Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Moving Forward

All too much our civic leaders are commissioning studies to determine what we have done wrong or what should we do. When are we going to commission ourselves to move in the direction of our conversations? Knowing what did not work is helpful in guiding us not to make the same mistakes again (and again); but do we need to keep paying for it?

Our civic leaders keep paying out our money and our charitable gifts for new plans but never implementing them. Again and again. Is it because the plans require too much of our assets? Are the players who should be involved, not involved? Is it because the plans are not workable? Is it because the world around us is changing more quickly than our plans have accounted for?

We need to work within our civic community to grow into strategic thinking rather than to develop strategic plans that are out of date by the time they hit the papers. Part of that strategic thinking includes accountability. Every time we announce a new initiative we need to also determine and voice our next steps. Each time we gather we need to follow up on where we are with those steps, refining our thinking as we go to allow for changes in the world around us.

We (all of us) need to have civic leaders who display accountability and the ability to guide our conversations and use of our assets. We need to continue civic conversations identifying and growing new ideas and leaders. Next step: start or participate in an open forum in your community.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Trust in the Digital Age

A number of questions regarding trust in the digital age:

  • In the new world of internet communication how do people build trust?
  • If I am in email communication with you how do you come to build a collaborative relationship with me?
  • If you are a blogger, how do your readers come to a position on being able to act on or respond to your comments?
  • What leads me to a level of trust that I post a comment on your site with my own name?
  • There seems to be great promotion about how all in the economy eventually will be handled digitally. Will things move faster when there is some physical interface?
  • At what point in digital networks in degrees of separation do trust and respect stretch thin and no longer flow?
  • Do the bonds of trust reduce geometrically the more connections involved?
  • How fragile are digital bonds of trust?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Universal Service

I received an email today from Barbara Crafton of The Geranium Farm regarding universal service for all young adults. She referenced work of Professor Larry Sabato of The University of Virginia's Center for Politics. We need to think about how we train our youth for leadership and for participation in the civic space. She suggests we think about having service as a requirement for any leadership position as well as for everyone else.

"Politics works better when citizens are informed and active participants." (from )

Ode to a Dead Horse (Cleveland Economic Development in Action)

Dakota Wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, we in Cleveland often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following:

1. Buying a strong whip.

2. Trying a new bit or bridle.

3. Changing riders.

4. Moving the horse to a new location.

5. Riding the horse for longer periods of time.

6. Saying things like, “This is the way we have always ridden this horse.”

7. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

8. Arranging to visit other cities to see how they ride dead horses.

9. Increasing the standards for riding dead horses.

10. Creating a test for measuring our riding ability.

11. Comparing the state of dead horses today.

12. Complaining about the state of dead horses today.

13. Coming up with new styles of riding dead horses.

14. Blaming the horses parents.

15. Tightening the cinch.

16. Passing legislation which declares that “This horse is not dead.”

17. Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed.

18. Trying to resuscitate the dead horse.

19. Praying for the dead horse to be resurrected.

20. Wisdom #1: Convince a stranger that the dead horse is resting up for the next day’s work.

21. Wisdom #2: Sell the dead horse to the stranger.

(I received this in the mid 90's relating to the activities of certain non-profit boards but I believe that it is often relevant to the economic development strategies in shrinking cities.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

History is in the Telling

Recently I have had a number of conversations about story telling or the lack thereof. I continually express my belief in the power of each one of us relating our stories which also includes the open source behavior of passing on the stories of those with whom we have interacted.

Story telling is not something that is to be controlled or can be controlled. However, there will always be arguments about how something actually occurred or why an event happened; what is the “true” story. Writing a story down or filming it does not always come up with the answers and often times skews the story for all who only use one source. Therein lies one of the benefits of the internet in that there becomes multiple sources for determining for ourselves what is important, what happened, or why it happened. The human brain is remarkable in that it can seem to identify the wheat in the chaff.

In Ireland there is a rich tradition of storytelling with the storyteller going from village to village relating folk tales, history, and other happenings throughout the island. People of each community would look forward to the visit of the story teller, hungrily gathering together to hear stories that have been heard often before as well as those that are new to many ears. The stories themselves are important but the hearing in community also provides for the richness of the experience.

