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Reflections On Community Agility


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A paper documenting our evolving thinking on agility and resilience.

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Reflections On Community Agility

  1. 1. September  2009S     September  2009     Reflections  on  Community  Agility1   What  is  Community  Agility?   Two  years  ago  –  when  we  launched  the  Community  Initiatives  Team  –  agility  was  on   ours  minds.  Pre-­‐recession,  we  were  hearing  flat,2  but  seeing  spiky.3  Our  team   members  live  and  work  in  regions  as  diverse  as  Portland  (OR),  Tucson  (AZ),  Charlotte   (NC),  and  Southeast  Michigan.  While  the  U.S.  economy  was  widely  perceived  as   booming4,  our  communities  were  still  smarting  from  the  steep  downturn  a  few  years   before.  Yet,  we  were  also  bearing  witnesses  to  infinitely  creative  responses  to   change,  and  the  beginnings  of  new  kind  of  economy.   In  our  work,  we  were  confronting  significant  structural  challenges:    Decreasing  overall  economic  security  for  families  despite  job  growth    Industry-­‐wide  transitions  changing  job  and  skill  requirements  for  large  numbers  of   workers    Lack  of  access  to  investment  capital  where  entrepreneurs  seemed  to  need  it  most    Chronic  budget  shortfalls  compromising  basic  public  services  in  our  communities,   and    Institutions,  agencies,  and  organizations  with  clearly  shared  missions  acting  in   isolation.   Opportunities  for  collaboration  (on  and  offline)  and  reinvention  everywhere.  We   focused  on  building  agility.     Developing  a  Methodology  for  Change   With  the  aim  of  helping  communities  find  opportunities  to  thrive,  and  with  partners   including  the  U.S.  Department  of  Labor,  the  Council  on  Competitiveness,  and  the   Charles  Stewart  Mott  Foundation,  we  developed  methods  and  approaches  for   cultivating  agility:    Developing  shared  intelligence,  by  collecting  and  making  meaning  out  of  data  that   matters  to  multiple  community  organizations  and  agencies.    Promoting  network  weaving,5  based  on  the  theory  that  a  whole  host  of  benefits   derive  from  well-­‐networked  communities  (we  had  been  studying  networks  for                                                                                                                   1  Based  on  one  of  our  recent  blog  posts,  see­‐our-­‐ community-­‐agility-­‐ecosystem/   2  A  reference  to  Thomas  Friedman’s  The  World  is  Flat:  A  Brief  History  of  the  21st  Century,  first   published  in  2005.   3  A  reference  to  Richard  Florida’s  competing  hypothesis,  “The  World  is  Spiky,”  first  presented  in   The  Atlantic  Monthly  in  October  2005­‐is-­‐ spiky.pdf.     4  News  reports  like  this  one  were  quite  prevalent  at  the  time   5  A  deliberate  approach  to  community  building  first  popularized  in  the  non-­‐profit  sector  by  June   Holley  and  Valdis  Krebs  
  2. 2. some  time,  but  found  Sean  Safford’s  early  work  at  MIT  –  subsequently  published  in   book  form6  –  very  compelling).  Later  we  partnered  with  June  Holley  to  learn   techniques  for  social  network  analysis.    Facilitating  collaboration  across  “silos”,  so  that  people  from  across  disciplines,   departments,  agencies,  programs,  organizations,  and  institutions  could  find   common  ground  and  begin  to  share  ideas,  talent,  and  resources  in  ways  that   maximize  wider  community  benefits.    Encouraging  public  engagement,  since  real  change  happens  in  firms,  schools,  and   neighborhoods,  not  just  boardrooms.    Advancing  an  entrepreneurship  agenda  that  emphasizes  not  just  new  ventures,   but  entrepreneurial  culture  itself.   These  methods  emphasize  the  building  of  capacity  –  to  collaborate  and  to  innovate  –   so  that  communities  can  reinvent  themselves  over  and  over,  not  just  build  the  next   new  thing.  