History is littered with examples of folks letting go of things they hadn’t fully grasped.
When the penny finally drops they find themselves trailing way behind those who were a bit quicker on the uptake – or in common parlance those who ‘got it’. Their prompt perception gains them the accolade of Thought Leadership.
The difference between a leader and a follower is that they didn’t just ‘get it’. They picked up the ball and ran with it – which is why several hundred of us flocked to Toronto this month to listen to the experiences of what are reckoned to be the world’s most ‘Intelligent Communities’.
The question of definition, hangs in the air. Take this year’s winner. What’s so special about Columbus Ohio? Why so much more deserving of this accolade than, say, Ipswich Australia, New Taipei City, Taiwan or Mitchell, South Dakota?
The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has been honing its analytics for eight years – a good deal longer than most of us have been thinking about smart cities. While the applause in Toronto was echoing around the globe, other smart thinkers were beginning to come to the same sort of conclusions. It’s not so much to do with the technology as what folks choose to do with it – and what these Intelligent Communities have done is to radically transform their local economies and the lifestyles of their citizens.
In nearly all cases FTTx is the foundation on which these enterprising leaders have developed programmes that:
- deliver digital inclusion,
- boost the capacity for innovation,
- ensure that expertise is available for new ventures, and
- exploit those positions through advocacy that brings new investment and jobs to their communities.
Below those top-level drivers there are many sub-themes but very little of the old sector approach that dominates in conventional silo-bound economies. The ICF thought leaders embrace ‘Open Data’, seek a ‘Resilience Dividend’, welcome the ‘Sharing Economy’ and invest in ‘Municipal Enterprise’.
Those who come to a Smart City agenda from the technology market perspectives of, say, an Internet of Things or ‘Smart Meters’ or a renewed Maker Economy’ are, if we read the signs correctly, gradually converging around the ICF notion that the higher purpose is economic and social well-being.
Professor Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT – evidence-led thought leader for sure – put his name to an ‘Open Letter on the Digital Economy’ this month urging policy influencers to ‘get it’. Here in the UK it was duly feted as ‘Wow! Vital Reading!’ – an evangelisation that reveals the astonishing need for management education even within the ICT industry.
Common sense is clearly not so common. Anyone reading stories to children will appreciate the value of repetition. It’s a long haul but someone’s got to do it and Erik’s just the sort of chap that lots of industry folks will listen to again and again.
Even the UK’s Nesta produced a report last week that to some extent put smart city technology back in its box whilst trying to explain that people are not peripherals.
To paraphrase Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan, “Over the last two decades the label ‘smart city’ has been applied to a family of technologies that can speed up the flow of things around the city and reduce the physical frustrations of urban life.
Many of these innovations are obviously useful. But some of the smart city ideas took a wrong turn, too often emphasising expensive hardware rather than cheaper solutions; too often showcasing technologically interesting ideas rather than responding to citizen’s real needs ; and too often making over– inflated promises that couldn’t be supported by hard evidence.
“That’s why the smart city movement is now turning in a rather different direction. It’s combining the best of new generations of technology . . . . . while also involving citizens much more closely in shaping how cities can work”
Both of these siren voices, (MIT and Nesta) coming from a technology viewpoint, are mobilising to articulate their newfound perspectives and appeal to audiences that need to hear them.
No one has a monopoly on wisdom but, by virtue of real world experience, the Intelligent Community Forum (and its ranks of mayors, civic leaders, policy influencers, international jurors and academic assessors) have a great deal of value to share with communities and their leaders. Shared Thinking is the thing – ‘Intellectual Property’ in this arena is almost oxymoronic – properties not shared are hardly intellectualised.
And the lessons for leaders (and indirectly for systems designers, infrastructure providers and ICT sales managers) are very simple.
Those successful communities identified by ICF have been fortunate to (a) have leaders who last longer than the next election and (b) have grasped and held onto the simple truth that they increasingly live in a digitally-mediated era and every aspect of the way they, their local economy, their communities and culture work must be adapted for this time. But these, now acknowledged, community leaders did that 10-20 years ago whilst most others were still wondering where the next year might take them.
You might say, ‘if only’; if only we had the infrastructure, if only the schools taught coding, if only, if only . . . but these places have seized their destiny and made all that, and more, happen.
So it is that within the next two years every single property in Mitchell, South Dakota will have access to future-proofed symmetric Gigabit fibre and many already have a choice of three distinct networks – fibre, cable and ADSL.
No one in Mitchell needed to bet on which technology would ‘win’ – no one said that they knew what was good enough for you or your pocket. People and Employers decide according to their needs – but vitally they have that choice.
And whole communities have a choice.
They can choose leaders who can steer their local economies to meet local needs – and they can do that regardless of some distant policy guru in a state or national capital. That is the essence of municipal enterprise – an empowerment for growth. And it’s good news that technology ‘Thought Leaders’ around the world are beginning to get that message – people are not peripheral.
The experiences of the ICF Summit will inform the agenda and thrust of NextGen 15 in London on November 5th. For further information and sponsorship opportunities contact Marit Hendriks at NG Event Ltd (firstname.lastname@example.org )
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