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Monday, November 26, 2012
From One Community to a Smart Region, Part 1

clientuploads/Images/Scot Rourke 6-09.jpgBy Scot Rourke, CEO, OneCommunity and ICF's 2008 Visionary of the Year

It has been four years since I had the great honor of being recognized as the Intelligent Community Forum’s Visionary of the Year. When I received that award, ICF’s Robert Bell very kindly noted my rigorous and entrepreneurial approach to solving some of the industry’s most difficult challenges, and lauded my efforts to "share hard-fought lessons learned."

clientuploads/Images/VisionaryVoices-180.gifWe at OneCommunity have been at it for about nine years.  Starting with a volunteer label and some in-kind donations, our non-profit broadband network and programs to promote adoption have grown to more than $100MM in assets, with millions of annual recurring revenue to ensure our long-term sustainability.  We cover a service territory consisting of 5 million people with a GDP of 170 billion USD.  Our unique open-network strategy, in which we share our digital super highway with phone and cable companies, is also beginning to provide resources to sustain our ambitious programs aimed at accelerating the use of IT to benefit society.  In fact, if you visit Cleveland, Ohio, there’s a good chance you’ll use our free WiFi at the airport or that your iPad or iPhone will be powered by us (and our partners).

So now that we've exceeded our aspirational goals from 2008, what's next?  Well, we are focusing on ensuring that the community fully utilizes the network and seizes the opportunity to leverage it for competitive advantage.  For example, we’ve just launched a new “Smart Region” task force consisting of top public- and private-sector leaders.  Our aim is to start learning, informing, and aligning regional planning efforts and investments to leverage this important new capability.  We are aided by the fact that we have fiber already connecting thousands of our public-interest sites.  Now we are looking at ways to catalyze plans for collaboration, sharing of systems, coordinating resources for new efficiencies and prompting innovation.

In my Visionary address in 2008, I made three key suggestions for my vision on how to best leverage technology to improve a community’s competitiveness.  As I look back at them, I’m pleased to say that I’ve validated those points but want to enrich them with subsequent “lessons learned.”

First, the starting point needs to be a strong vision that illustrates an exciting end-state of what the avid use of technology could help produce.  Be sure to highlight your unique assets and emphasize the future role you’ll play in the global economy.  Try to hide the technology, and instead weave your top stakeholders’ proper names right into the vision of what could be, as your real goal is to use this as a tool to inspire and mobilize local leaders.  Ultimately it’s best when the examples go all the way down to how it impacts John Q. Public’s life. 

My second suggestion is to look at your community holistically as a regional system. Examine your assets and competencies, and the areas where you may fall short. It doesn’t matter who owns or controls them, or whether they’re public or private. It's not as if organizations like to be standing in the wrong place. You just need to coalesce on a bigger picture, and start moving your group toward some shared targeted outcomes.

For example, many digital-inclusion efforts focus on a single challenge and don't link community solutions together. Simply addressing broadband access or affordability barely scratches the surface of the real issues. True transformation only happens when you simultaneously align high-speed access with user devices, the skills to use them, and meaningful applications that drive positive outcomes and recurring use.  Today's top social and economic issues are complex, and it will take a collective of top stakeholders at various levels, public and private, with shared measurable targets to start solving some of these pressing challenges.

For example, when we won one of the largest federal grants ever made for digital inclusion, we did not just plow into it by making our organization a large trainer. Instead, we partnered with the region's best training organizations and shared 80 percent of the grant to build their capacities. Together we developed numerous different computing solutions, affordable access options, and continuously shared best practices.  As a result, we have exceeded our quantitative and even qualitative goals, having trained and equipped more than 30,000 low-income households on how to use the Internet for better jobs and quality of life. These new regional skills-development competencies and capacities are certain to far outlast our initial grant period.

The third critical element as you develop your customized approach is the realization that this is not a technology project at all, but rather a large change-management project.  I have always looked at tech-led transformation as a pyramid where you have to align people, process and technology.  It’s this alignment that drives the targeted outcomes we all seek.  And I believe technology has matured to a point where the emphasis needs to be on the people part, especially early on in the journey. 

