Seizing Our Destiny Print
Written by David Brunnen   
Sunday, 21 October 2012 09:54

The Sunday breakfast review - 'Seizing Our Destiny', published by ICF

Head of CommunicationsMarket analysts, by definition, take a very sectorised view of the way economies function.   In daily outputs fueling the financial news and informing political economists they are oft fascinated (or terrified) by the extraordinary lightness of being digital.

As I stir sticky syrup into this autumnal breakfast bowl of warm porridge it loses viscosity and starts to flow – much like the digitally-enabled warming and loosening up of sector behaviour.  New markets appear and others are absorbed with increasing rapidity.  Ideas, functions and data, are integrated into new formats, devices and applications.  In every sector the treacle that slows us - everyday hassle that gets in the way of life and work - is being eliminated.

There are no tradeable stocks and shares for cities or towns so we are fed metrics on the health of whole industries and an occasional take on the fortunes of regions – particularly where these are characterised by a single industry.  It is the economics of the firm that dominate analytical effort.

But if we set aside the prevailing ‘top down’ sector perspectives of how economies function and ditch our addictions to departmentalised silos, we are forced to recognise that we all live at a local level.  Viewed through the prism of locality, it is from within your local environment – the city, the community, and the eco-system - that that we are enabled to live and work.  Or maybe, against the odds, we just scrape by in places that were once great but have lost their way.

In ‘Seizing our Destiny, Robert Bell and fellow co-founders of the Intelligent Community Forum profile seven places that have committed themselves to embracing change - seven cities that recognise that in order to thrive in the digital economy they must ‘turn legacy into opportunity’.

ICF publicationEach of these communities, the top seven survivors of a rigorous process to qualify as ‘Community of the Year’, have not only learned much about the local dynamics of economic and societal development but are rich exemplars for other city planners and policy developers who are charged with enabling places and services to be sustainably fit for purpose.

The seven profiles are drawn this year from Finland, Canada, Taiwan and the USA – each with differing motivating needs.  Although they provide a wide range of thought-provoking insights, the common themes shine through and are helpfully summarised and interspersed between the profiles along with references to previous case studies*.

It is less than holistic to rate the relative significance of the different strands of endeavour but much of their success derives from their local capacity to innovate.  These communities have focused on the need to boost innovation all round – not just in business and not exclusively enabled by technology.  In local government and in all manner of public sector institutions they learned (or re-learned) how to build a local political willingness to embrace change and adapt to new circumstances.

It is revealing that these ‘Intelligent Community’ exemplars mostly spring from large urban and city environments – places where the tensions are more evident, where the challenges are greatest, where some emergent crisis demands radical action.  But the lessons should not be ignored by those in gentler less-pressured places – communities everywhere, rural or urban, need to adapt to digital living and working.  For sure major cities are suffering alarmingly complex pressures but, in national government policies that make them compete for special funding, there are dangers that the massive scope for revitalizing and rebalancing the wider economy may be overlooked.

This slim volume (150 pages) should be required reading for every local government, for every community leader, for every local college head or hospital manager and for every enterprise (public or private) with half an ounce of interest in making a more prosperous place.

Views may differ but the basics (better local skills, greater local digital inclusion, increased local capacity for innovation and a future-proofed digital infrastructure) are the essentials for progress on whatever you think is your personal planet.

We are now way beyond the time when national economic woes can be ‘fixed’ by adjusting bank interest rates, lobbying ratings agencies or seeking stand-alone sector solutions.  Breathing life back into the economy is a bottom up process.  Concerted local actions to deploy and exploit future-proofed digital infrastructures provide the most obvious route to revitalization and the success of the next generation.



*  The book also references cases studies from previous years, including Ottawa (Ontario) Arlington (Virginia), Dundee (Scotland) and Eindhoven (Netherlands).

‘Seizing Our Destiny’ by Robert Bell, John Jung & Louis Zacharilla, is published by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF).  It is available via Amazon.  ISBN 9781477635797

ICF is a partner organization for NextGen and many of the topics featured in this book were discussed at the recent NextGen12 conference in Westminster, London.

UPDATE (23:00 EST, October 21, 2012)  ICF announces Smart21 for 2013   

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 October 2012 09:40