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Opportunities & Challenges:
The Gwinnett County (GA) Public Library serves one of the fastest growing and most diverse countiesin the US with fifteen branch locations and more on the way. The Library is internationally recognized as an innovator in its field; and its leadership knows that when you’re at the top of your game is the time to up your game even further for success. The challenge was to create a strategic plan to guide the library for the next five to seven years: one that is flexible—allowing the organization to cultivate its position in and relationship to a changing community—and one that provides concrete guidance for action in the near-, middle-, and longer term.

What we did:
M&B engaged the Library in an eight-month planning process that included extensive stakeholder engagement, research and careful crafting and review of the plan. We invited staff, community leaders, strategic partners, and citizens to participate in the process, so that the whole community has its “fingerprints” on the final product. We then worked with a group of key stakeholders to examine findings and develop goals and strategies. A set of action items was developed, along with extensive project plans, to create the first round of implementation for the plan.

Deliverables:
Deliverables include the strategic plan document, detailed documentation and processes for managing implementation and documents to guide further planning efforts.

This past winter, M&B principal and Northeast Economic Development Association (NEDA) board president, Abby Straus, appeared in the annual journal of the Kettering Foundation, Connections 2018: Experiments in Organizational Innovation.

In the article entitled: “Vibrant Communities: Reinventing an Economic Development Organization,” Straus discussed the organizational transformation underway inside NEDA to maintain its relevancy to those creating vibrant communities throughout the region. Along the journey toward reinvention, Straus explained, NEDA began to ask itself:

Who has a stake in the economic wellbeing of our communities? How might we engage them, so they feel included and want to participate in the NEDA community? How might we connect members to ideas and to each other to create value that will produce revenue? How might we support local associations in their work in collaboration rather than competition?

In answering these questions, Straus said, NEDA discovered:

… that our purpose doesn’t lie in solving problems for our members, but rather in connecting them to each other and to the solutions they—and we—create together. We learned that there is an appetite for connection and co-creation and that NEDA can provide an environment in which people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives might exchange knowledge and experience in service to creating an economically vibrant Northeast.

Checkout the full article here and tell us what you think! What are some other new ideas in community and economic development that we should know about?

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

The Paterson Alliance was founded in 1998 by five nonprofit agencies in the City of Paterson, New Jersey, who came together understanding that collectively the Paterson nonprofit community needed to set an agenda that would advance the quality of life in the City. The Alliance has grown to a membership of more than 70 organizations. With budgets tightening and the needs of citizens greater than ever, it is essential to align passion, talent and capability to produce the highest and most effective outcomes for Paterson. Hence the need for a creative and inclusive strategic plan.

What We Did

M&B facilitated a strategic planning process based on collaboration between Alliance members and community leaders. The process included a series of “Community Café’s”, where participants shared their vision for Paterson and their understanding of current reality, and collectively designed a way forward. Once the plan was created, we held an event, where champions of the plan came together to prioritize action items and recommit to collaboration.

Results:

The Paterson Alliance continues to be an anchor for the nonprofit community, which is stronger than ever. The planning process helped to galvanize members for collective action and reinforce a new narrative for Paterson, one of optimism and success. Programs like the flagship “Think Pre-k” early childhood initiative, and the Paterson Full Service Community School Nonprofit Collective Impact Project are making a huge difference to the people the Alliance serves.

M&B continues to work with the Paterson Alliance to support collaboration and the development of initiatives.

Just when some pundits were announcing the demise of the public library, and politicians are trying to defund them, libraries are undergoing a major revival as centers of community re-invention.

You can call it Carnegie 2.0.

It is 88 years since the last library was built with funds from Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist, but the spirit of helping communities thrive is alive and well across the United State of America.
Altogether, 2,509 libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, most of them in America (1,689,but others in UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and half a dozen other countries.