So that’s the approach. In my next Visionary Voices blog post, we will share our “secret sauce”: the critical success factors that mark the ultimate difference between triumph and failure. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck on this ambitious journey and hope you too will share your lessons learned along the way.

Read more Guest blogs in Visionary Voices.

Monday, November 12, 2012
After the Election, Is Government Still the Problem?

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Bell-NameCaptionFL-4.gifI seldom write about American politics, because our readers come from all around the globe.  But I hope I may be excused this once, because our multi-billion dollar election made news worldwide.

President Obama and Governor Romney said repeatedly that the election offered voters a clear choice about the country's direction, and the voters have spoken, re-electing the president by a convincing margin.

What was it they said?  I turn to the words of New York Times columnist and author David Brooks in an editorial on the future of the Republican Party in a century when its traditional base is shrinking and ethnic minorities are the new majority: 

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Images/Latino-Vote.gif“The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.

“Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it

“Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.

“For these people…when they hear Romney talk abstractly about Big Government vs. Small Government, they think: He doesn’t get me or people like me.”

Scale this national message down to the size of a town, city or region, and you have the essence of the Intelligent Community movement.  The only path forward is together.  Government working with business and institutions, using ICT to leverage our economic potential and forging a 21st Century solution for prosperity, social inclusion and cultural richness.  One of our biggest challenges is the one Mr. Brooks points out: that higher productivity and greater innovation no longer automatically lead to a higher standard of living for most.  What can we do about that one?  (For ICF’s suggestions, see our free white paper, Innovation and Employment in the Intelligent Community)

The choice in this American election was between an exhausted bit of orthodoxy – that government is always wrong – and a more mature appreciation of the complexities of the age we live in.  They call for new ideas, more imaginative solutions, and the willingness – most of all at the local level – to roll up our sleeves together and get to work.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Community as Canvas: Do Intelligent Communities Save Souls?

“They can because they think they can.” – Virgil

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaptionFL.gifNovember 6  - The Intelligent Community Forum would like to thank everyone who sent messages of concern, called and offered assistance during Sandy’s assault on our home.  It is good to know that we have so many friends and followers everywhere.  Your email or voice was a pleasant relief.  I am proud to say that our offices were open the day after the storm, and with the exception of our Randall Barney, who was still without power in New Jersey as of today, we were mainly inconvenienced, while our Internet connections never went down.  (Randy somehow has made it into the office every day since the storm.  Such is his commitment to excellence. )   

The days before the storm were eventful, but in a more positive way.  Robert and John were in Moscow and Europe respectively promoting the movement.  On 21 October I was in Riverside, California to announce the world’s new Smart21.  These 21 communities are now under study and in contention to succeed Riverside as Intelligent Community of the Year.  This year’s Smart21 is a somewhat eclectic group.  Surprises include a handful of really small communities, as well as some firsts: the first Intelligent Community in Albania and our first from New Zealand.  You can read more about them on the website

I left Riverside with the city’s Chief Innovation Officer, Steve Reneker, and Dr. Rick Miller, Superintendent of Riverside Unified School District, in tow.  We converged far from the San Bernardino mountains and orange trees of the Inland Empire at the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community on the Ohio campus of Walsh University.  There, a symposium named after our new book and in honor of Riverside, “Seizing Our Destiny,” brought ICF’s mission to a new level. 

North Canton, Ohio (USA) is not the first place you think of when you think of the Intelligent Community movement.  However, it is precisely the type place where the re-energizing of communities is emerging. 