We and our communities live on through the stories that are told so it is important that we teach ourselves the stories both new and old. The new stories are grown out of the old; we learn from our mistakes only if we are aware of the mistakes of others in the community.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Have You Done Your Part Today?

Have you done your part to help enhance the civic space today? Have you introduced someone you know to someone else you know because you feel the two of them or the three of you have something in common? Have you thought about how two entrepreneurial people you know might benefit from talking with each other and actually done something about it?

If not, send an email introduction today and then follow it up with a contact of your own. Help your friends and acquaintances tell and spread their stories. Grow your collaborative network and enhance the quality connected place we know our community to be. Help make the box bigger; save others from working on their own outside the box.

Friday, October 12, 2007

National Revenue Sharing

There has been considerable talk and and some implementation in Northeast Ohio of revenue sharing among communities when companies relocate. How about looking beyond the smaller region and look nationally or even globally and share tax revenue with communities that lose businesses to the Midwest due a shortage of water (the most precious of resources next to air and brains)?

As time goes on and some resources become less available (water, coal, petroleum, minerals, etc) there will be greater pressure brought to bear to provide the diminishing resources to those with the most money making the resources less available for those with the least money. Such practices remove the community resources from one community replacing them with money in the hands of a limited powerful elite.

The Midwest at one time was referred to as the rust belt but is now the water belt. If Georgia and the Southwest want water and are willing to pay for it, how can we encourage the recycling of the Midwest water in the Midwest by having those dry communities meet their needs by moving their companies and residents to the Midwest?

We need to encourage keeping the Midwest water in the Midwest rather than shipping it away to the South and West.

Economic Development: Thinking With Our Brains and Hearts

In a recent email to a researcher in economic development I wrote of my definition of economic development. My definition, as are open source technology and practices, is ever evolving. I see Economic Development as the linking and leveraging of assets (money, brain power, quality places) to sustain and increase the amount of "good assets" (assets flowing into the community from outside the community) and to reduce the amount of "bad assets" (assets flowing out of the community) as well as to increase the speed of the assets moving within the community and the speed with which the community positively responds to negative changes. The same would hold true no matter what the geographic constraints.

Civic leaders need to decide how best to effect economic development so that it ends up being “good” economic development. To decide requires thinking and doing strategically. We need to think with our brains and our hearts not with parts of our anatomy and our personal wallets.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Old Behavior: Command and Control

Cleveland is running far behind the pack in innovative behavior and its foundations are no exception. When around the country foundations and economic development organizations are working with small communities and entrepreneurs, the foundations in Cleveland are turning to the industrial approach. From Crain’s Cleveland Business Sep 3 2007: Sandra Kiely Kolb board chairman St Luke’s Foundation: “Foundations have taken a more business-model approach looking at collaborations... Maybe we’re asking the harder questions of nonprofits, but it’s for their own good.”

Business models are changing and here is Cleveland embracing old models and telling the nonprofits that it’s for their own good. Also the foundations have given up on the power of small group and individual behavior in economic development. From the same Crain’s article: “Mr. Abbott said the Gund Foundation during the last four years has partnered with other foundations to focus on Economic development because no entity is powerful enough to go it alone. And local foundations expect nonprofits to follow their lead.” Perhaps the foundations should be doing less leading and more supporting of innovative behavior. Perhaps the foundations should be doing less telling people and organizations what to do than partner with others in identifying and encouraging new ways of sustainability.

More than ever in Cleveland it seems to be “command and control” instead of “link and leverage.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Accountability in Community

Most of us want to live in community. We want nice neighbors, responsive civic services, effective schools, clean streets, playgrounds and parks, and good jobs. However, many of us have forgotten that along with the benefits of community there are also the accountabilities of community.

In our failures to see future opportunities, we are willing to accept and even encourage the quick fixes where there is less responsibility and accountability. We accept what we are told by people who our media tells us are our leaders or are experts. Rather than work to identify and encourage trusted individuals as leaders, we blindly accept. Rather than addressing the problems we look for the flash in the pan, the short term gain.