Cuts to library budgets seems to be a bi-partisan effort. For example, in 2010 New Jersey Governor Christie slashed funding for libraries soon after becoming governor in 2010. In the same year, Newark Mayor, now Senator Corey Booker, cut the budget of the city’s library by 20% when be first became mayor.

It is not all books anymore, although they are not going out of fashion. And googling stuff is no longer reliable, as the Internet is fast becoming a place for “alternative facts”, which are not facts at all.

Libraries are fast becoming the go-to place for:
  • Starting a new project or business, creating a new product or service, or making things
  • Building a resume and finding a job
  • Checking out community talent in the same way you check out a book or a movie
  • Acquiring skills and knowledge, packaged up in smaller chunks, just when you need it
  • Offering internships for community projects
  • Enjoying edutainment for toddlers, children, teens and adults
  • Critical community conversations
  • Meeting and socializing with others
  • Working with your tutor or mentor

The new roles for librarians are:

  • Honest brokers between a rapidly expanding number of disciplines, each with its own specialist language, ways of seeing the world, and growing distrust of other models/frameworks
  • Validators of knowledge of vital importance to communities and organizations who wish to make good decisions
  • Facilitators of crucial conversations between a diverse range of interests, particularly in community decision making and planning, policy making, and implementation
  • Curators of new and ever more diverse collections, including tools, methods, processes, systems and talents.
  • Mentors, so curation, categorizing and research become skills that everyone routinely uses.
  • Trusted partners, helping people and their organizations build the capacity for the wise application of knowledge, so they become much more than “learning organizations”.
  • Conveners for meetings, events, exhibits, safer refuge in emergencies, making and designing.
  • Community systems integrators, connecting organizations and talents in the community, and employing their skills and resources to help their people adapt successfully to change.
Here is an example of the kinds of far-sighted approach that libraries are adopting. It is two version of the strategic plan Maverick & Boutique developed for the Cozby Public Library and Community Commons in Coppell, Texas – the  Cozby Library Slide Show and the Cozby Library Strategic Plan. It is a major part of our consulting practice, currently averaging 4-5 plans a year. We use our own collaborative technology – Zing – shown in the image above to help conduct the community conversations, to achieve the “join in” necessary for the projects our clients  to develop to fact-track community-wide change.

In our work in economic development and complex project management, we often encounter failed projects and programs, that came to grief due to community opposition to the proposals, and which we are sometimes asked to  resuscitate.

One of the causes of failure is the long standing engineering practice of first designing a project and then trying to “sell” it to the community.

This is why many new critically important infrastructure projects don’t get done, and the whole community ends up paying for it in increased costs and greater inefficiencies. The extra costs are often not immediately obvious until a factory closes because it is not competitive, an environmental mishap endangers lives, or an infrastructure failure disrupts commerce.

The conventional approach to designing and selling projects has been around forever, and you will find the “achieve stakeholder buy-in” in almost every request for proposal.

Instead, we use an approach called “strategic doing” which involves key stakeholders in the process of creating projects or sub-projects connected to the main project. The projects become part of a ecosystem of synergistic/self-supporting activities.

People agree to proceed with the cluster of projects — including the main project — because they have an interest or stake in the outcome. They also get to have a say in the design.

When we approach projects this way, the opposition to projects evaporates because the projects, are designed to benefit all stakeholders, are more meaningful and relevant. Rough edges are removed that would otherwise be a sources of irritation or dissatisfaction.

We adopted this “join in” approach on a recent strategic planning project for two counties — Steuben and Chemung –along the I-86 corridor in Western New York  and their seven municipalities bookended by Corning and Elmira.

We worked with 70 or so local government, community and business leaders in two sets of highly intensive three day workshop sessions just three weeks apart, to design some 50 projects to achieve their goals of developing an “innovation corridor” and simultaneously creating a more vibrant community.

The region was successful, along with the Binghamton area (known collectively as the Southern Tier), in securing one of two $500 million investments by the State of New York, in competition with other regions across the State.