We  worked  with  (and  learned  from)  community  leaders  and  project   partners  from  five  U.S.  Department  of  Labor  WIRED  regions7  (Southeast  MI,  Mid  MI,   Southern  AZ,  Kansas  City,  and  the  Piedmont  Triad  NC  partnership),  two  communities   with  economies  undergoing  structural  changes  because  of  military  base  realignment8   (Ft.  Bragg  NC  and  Southwest  OK),  and  a  host  of  other  communities  in  transition.     Checking  In   Recently,  our  team  met  to  review  progress,  and  take  a  look  at  the  current  (and   growing)  ecosystem  around  community  agility  (now  increasingly  called  resilience).     New  Trends   While  we’d  been  paying  attention  to  the  emergence  of  new  conversations  and   community  innovation  spaces  individually,  sharing  this  information  helped  all  of  us   see  that  we  are  now  in  the  company  of  more  (and  more  diverse)  people  advancing   some  of  the  same  goals.  Here  are  some  key  developments  we’re  pretty  excited   about.   Social  Innovation   The  “social  innovation”  community  comprises  a  wildly  diverse,  eclectic  and  exciting   bunch,  ranging  from  academically-­‐inclined  Stanford  Social  Innovation  Review  writers   and  readers  to  the  entrepreneurial  thinkers  and  doers  affiliated  with  Social  Edge   (Skoll  Foundation)  to  the  activists,  organizers,  and  media  mavens  who  see  new  ways   to  make  change  through  the  social  web.  The  new  White  House  Office  of  Social   Innovation  will  certainly  accelerate  interest  in  the  field,  which  is  now  beginning  to   map  itself,  through  a  recent  Social  Actions  initiative.9                                                                                                                   6  See  Why  the  Garden  Club  Couldn’t  Save  Youngstown:  The  Transformation  of  the  Rustbelt  (Harvard   University  Press,  2009)­‐Club-­‐Couldnt-­‐Save-­‐ Youngstown/dp/0674031768.   7  Information  about  this  initiative  and  access  to  projects  and  tools  can  be  found  on  the  U.S.   Department  of  Labor  website   8  For  more  information  about  the  Base  Realignment  and  Closure  program,  see   9  Major  actors  in  the  social  entrepreneurship  space  have  pooled  their  data  about  social   innovators/entrepreneurs  and,  with  the  support  of  the  Peery  Foundation,  made  it  available   through  the  Social  Entrepreneur  API  effort­‐entrepreneur-­‐api.         2  
  3. 3. And  interest  in  social  innovation  is  appropriately  global.  The  Young  Foundation,  SIX,   and  the  Skoll  World  Forum,  together  with  institutions  like  Ashoka  and  the  Aspen   Institute  have  nurtured  social  innovation  networks  around  the  globe  for  years.  More   recently,  the  John  S.  and  James  L.  Knight  Foundation  has  sponsored  a  host  of   initiatives  designed  to  help  innovators  of  all  ages  and  stations  leverage  the  power  of   social  media  and  the  web.   New  platforms  like  YouTube  and  Twitter  have  helped  make  much  of  this  activity   accessible  and  transparent.  Last  week,  900  people  gathered  at  SoCap09  in  San   Francisco  to  figure  out  how  to  fund  it.     Gov2.0   Government  (at  all  levels)  is  also  beginning  to  reimagine  itself.  The  Obama  campaign   demonstrated  the  power  of  technology  to  enable  self-­‐organization  in  a  campaign   context,  now  we’re  working  through  the  implications  of  this  kind  of  mass   connectivity  on  governing  itself.  Catalyzed  by  Tim  O’Reilly’s  advocacy  of   “Government  as  Platform,”  gov2.0  has  become  a  rallying  cry  for  transparency,   participation,  and  just  better,  smarter,  government    –  among  people  inside   government  and  out.  