September 29, 2014

New Partners in Economic Development

There's a revolution underway in economic development across the USA. Inching its way out is the traditional real estate-focused approach to economic development and some of the $80 billion in tax breaks (NY Times, December 1, 2012) and other incentives state and local governments offer to attract new businesses and jobs.

Enter stage left are new partners in economic development, a grass-roots assortment that includes libraries,  community organizers, special interest foundations, teenage app developers, Big Picture schools, churches or sustainable energy entrepreneurs.

We explored how communities might partner with such organizations/people at the recent Build North East conference in Worcester (September 7-9, 2014). Robert Leaver of New Commons Rhode Island and John Findlay, Maverick & Boutique conducted rapid-fire 5 X 5 workshop to:
  • Identify opportunities for partnering with strategically positioned community organizations such as libraries, leading edge schools and colleges
  • Explore how to expand social and business entrepreneurial activities at a grass-roots level, especially in urban and rural settings
  • Plan the start-up of public access making/manufacturing, design publishing, app development in the center of a village or town  
Six teams began by identifying a village or town in New England that was experiencing an intractable economic/community development problem.
  • Good New England Bones
  • OK for 6 months of year
  • Struggles economically during Winter
  • Youth unemployment, drug epidemic
  • Can’t get critical skills
  • Good in parts – has sprawl, some blight, brownfields (costly to remediate)
  • “Poverty in paradise”
Each team chose one of six PARTNERS to work with, for which a profile had been developed. Here are the profiles:

Libraries: are adopting new “wise application of knowledge” roles in a rapidly changing and more complex world. They provide a local high touch experience for the high tech world we live in. Their new roles in economic development include:
  • Maker spaces – 3D printers, electronic and electrical, publishing equipment
  • Public access to the Internet, computers
  • Lend books, CDs, software, equipment, 
  • Meeting rooms and meeting facilitation
  • Incubator spaces
  • Courses for completing K-12
  • Support for college study and research
  • Research for new businesses
  • New skills – software, webpage, databases
Public access manufacturing/makerspaces: Cooperatives and companies such as TechShop are establishing manufacturing and production facilities for the public to rent/use by the day, week or month. Their new roles in economic development include:
  • Time share equipment use
  • Basic training, On-site instruction and college courses
  • Metalworking – mills, lathes, routers, plasma cutters, 3D printers
  • Culinary – shared commercial kitchens, Many kinds – metal working,g rooms Agricultural – equipment for bottling/canning, fermented products - wine, beer, cheese and yoghurt production
  • Arts and Artisan – woodworking, framing, showrooms etc.
Big Picture Schools: Personalized learning one student at a time. Big Pictures Schools prepare students for the real world, with applied as well as soft skills – leadership, project management, mentoring and planning – rarely found in “curriculum driven” schools. Their roles in economic development include:
  • Students complete an authentic project connected to their interest
  • Students learn how to be adults by being with adults
  • Mentors are expert in the field of student's interest and in their field
  • Assessed by growth and change, not tests; family involved
  • Project based - portfolios, exhibitions, reflective journalling
  • Small group learning, maximum of 150 people per school
  • Learning by serving the community via projects
Churches: As community and economic development are increasingly inseparable. Faith-based organizations, which have a long history of education, health care and support service delivery have a critical role to play, including personalisation - reversing the trend to corporatisation and large scale service delivery. Their roles in economic development include:
  • Education and health care service delivery
  • Support for those who have fallen on hard times
  • Aged, children’s, and rehabilitation services
  • Fostering a sense of community
  • Drug dependence and recovery services
A gaggle of 14 year old app developers: Who knew? Many of the next generation of Tech Millionaires are starting their businesses on-line before they are old enough to drink or drive.  They are developing phone and tablet apps that operate at between current paradigms and disciplines. Their new roles in economic development include:
  • Capable of building new applications in a few weeks.
  • Low-cost business models
  • Solve customized local business and community problems
  • Connected to the world and other developers
  • Entrepreneurial – regard work as projects rather than careers
  • Low barrier to market entry
Sustainable energy entrepreneurs: Plug-and-play sustainable energy solutions which deal with the business case, permits, marketing, installation, connections to the grid or shared use are the hallmarks of the sustainable energy entrepreneur. Their new roles in economic development include:
  • Local energy production from solar, wind, biomass, pellets
  • Local solar networks, linking neighbors with great and not so good aspects
  • Architecturally appropriate moldings to integrate solar into New England-style houses
  • Transportation fuels from landfill gas, biomass gas; biodiesel
  • Plug-and-play solutions which solve the complexities of permits, connections
Participants used a worksheet to collect ideas from both the perspective of the TOWN and the new new PARTNER, and how each could serve each other's interests in a syngeristic, win-win-win way, so not only did the participants get a successful result, but so did the broader community system.