Our first Symposium at an ICF Institute was as beautiful as the Walsh campus, and offered yet another way for us to challenge communities.  The focus was education.  I would be disingenuous if I told you that the current educational system, and its ability to enable the type of knowledge workforce that you and I know will be needed to create wealth in this century, has much merit.  Very talented people assured us things are changing.  Fast. Thanks to Richard Jusseaume, president of Walsh and Jacqueline DeGarmo, the Executive Director of the Institute, another ICF dialogue to delve into this issue is launched.   Thanks to Logan Smalley of TED-Ed to Dr. Norm Jacknis of Cisco to Lev Gonick, the innovative CIO of Case Western University and a founder of OneCommunity, the table was set for a wild ride from end-to-end on this subject.  I am excited about this Institute.  It is taking form like a canvas.  It is a progressive act, made new each day.  It is a step toward the unknown, which makes it very exciting.

I am provoked by another question that has been raised by the presence of our Institute.  Walsh University is a unique place, which adheres to values that are as steady, reliable and resolved as any to which the human community has allowed itself to bear witness.  It is an easy place to respect because it  practices what it claims to believe.  As a place holding an international dialogue on the workforce, it was named one of the best colleges in America to work.  One international advisor, visiting the ICF Institute for the first time, said, “This is a warm place.” 

clientuploads/Images/Walsh U (ICF Institute temporary site).jpgIt is intellectually heating up too.  No fewer than five Nobel Prize recipients, including Elie Weisel and Mother Theresa, thought enough of it to visit.  It represents the balance which defines the American Midwest.  At one end of the campus sits a beautiful chapel, called Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  At the other, which has blossomed to 21 buildings in less than 12 years, stands the Birk Center for the Arts, (shown at right) a new facility and temporary home to ICF’s Institute.  Soon another new facility, the $12 million Center for Transformative Learning, will rise.  It will serve as the ICF Institute’s permanent site. 

The chapel and the Birk Center peer at each other.  In between them, questions about the connection between faith, community and knowledge are asked and, as questions of this nature do, sting before they soothe.  I am asked repeatedly what “ICF and broadband have to do with saving souls.”

I answer that making the communion of people – we call it community – more vibrant and assured, better educated and in pursuit of its true economic and social destiny will certainly lead to places  where the contemplation of salvation, in all its mystery and however defined, will replace the question I once got from clueless mayors, which went something like this: “Tell me what this broadband and Intelligent Community stuff have to do with filling my potholes.”

I rarely get that one any longer.  Saving souls, however, is one I can deal with.  It comes from aspiring people, those who are capable of building an Intelligent Community.

Monday, October 29, 2012
Guest Blog: The Google eTown Award is Monctonís Latest Honor

clientuploads/Images/Ben Champoux.gifBy Ben Champoux, former Business Development Specialist for the City of Moncton, now leading the Department of Tourism & Culture

Thanksgiving Day in Canada is always the perfect time for me to reflect on how blessed and grateful I am to live in the great City of Moncton on the East Coast of Canada.  I must say that I’m not from Moncton.  In 1998, my friends laughed when I told them I was leaving Montreal to move to Moncton.  So why Moncton?  Simply put, because of its ‘can-do attitude’. 

I never get bored of telling the ‘Moncton Story’.  In less than 25 years, Moncton transformed itself from a blue-collar manufacturing town with an uncertain future to one of the fastest growing cities and most diversified economies in Canada.  Back in the ‘80s, the closing of the major employer, CN Shops, was devastating to the local economy.   Unemployment skyrocketed to record highs and every second building in the downtown was boarded up.  Today, employment is strong, construction activity is having banner years, and Moncton is the fifth fastest growing centre in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. 

So how did Moncton do it?  Not a simple answer, but there is no doubt that a solid collaboration between all stakeholders and a well-planned marketing strategy were two key ingredients to a successful recipe.  I was not living in Moncton in the ‘80s, so I always wondered how the community leaders at the time successfully marketed a city with record high unemployment levels, a 50% vacancy rate in its downtown and a workforce that did not have the perfect skillsets to embrace the growing digital economy.   But they did it.  They worked together, took their destiny into their own hands and implemented the changes that had to happen in order to get back on track and embrace the digital economy.  That’s what I mean about a ‘can-do attitude’. 

