people;
  • Strategic links with key cultural organisations including The Hepworth, Theatre Royal Wakefield, The Art House, BEAM and YSP, to facilitate strong partnership working and take advantage of the incredible international reputation we have in the arts;
  • The commission of an external research report to better understand the geospatial configuration of our sector across the district, so future campaigns and policies can be best focused on the needs of members;
  • The development of an employer-led 16 to 18 course at Wakefield College focusing on creative, development and marketing skills for the creative/digital industries to try and boost the number of young people who train for jobs in our sector;
  • Continued engagement with Wakefield College on the development of their digital curriculum in view of the new Advanced Skills and Innovation Centre, to try and steer their curriculum decisions to best support our members and their businesses;
  • Working with partners such as Tileyard Studios to support and promote the redevelopment of Rutland Mills, next to the The Hepworth, which will bring world-class facilities and new businesses to Wakefield;
  • Partnership working with organisations like the Wakefield Cultural Consortium (who have recently secured funding to promote Wakefield’s visitor economy), Wakefield Business Improvement District and Wakefield Bondholders. All of these partnerships are around providing digital expertise to the respective steering groups and opening up procurement opportunities to our members so digital project spend can, where possible, be directed to the local creative and digital community.
  • The appointment of Jim Farmery, a highly experienced national leader in our industry, as Wakefield Council’s sector manager. There is now a senior figure in the Council who is directly shaping their policy agenda to benefit our businesses and future success.

Whilst we should be proud of all of these achievements, there’s also a list as long of things we haven’t managed to complete. The job is not done; we still have challenges around skills and representation, but to better address these issues it is my belief that Cognitiv needs to change and evolve, just as the landscape around us has.

We now have a greater consortium of partners who have a vested interest in our sector and want to support our success. These organisations are providing cross over with the original work of Cognitiv and often have more resources than we do. As Cognitiv is 100% volunteer led and operates with a small budget, we have to always work smart to achieve the best outcomes. We have a small and loyal committee (and always have welcomed new faces) but these people are often involved in our partner organisations, like Bondholder, creating an element of duplication. 

It is the view of the committee that we should explore a greater synergy with our partners, in particular Wakefield Bondholders, as they are delivering elements, such as events and representation (through sector specific working groups), that currently crosses over with our work. They also seek to develop a unified approach across all sectors, which not only provides greater opportunities for collaboration with businesses across the area, but is much more efficient.

With the appointment of Jim Farmery, something Cognitiv has made a strong case for from day one, we now have a dedicated ambassador at the Town Hall who will make the case for our future based on a high level of experience and a great network of contacts.

The consensus at the event was overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of working closely with partners, in particular taking the Cognitiv brand and incorporating this into the new Wakefield Bondholder sector working group for creative, digital & IT, allowing the work of Cognitiv to live on but with a leaner, better and more focused structure.

But critical to our future are the views of you, the members, who have helped to make our current achievements possible.  So today marks the start of a window to hear your views. We understand that any close partnership with another organisation will raise questions, so we want to listen. Please get in touch at with your thoughts and views.

Next month we will then report back with feedback and our recommendation as a committee to the membership. If unchallenged then we will progress to implement these recommendations, but if concerns are raised then we will hold a general meeting, open to all members, to explore these and reach a consensus. 

We should all be proud of what has been achieved in the last four years; we’ve genuinely helped to put our sector on the map and define a better road ahead. However, to maintain progress, it’s critical that we evolve and work closer with our partners – this will not only safeguard the future of Cognitiv, but I am confident it will help us to deal with the challenges that still remain – big issues like skills and infrastructure – faster and more effectively.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your views.

Best wishes,

Dan Conboy