Here's the workshop outline:

1. TRENDS: What are the big trends for your TOWN? What are the big trends for your PARTNER?
2. CAPACITIES RESOURCES: What resources, capacities and other stakeholders do others in the TOWN have that could be really useful to your partner? What skills, capacities, access to resources, customers and other stakeholders does your PARTNER have the town needs?
3. BAKING A BIGGER CAKE: How could the TOWN help your partner become very successful and the town/region to be successful as well? How could your PARTNER help the town/region? How could you put the TOWN and PARTNERS’s resources and interests together to bake a bigger cake?
4. FUNDING AND FIRST STEPS: To get started, what are the first steps? Who will you get involved? How will it be funded? Actions: Who, by, for?
5. REPORT BACK: Prepare for the report back in any way you choose but at MINIMUM, give the project a SNAZZY 4-5 WORD TITLE AND A 25-WORD DESCRIPTION. (Consider Song, Dance, Skit, Slides/Talk, Demonstration, All of the above, etc) 

July 28, 2014

The library is dead. Long live the library.

Just as pundits are predicting the demise of libraries and politicians are cutting their funding, a new kind of library is rising from the ashes of the old. And books are not being burned ether. Far from it.

The rise of Google, Wikipedia and Amazon has not dealt the death blow to libraries that everyone imagined, simply because the ultra-high-tech needs of 21st Century citizens is driving an ultra-high-touch or interpersonal response. And just as the Internet is everywhere, so too are libraries.

Some libraries are taking on a new role as a community anchor. Cafes and Wi-Fi to meet and communicate. Computers for learners with no computer or Internet access of their own. A place to get help with a resume. An honest broker to help communities find the data they need to make better decisions. Meeting rooms and facilitators to deal with complex issues or conflicts. Fun stuff for kids to do. Incubator spaces for start-ups. Market research support. A reputable source of health information. A place to design and print your new whatsit or replacement part on a 3D printer, make jam, create works of art, process cheese, make furniture with artisan qualities, and support you while you discover how to grow better organic vegetables. Or a reliable place to charge your phone after the hurricane.

Our love affair with libraries blossomed in 2013 when we helped the libraries of New Jersey create a "living" strategic plan. The New Jersey State Library, which supports libraries of all kinds, and Library Link NJ, the association of 2000 libraries across the state, developed and began implementing some 33 initiatives - to collaborate with stakeholders, develop the leadership capacity to adapt to change, create safe nurturing spaces for people to meet work and learn, reinvent their methods and processes and diversify their sources of funding and delight their customers.

You can access a copy of the strategic plan at the LLNJ website ), or track the strategic planning process on Mindmeister. The process shows all the steps in the process and you can download the workshop inputs/outputs. Here are the kinds of questions we asked during our workshop with the New Jersey libraries:
  1. Our role: What are the roles of libraries and librarians in a world that is ever more complex, and where many more people are involved in the creation, dissemination, remixing, categorization and publishing of works (film, books, research, learning resources, etc.)? What is it important to keep that we have done in the past? What is our new work/activity?
  2. Our brand/identity: What are we known for? How will our citizens regard libraries and librarians in the mid-21st Century? For what will we be recognized/valued? How will we help people, where are they located? How do we interact with our community?
  3. The context: What are the major trends in the world of libraries and librarians? What might we borrow from other industries/sectors, e.g. hospitality, publishing, communications? Where are libraries—or the new functions of libraries—needed where they do not exist already?
  4. Our customers and other stakeholders: Who uses libraries now? What are our customers’ needs and do we serve them well? Who might use libraries in the future? How might we engage more people/new groups of people in becoming part of the library community? What other stakeholders are important to our future and why?
  5. The value of libraries: How is the value of libraries perceived and by whom? How are libraries perceived as entities that embrace the future? If not, how might we change that? What value/perceived value might we add so that libraries become known as a great thing to fund?
  6. Competition: Who are the competitors to libraries? Where do we compete where we can’t be successful? How and where might we compete where we have a strategic advantage? How might we collaborate with competitors to offer higher overall value?
  7. Knowledge leadership: How can we play a leadership role in the fields of knowledge management, knowledge creation and the wise application of knowledge? What are the gaps in society/business where we can make a difference or be influential? 
  8. Structures and processes: How might we structure/organize and co-ordinate our activities across our network so that we integrate the interests of our member organizations and their communities/customers/stakeholders? How might we apply economies of scale to take advantage of resources? What activities require local/custom/just-in-time services and how might we best deliver these?
  9. Professional development and support: What new skills/capacities will librarians and their staff need and what old skills do we want to maintain or further develop in order to perform our new role(s)? How might we support each other, individually and collectively, in reducing stress and developing proactive ways to deal with life and work in these challenging times?
  10. Resources, technologies and methods: What kinds of buildings, equipment, processes and methods will we expect in the library of the mid-21st century? Describe a day in the “life of the library," virtual, physical or otherwise?
  11. Sources of funding: How will our work be funded? Who will want to pay for our services/support our work, and why will they want/need to do this? What will be free and why? What new sources of funding might we tap? How might we expand on or manage existing sources of funding more effectively?
  12. Situation analysis: What are we doing well that we want to KEEP? What is an obstacle or barrier to our success that we might ABANDON? What new activities or revised activities are we drawn to INVENT/REINVENT?
  13. Envisioning the future: Craft a definition of “library” for Wikipedia in 2050. Be sure to describe librarians/other library people, the people who use libraries and how they use them, as well as their structure: physical and/or virtual. 
  14. Vision to action: What is a project we might to start today to create or further develop our new vision, including enhanced services, systems, roles, methods, processes, governance models, funding mechanisms, etc.? 
  15. Measure of success: How will we know when we are successful? What will we have achieved and how will we be able to measure it, e.g. number of new library users and positive experience satisfaction reports, number of people trained, number of documents published?