Promoting Moncton today is much easier, as the community leaders simply focus on concrete actions and leave it to others to tell the world how great is Moncton.  In 2009, the ICF named Moncton one of its Top7 Intelligent Communities, which set us on the path to gaining the global recognition we might never have dared seek before.  Since then, many others have acknowledged Moncton’s ’can-do attitude’. 

The Google eTown Award is the latest in a long list of honours the City of Moncton has received over the past few years.  Last Wednesday, representatives from Google Canada were at City Hall to present Moncton with its Google eTown Award.   This award is designed to recognize those cities where small businesses are investing in online tools and resources to find new customers, grow their business, and improve their operations.  Google looked at hundreds of cities and towns across Canada to identify one in each of five regions that demonstrated strong engagement and potential for growth in the digital economy.  Some of the criteria were local businesses utilization of some of Google’s business products including, Google AdWords, the Canada Get Your Business Online initiative, and products such as Google Apps for Business.  This is another award that clearly demonstrates Moncton’s ‘can-do attitude’.   I could not be more grateful and proud of the City that I now call home.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Community as Canvas: Connecting Things

Creativity is just connecting things. – Steve Jobs

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaptionFL.gifIt was nothing.  Just a tall podium made from solid, dark wood from the forests of Germany.  Yet I felt immediately moved and humbled standing next to the desk of the great German writer, Johann Goethe.  As you can see in the photograph, I was in the writing room of his meticulously preserved home in the heart of Frankfurt, Germany (a Smart21 community in 2012).  Here, I thought, extraordinary acts of imagination daily met the hard work required to shape something new and often courageous.

https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/Goethes Desk (LZ blog) Oct 15 12.jpgWhen I touched the raised, wooden podium, where gems like Faust were cobbled together I reminded myself that Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Donald Rumsfeld also wrote standing on their feet at desks like this one.  Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”  I did NOT see an immediate connection among these four distinguished lives, nor the connection between imagination and community revival.  Not at first.

His podium was simple and empty.  It awaited imagination and celebration.  Having written for a living for much of my professional life, I know that it also awaited effort.  Hard work.  Without effort, enormous effort, there would be no celebration.  No status.  “Celebration” is not a process, it is a reward.  Whether writing a poem or returning a community back to its rightful place, the joy is usually in the doing.  This empty podium had been a benign conspirator in the production of great works of imagination.  The works of imagination crafted in this musty, tidy room live proudly in German culture, and especially the city of Frankfurt.  It is a source of pride and inspiration to its artists and citizens.  Culture flourishes here, alongside the persistent expansion of its financial center and its IT entrepreneurial core.  Whatever goes forward in Frankfurt has the gift of looking back when necessary.

This artist gave the city a chance to realize its destiny as both an artistic center and a place of commerce.  Today, Frankfurt is decidedly an intelligent community and home to the new European Central Bank complex.  It is a balanced economy and a sane place.  I use an old cliché to describe it: the trains run on time.  So do the trams.  If the schedule says a street tram will arrive five minutes past the hour, set your digital watch to it.  It will be there.

In a few days I will be in Riverside, California (“The City of Art and Innovation”) to name our new Smart21.  These 21 communities will be added to our international list of alumni.  The day each is named (21 October), they will become Intelligent Communities.  Each will have reinforced its success and set out to prove that it deserves to go to the next phase of the Awards program.  They will be acknowledged for having entered a new era.  Like Goethe’s podium, they will be ripe with history, with few exceptions.  They will also remain blank slates when it comes to the future and are wise to understand a lesson from a long deceased writer in Frankfurt.

That lesson can be heard from the voice of another creative soul, this one with more modern credentials: Albert Einstein.  Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”  I have always intuitively suspected that it is so, and yet I remain challenged to find places that truly honor imagination as an industry, or recognize that it is as essential to the re-energizing of place as broadband.  Certainly I will be making my announcement from such a place.  Riverside does grasp the importance of culture and imagination.  Without it, Riverside, perhaps like Frankfurt after the Second World War, may well have drifted toward irrelevance.  It was headed that way in a hurry. 

With any luck, I will announce the names of 21 other places who will become case studies on what can be done when standing up and thinking on their feet. 

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