What’s in a name?

When we started looking for a name for Canada’s digital government conference, we had a number of constraints. It needed to be clearly nonpartisan. It needed to balance the aspirational with the practical. It needed to suggest technology. And it needed to be Canadian.

Here’s how we got there.

Neither left nor right

Many of us spend more time interacting with a keyboard than we do with other people. It’s an artifact of the modern digital age. And that little cluster of arrow keys is on every one of them.

Pick a direction.

Those keys remind us that instead of left-leaning or right-leaning politics, we can aspire to progress. This seemed like a good emphasis of our nonpartisan objectives.

Moving things forward

Logo was an early educational programming language. Commands like RT (Right Turn), LT (Left Turn) and FD (Forward) moved a small arrow (called the Turtle in Logo parlance.)

An example of Logo code.

Many a child’s first exposure to computer technology came from Logo, which was designed to be accessible and to produce immediate results, making computers less scary. So it doesn’t hurt that the name Forward 50 (fwd50) is a Logo command to move forward.

50 days, 50 months, 50 years

It’s often hard to balance long-term aspirations with short-term urgency. Innovation is a marathon and a sprint at the same time.

A head start is always helpful.

Because of this, every topic we cover at Fwd50 will consider three timeframes, which is where the 50 comes from:

  • What can we change in 50 days? This may be policy, or culture, or an area of focus. It can even be a hackathon, a quick fix, or a proof of concept. The point is to move fast and test out the riskiest assumptions, applying Lean Startup lessons to government.
  • What can we build in 50 months? Four years is long enough to build a mature platform, have it go through several upgrade cycles, and let others build atop it. It’s also roughly the time between electoral cycles, during which public mandates to work on technology can shift.
  • What do we aspire to in 50 years? The world is changing fast—it’s been just ten years since the introduction of the iPhone, and today we can’t imagine life without the prosthetic brain in our pockets. 50 years is long enough to rethink every aspect of citizenry, from direct democracy, to altered cities, to shifting lifespans, to our relationships with robots and algorithms.

It’s Canadian

Fwd50 is a world-class conference, bringing together speakers and attendees from around the world. But it’s also unmistakably Canadian: Diverse, accessible, and progressive.

There’s a digital maple leaf hidden on every keyboard.

Of course, we aren’t very good at logo design, so we’ll be updating our temporary logo shortly with the help of people who are. We’re a small team, and we run other events (Startupfest, Canada’s largest tech entrepreneurship conference, happens in a couple of weeks.)

Seriously not logo designers.

After that, we’ll spend more time getting the visuals right. At the moment, we’re focused on collecting feedback from hundreds of Canadians (if you haven’t already, let us know your thoughts here.) We’re locking down some amazing speakers (know one? Tell us!) We’re trying to meet all the stakeholders who might help us. And above all, we’re making sure we’re creating an event that strikes the right balance of optimism, urgency, accessibility, and applied innovation.

But at least now you know where the name came from.