August 30, 2013

Collectively "Creating the future" in uncertain times

"The best way to predict your future is to create it". So said Abraham Lincoln.

If you ever wonder why so many of are constantly participating in some kind of community engagement process to develop one kind of strategic plan or another, there's some very cogent reasons.

The 20-year strategic planning cycles along with the 10-year, 5-year and 2-year cycles are all dead, buried by the tsunami of accelerating change.

Take a quick look at this graph. Its the time taken for one quarter of the US population to adopt a new technology. If change was merely accelerating the graph, a logarithmic curve, would be a pretty much a straight line. 

But the graph curves upwards, which means that the rate of acceleration is accelerating. This means we are all in for a very wild ride.

To deal with this kind of change, Maverick & Boutique have developed a new approach to strategic planning that helps us all deal successfully  with accelerating change. It is part of our Complex Adaptive Operative Systems approach to managing learning organizations and complex projects.

We create the future of our own choosing through frequent and iterative cycles of conversations with others, to work out what we can do together that will make a difference, not only to our own  lives, but to our customers, suppliers and our communities as well.

Its the new normal of strategic planning.

The old linear ways of thinking about the world, while still good for machine-like functions such as manufacturing and process plants, are not much help for working with humans, who refuse to operate along straight lines.

Instead we have found that laws of complexity and the features of complex adaptive system help us better understand this changing world, to find new kinds of patterns in the complexity and the chaos, in addition to the linear and algorithmic patterns on which we have relied in the past.

Here's how we approach strategic planning:

We use complexity to deal with complexity: Because the world has become far more complex, with many intersecting and interdependent systems requiring many disciplines to work together, no single person has the knowledge to solve any or perform any task on their own. 

A robust model of the system: We involve as many people in our stakeholder community as possible to help create a rich picture of the system. Once we have a robust model, we can quickly work out how we can influence the development of the system. 

Leveraging the system: We use the laws of complexity, the features of complex adaptive systems, and the most powerful approaches to leverage the system, in order to test and improve every project plan, product concept, leadership approach, co-ordination method, production technique or marketing strategy. Among these tools is our complexity model of change, which is broadly predictive of the features of emerging paradigms. The technologies, skills, rules of interaction and methods. The model is a period doubling cascade, a feature of complex adaptive systems.

Surfing the waves of change: We develop project, product and policy concepts that achieve the highest possible leverage. According to leading systems thinker, Donella Meadows, of the 12 ways to intervene in a system, transcending paradigms is the most potent.

A living plan: From the very moment we start planning, we start to implement. What we learn from doing, we feedback into the plan, devoting more resources to what is working, and abandoning or redesigning what does not.

Start many projects: Nature starts millions of new experiments to ensure a handful of organisms survive. We do much the same. Instead of trying to predict the future, we try out a variety of ways to create it, and then pursue those projects that attract the most political support, customers and interest.