The  recent  Gov2.0  Summit10  brought  together  public  servants   and  technologists  but  also  advocates  and  organizers,  many  of  whom  are  already   working  together  to  build  the  next  generation  of  public  intelligence  systems  and   platforms  for  participation.11     The  Resilience  Movement   The  resilient  communities  movement  stems  from  two  different  though  related  sets   of  ideas:  one  relating  to  security,  and  the  other  to  sustainability  more  broadly.    The  U.S.  Department  of  Homeland  Security  (DHS)  is  exploring  Community   Preparedness  and  Resilience  in  a  variety  of  ways  –  the  Community  and  Regional   Resilience  Initiative  (CARRI),  for  example,  reflects  a  partnership  between  DHS,  the   Department  of  Energy’s  Oak  Ridge  National  Lab,  and  a  handful  of  communities  in   the  Southestern  U.S.    The  Institute  of  Urban  and  Regional  Development  at  the  University  of  California   Berkeley  (supported  by  the  MacArthur  Foundation)  has  established  a  Building   Regional  Resilience  Network,  which  has  published  a  variety  of  papers  on  different   dimensions  of  resilience  (environmental,  social,  economic).    The  Council  on  Competitiveness  made  the  materials  used  in  its  Risk  and  Resilience   workshop  available  to  the  public.   People  are  helping  communities  become  more  resilient  outside  the  U.S.  as  well  –   parallel  efforts  exist  in  Australia,12  and  more  locally-­‐driven  approaches  have   launched  in  England13  and  spread  beyond.                                                                                                                   10  Summit  agenda,  materials,  and  media  will  be  available  at   11  The  Sunlight  Foundation,  for  example,  has  been  at  the  forefront  of  these  efforts,  funding,  promoting  and  championing  innovations  like  Apps   for  Democracy  and  Apps  for  America­‐america-­‐winners/.     12  The  University  of  Southern  Queensland’s  Center  for  Rural  and  Remote  Health  has  published  a   Building  Resilience  in  Regional  Communities  Toolkit         3  
  4. 4.   Smart  Communities   Firms  like  Cisco  are  promoting  smart  communities  from  a  data-­‐connectivity  point  of   view,14  and  IBM  is  advancing  its  “internet  of  things”  agenda.15  But  people  and   processes  matter  just  as  much.  The  stakes  are  high,  the  promise,  great,  and  the  need,   urgent.  Brookings  is  tracking  the  impact  of  the  American  Reinvestment  and  Recovery   Act  (ARRA)  on  cities  and  regions  seeking  to  advance  innovation  or  leverage  structural   change.  Rosabeth  Moss  Kanter  and  Stanley  Litow  offer  a  manifesto  for  smarter,   more  connected  communities.16  John  Hagel,  John  Seely  Brown  and  Lang  Davison’s   Big  Shift17  focuses  on  change  dynamics  in  firms,  but  their  analysis  offers  insight   relevant  to  communities,  too.   Going  Forward?   We’re  taking  a  good  look  at  this  context  in  an  effort  to  learn  from  others,  and  focus   our  efforts  in  ways  that  maximize  impact.   We  believe  in  the  power  of  not  just  tinkering,  but  “unbundling  and  reconstituting”18  – in  search  of  whole  new  ways  of  being  and  doing,  sustainably.                                                                                                                                     13  The  Transition-­‐Town  movement  –  aimed  at  addressing  climate  change  and  peak  oil  –  started  in   the  UK,  and  has  since  spread  across  parts  of  Europe  and  into  the  U.S.   14  Cisco  is  launching  something  called  the  Smart  +  Connected  Communities­‐elfrink-­‐cisco-­‐smartconnected-­‐communities.   15  ReadWriteWeb  reported  on  this  effort  in  July  2009.   16  See   17  See  Harvard  Business  Review’s  The  Big  Shift:  Measuring  the  Forces  of  Change   18  A  reference  to  Don  Tapscott’s  observation  in  one  of  our  favorite  clips  from  one  of  our  favorite   documentaries,  UsNow    Kristin  Wolff,  Director  of  Community  Initiatives,  CSW       4   Lisa  Katz,  Senior  Policy  Associate,  CSW