Somewhere along the way we are told and we accept that the answers are outside the box. What we conveniently forget is that when we go outside the box we are usually abandoning all that is in the box. We move to the suburbs so that we no longer have to deal with the urban “problems”. We create charter schools so that we can conveniently hide from the problems of the less fortunate in community support. We set up wards in our communities so that we can protect ourselves in our own small areas with people who we perceive as “us”. We don’t hold our leaders accountable let alone our own children.

We have lost our trust in our own communities and have no one but ourselves to blame even though we do our best to blame everyone else.

So, how do we reclaim the lost ground in community? We accept accountability for our own actions. We build trust with our leaders. We hold others accountable for their behavior. We work on long term solutions which may be simple but often are not easy. We stop letting ourselves be led into decisions which line the pockets of others in the short term but cost us in the long term especially at the expense the the greater number. Instead of building convention centers, we invest in the small businesses so that storefronts and offices are filled and appropriate jobs with benefits exist for those who are willing. Why would someone want to come to a city with poor services and missing retail to attend a convention?

We need to support not only our own children, but all the children in the community to assure that all receive a good education as well as have hope in the benefits of getting a diploma. We need to be accountable for disobedience. We need to share the stories that we all have of our joys, our successes, our hopes, our fears, what does not work, and what does work.

We need to stop “thinking outside the box” but instead think strategically in the box, making the box bigger and more inclusive, inviting all to participate in the exciting opportunity that is our community.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Moving from Diversity into Community

Recently there was discussion on the blog site Brewed Fresh Daily about diversity. It got me thinking about the phrase “a diverse community.” For me that is an oxymoron in that diversity addresses differences whereas community talks about a oneness.

Perhaps many who use the word diverse actually have something else in mind but aren’t saying it. If so, I believe it is better to say racially diverse, or ethnically diverse, or economically diverse, or whatever diverse. We also misuse community, assigning a much higher connotation on a group of people who live in geographic proximity to each other.

Whatever we are saying or whatever we mean, we all need to be moving into community where we learn share hopes, dreams, fears, expectations, and joys. We become community through open conversation, honest conversation, whether we agree or agree to disagree, we agree to continue moving forward in conversation.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Questions Unite Us

There are so many things that we allow to divide us. We define ourselves by what we hold true and build boxes to separate ourselves from others who hold other truths. Then we spend tremendous amounts of brainpower and money enforcing our truths on ourselves and others.

I believe that we need to change our focus and energies to the questions which unite us. When we invest in the questions the answers will come but at a much lower cost and in a way that there is a greater acceptance because we are working together and we are part of the solution. The answers we arrive at may be different and activity occurs when there is community and passion in the answers.

Some of the questions are how do we deal with the poverty not only in our urban communities but also in our rural areas? How do we create sustainable businesses that don’t poison our environment and overly deplete resources? How to we fairly value our contributions to and in an ongoing society? How do we behave in ways that build trust and respect?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Community Investment

All too often American society in general and its media evaluate activities solely on dollar amounts. We seem to value our organizations on the bottom line rather than their contributions to the stockholders as well as to the community. Who are the analysts who have decided that this is the way to evaluate activity? Why do we allow this behavior to be taught in our business schools? Why do we accept this shallow thinking from our leaders?

To compare education systems based solely on dollars belittles the value of other assts such as community involvement. The costs of behaviors in the civic space vary all over the spectrum. What has become clear is that when there is a sharing of the process involved, the total dollar costs as well as the individual costs appear to be less. Educating our children is so much less per child when the parents, teachers, students, and community have made a commitment to participate and where the community is not in flux. This is especially true in private school education as well as in charter schools. Public school communities where there has been parental and community support and where there is not significant flux in the community cost significantly less and appear to provide a stronger education than other communities.

Our non profits make a point of publicizing dollar donation levels and celebrating the big dollar donors. What of the people that give of their life rather than of their excesses. We all need to invest in our communities but there is less need for dollar investment and greater need for intellectual and hands on investment. It is not to say that money is not needed but rather that non monetary investment is so important and should in the forefront and not be disregarded or be playing second fiddle.