Creating a Disruptive Model of Economic Development Innovation: New Community Paradigms at Work

This week’s posts are going to primarily reflect what I heard at last week’s IEDC Leadership Summit, which I think has the potential to turn out to be a sea change moment in economic development history.  Before I start dredging out my notes and recordings from the bottom of my suitcase (returning to Ohio from Florida mean that the warm weather clothes in there are kinda useless at the moment), I wanted to share with you a great post from Community Paradigms that hit last week — and that takes several themes I have written about recently and weaves them together far better than I have.

Brian at Community Paradigms writes:

LinkedIn colleague Della Rucker of Wise, who has been featured on these pages before with Seeing Economy and Community as Ecosystem.  Another Way of Shifting the Paradigm, and Breaking through the complications to face the complexities and coming out wholehad an article that dealt with issues of interest to this blog.
The article was – Go Find Some Non-Experts. You Probably Need Them which raises questions regarding the role of internal staff versus outside consultants and, what is more important, on the relationship of both as professionals or experts to non-expert pro-amateurs in the community.
Della believes that “we have an enormous supply of non-experts who can “approach challenges with a clean lens, bringing together diverse experiences, knowledge and opportunities. We call them the PublicThey know stuff. They’ve done stuff.”

He then goes on to link to a TED talk from Charles Leadbeater on Open Innovation.  Take a look at that — it’s awe-inspiring, and it will give you a window into how people are rethinking the fundamentals of how we get things done.

Brian also pulls out a better explanation of a term I used in that post–Disruptive (or Discontinuous) Innovation…and ties that into the question of engaging non-experts in the expert-laden world of local government better than I did:

Discontinuous innovation addresses the question “if we have to change our behaviour then why would we want to use such a new technology and the answer is that the new technology creates substantial new benefits for its users.”  
This gets to one of the basic concepts of disruptive innovation and that is the job-to-be-done.  More on that in the future but for now it means that if a discontinuous innovation creates a more convenient and cheaper way of doing things which is seen as creating substantial new benefits for a community, despite being labeled as “not as good” by the professionals in city hall, it has the potential of being disruptive.  Conversely, a disruptive innovation that finds a more convenient and cheaper means of doing the job-to-be-done sought by the community could potentially create the means of changing the behavior of the members of the community and therefore the community itself.  City hall does not have to be in the picture.

Brian lays out the challenge before all of us in no uncertain terms:

I am looking instead for disruptive innovation within the public sector, particularly at the local community level…The connection with Della’s focus on discontinuous innovation is that some communities may not be capable of discontinuous innovation until their institutions are innovatively disrupted, whether those institutions do it for themselves or it is done to them….
The conundrum is creating a sustainable albeit amorphous body of non-expert pro-amateursderived from the community that will effectively implement discontinuous innovation beneficial to the community.  First is the obstacle of getting far enough up the Ladder of Citizen Participation (Sherry R. Arnstein) to attain Citizen Control.  Then it is working within the complexities of local and regional economics development.  Assuming the city hall in question has not put up obstacles regarding participation, it is then a matter of accessing these community resources and effectively using them.  No simple tasks by any means.
Della recognizes that trying to find these living community resources through large, usually city hall sponsored, gatherings often only gives the illusion of participation.
We have to set them up to succeed Controlling axe-grinders ain’t enough.”  We have to start doing real public engagement.
As Della has said elsewhere:
“We need to give them the opportunity — and in many cases, a push. By push, I mean that we can set up public engagement activities to push people to think deeper — we can structure the feedback methods, for example, so that people have to identify their position’s ties to larger issues, or its potential unintended consequences.  I frankly think that we’re selling them short if we don’t create an opportunity for as many as possible to given the best insights of which they are capable.”
For myself, the next step is to create a disruptive model of such innovation that can be used by communities to create new community paradigms for themselves.  There will still be a role for the economic development professional though not based on a top down or outside-inside model. The function of the professional is going to have to change dramatically in relation with the community becoming more of facilitator for community empowerment while at the same time becoming all the more creative in community building.  More, however, needs to be said about creating community engagement.
Go check out Brian’s work.  It’s a good way to start a cold Monday morning.  More reports from sunny Orlando (via not-so-sunny Ohio) tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *