The “Moment of Truth” for Intelligent Communities


What do Intelligent Communities know that others do not? The Answer: Epistemic Humility.

I know. It’s cryptic. I’ll explain later.


Intelligent Communities like Espoo (Finland), Dublin (Ohio), Eindhoven (The Netherlands) and the current Intelligent Community of the Year, Tallinn (Estonia) are no longer just “smart cities.” They have gone at least one level higher.  In a new series of Podcasts we ask them when they realized that they had gone from “smart city” to Intelligent Community, and what exactly it means to them. We also ask how they managed to get there.  (Spoiler alert: the ICF Method played a role.)

It is a fascinating, admittedly complex topic to first grasp. Understanding their moment of truth holds the key to success for others.  Maybe for you.  Most places are just unlocking the door to a much greater, more holistic and sustainable economy.  Places are realizing that technology is not enough.  And that it can even be harmful if not properly understood. In his book, Machines of Loving Grace, John Markoff offers this warning, “The same technologies that extend the intellectual prowess of humans can displace them as well.” That too is a moment of truth. An awareness of the fluidity of policy and planning around the implementation of technology.

What is interesting in these conversations is that cities we work with know this.  They are using a multitude of approaches, each incorporating best practices learned from other Intelligent Communities, to solve problems and arrive at a balance. You will hear many different and fascinating answers to the question, “What Was Your Moment of Truth?” in these Podcasts.  Mainly you will identify a familiar a narrative.  Step-by-step, Intelligent Communities move through a hierarchy of “chores” to get to that quality of life and realization that they are now on their way to sustainable developmenet. Often the first step is the “Two B’s,” Broadband and Buy-in.  The next step is the mantra of Intelligent Communities, which is what Dana McDaniel, City Manager of Dublin, Ohio, asked at the outset of his city’s journey. “Ok. We have the fiber.  What’s next?” 

The story typically moves to moments of spontaneous expression from citizens.  The real “Buy-in,” such as when people say they were either coming back there to live, or staying in a now-improved community to invest and to live.  You know you have gotten to the “moment” when the type of people who would never have said that before says it.  The “Moment” arrives when investments and companies arrive to set-up shop; when investment flows; when people at the university or school system step-up to ask, “What can WE do?” Or when services to seniors improve dramatically.  Or when they were named one of the world’s Smart21 and knew.  “We just knew,” said one.  

So What is Epistemic Humility?

There is something else that comes through when you speak with truly in touch leaders: Epistemic Humility

It is a simple concept. It comes from the fertile mind of philosopher and writer John Kaag by way of Williams James.  It means simply, “that you do not know it all. And that whatever you do know might be more provisional than you think.”

It is simple, but so is the IDEA of hitting a golf ball 150 yards.  We learn, if we are foolish enough to take up the game, that even though the ball is not moving on the ground in front of you, that it takes skill to get it to even go 150 yards.  So you are humbled. And no game is more provisional than one’s golf game!   So, epistemic humility is learning constantly and conditioning the mind to be flexible. 

Creative leaders realize when they have crossed over into the territory of Intelligent Community. They know when their technology runs beneath everyday life and not on top of its people.  What you will hear in the “Moment of Truth” - over and over – is the sound of an endless stream of constant improvement . Even when at the top of their game they learn best practices and are watchful. They know that every 2-3 years will require that another adjustment be made. The “Moment of Truth” is really “Moments of Truth.”

And that’s the truth.

This remarkable set of conversations with cities, technology leaders and Intelligent Community movement thought leaders is a snapshot of what we mean when we say that you must begin with “Smart” but end “Intelligent.” Check it out at:

Louis Zacharilla
Co-Founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Louis Zacharilla helped found the Intelligent Community movement. He is the developer of the Intelligent Community Awards program. He is a frequent keynote speaker and a moderator at conferences and events.
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