Our stakeholders create the plan: Our staff, customers, neighbors, suppliers, C-suite, community leaders and often our competitors, all play a major role in creating our plan. The plan is not just our plan, it is their plan as well.

Advisory group: We usually establish an advisory group for the planning process, representative of the organization and the stakeholder community. The output from a planning workshop with the group becomes a first-cut strategic plan, including a detailed stakeholder analysis, which informs who else should be invited into the process. The advisory group has a key role at the end of each planning cycle to review the work of other stakeholders and task forces, and raise the strategic thinking to a new and higher level of synthesis, integration and alignment with the trends.

Background information: We feed vital information about the organization as well as local, national and global trends into the planning process to ensure that everyone is well informed.

Ecologies of products and services:  We reinvent our products, services, policies, leadership and co-ordination methods, production and distribution processes, even our governance, decision making and learning methods, in order to create an ecology, in which each of the parts support or benefit each other.

Synthesis and integration: We use the creative differences between disciplines and cultures to create the new possibilities on which our strategic plans depend. We set out to not only synergistically serve each other's interests, but also achieve a greater good for all...the community, the state, the nation or the planet. Win-win-win.

Dynamic SWOT and other questioning processes: Our processes are informed by sequences of rich, open-ended questions that promote robust conversations, generate novel solutions and guide challenging analysis. Most planning processes are guided by a sequence of questions, for example: 
  1. The context: What are the major trends in the world that are impacting on our community/city/state/organization? Think about an describe the impact of global market, economic, social and economic trends? What are some of the local demographic, job, business, education and other trends?
  2. Stakeholder Interests and Bigger benefit statements: Who are our main stakeholders and what are their interests? How could we serve their interests so they/we are more resilient? Respond like this If (name of stakeholder) was to (their interest/description of benefit/outcome) then we would (Greater good benefit, community benefit)
  3. Dynamic SWOT: What are we doing well in our community/city/state/organization that contributes to our resilience that we want to KEEP? What is an obstacle or barrier to our success that we might ABANDON? What new activities or revised activities are we drawn to INVENT/REINVENT?
  4. Projects: What is a project we need to start today so our businesses, government and community are resilient in the face of change (climate, social, economic etc)? 3-5 word snazzy title, 25 word rich description. Think about our new or enhanced services, systems, roles, methods, processes, governance models, funding mechanisms etc.?
  5. What does success look like? What will our community/city/state/organization be known for?  Describe a day in the life of our community, business, government, services, etc that describes our success. (25-50 word description).
Systems maps: We collectively draw system maps to better understand the connectedness of all the parts of the system, and learn where there are barriers to implementation, and feedback loops that reinforce what we want to happen.

Multiple perspectives: We look at our organizations and our stakeholder system in many different ways. We think about functions such as production, marketing, finance, distribution, sales, R&D or talent and people management. Sometimes we focus on systemic issues: leadership, governance, ethics, coordination, teamwork, stakeholder relations, contracting and legal. We think about ways of dealing with issues such as process redesign, design thinking, continuous improvement or process redesign.

Complex adaptive meeting environment: We use a new kind of collaborative tool that allows us all to rapidly share our ideas, develop a robust model of the system, and rapidly reach consensus about what to do. 

Actionable projects: We establish task forces, with participants drawn from the broad internal and external stakeholder community. The task forces create and cost and begin to implement comprehensive project plans and identify the measures of success.
  1. Project Title: Give the project snazzy title in 3-5 words
  2. Project Description: Describe the project is 25 -100 words
  3. Governance: What roles will people play, who will be responsible for or own the project?
  4. Objectives: What will the project achieve?
  5. Stakeholders: Which stakeholders and their interests will be served by the project? Who will make use of the product/service and how? Who will be the suppliers?
  6. What is the time frame(s) for development, implementation etc?
  7. What is the estimated cost range and sources of funding required?
  8. What actions/activities will be required to implement this plan (in detail)?
  9. How will we measure success? (benefits, measurable, clear, simple, actionable)
  10. What professional development is needed?
  11. What resources, technological or facilities are required?
  12. How might we integrate this project with other projects/programs?

* Black Swans: Events we can imagine, but have never seen before. Until Europeans "discovered" Australia, they had only ever seen white swans. But Australian swans are black.

** Unknown Unknowns: Thank you Donald Rumsfeld for this idea. Unk Unks are events that you cant imagine that come to cause considerable grief because you have no understanding of what they are, how they work, or how to deal with them when they show up. Imagine taking a Mercedes Benz Motor car back in time and showing it to a Roman Charioteer.