We also spent a  considerable amount of time helping our client develop a governance strategy. How do you set up a multiplicity of projects for success, each with a multiplicity of different stakeholders interests?

For a start, you need a project manager at the core that can see the big picture and is determined to get things done, to work closely with each of the project teams, just as you do with complex major projects or systems of systems engineering projects. You also need the owners of each of the community sub-projects to have both a degree of autonomy for decision making but also responsibility to the greater whole. This demand clear set of rules of engagement about how each of the project teams will  coordinate with others, including a requirement to report progress to the project manager, or to seek help when difficulties are encountered.. It’s a kind of community systems-of-systems economic and community development approach.

Naturally, we have used our knowledge of how to run complex major projects, to help our community clients successfully handle the big and the complex.

Here’s a link in the a case study in the Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge about some of our methods.

The kinds of questions we ask about governance issues include:

Resources: What human, physical, financial, knowledge, support, temperaments and other resources will you need to undertake this project, who owns or has control of them, and how could you acquire them?
Optimal outcome: What is the ideal outcome from this project? What does “success” look like?
Structure: What structure will you adopt for the project that will ensure that those responsible for carrying out the project report to all key stakeholders, rather than a select or influential few?
Ownership: Who is the ultimate owner of the project and how might you obtain their support and commitment?
Mobilizing: How can we tap into the passions of people so they not only support the project, but actively help to win support for its political acceptance and implementation?
Commitment: How will we foster a sense of ownership and or “join in” so people unite behind a decision?
Hearing and acting on concerns: How do we provide greater certainty for quietly harboring doubts? In situations where consensus is not possible, how do we ensure that all voices have been heard OR people feel heard? How will we act on concerns?
Attention to results: How can we balance the needs/outcomes for the individual, the community and the organization?
Sustainability: How will we ensure that the changes that occur as a result of implementing this project will be adopted and sustained, beyond our tenure or involvement in the process?
Accountability: How can we go about flagging unacceptable behavior and actions when it may have serious repercussions/downsides for the project or the community?
Governance Innovation: How will we know when the system we set up to govern the project is not working (is not meeting the needs of the stakeholders)? How should we plan to renegotiate the way the project is managed to ensure success?

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

Revitalize 19 cities and towns in North Central New Jersey, on the verge of re-urbanization, but saddled with home rule political processes, the buildings and the infrastructure are still in place from a time when America was first settled (the 1600s), when New Jersey factories were a powerhouse of the Industrial Era (the 1800s) and when families flocked to newly created suburbs on the borders of decaying urban centres (the mid-1900s).

What we did:

In collaboration with Camoin Associates, Maverick & Boutique facilitated a two year program to develop a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the North-Central Region of New Jersey via the John S. Watson Institute, a policy arm of the Thomas Edison State College that provides support for the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association.

The project was conducted in three overlapping phases – research, planning and implementation, so that teams recruited to help plan new initiates, were also being encouraged to begin the process of implementation – otherwise known as Strategic Doing.

The first stage of the project involved a study of the industry, employment, wages, and occupational base for the 19 municipalities that make up the region, a study of the business climate of the region and the municipalities including: infrastructure, labor, incentives, taxation, buildings/land and  a review of opportunities for private investment leading to job creation, especially in emerging industries, such as advanced manufacturing, “green” construction, environmental services and alternative energy.

During the second stage, M&B facilitated the work of a region-wide strategy 50-member planning committee of business, political and community leaders as well representatives from critical infrastructure and government services organizations. The committee met on a regular basis, both as a committee to develop the overall strategy, and as task forces to scope initiatives in six focus areas – training as an economic engine, infrastructure renewal, small business development, implementation assistance under a formal regional organization structure and a collective modular marketing program. As the programs develop, new people with the necessary skills, knowledge or access to resources were invited to join he effort.

In a third and overlapping stage, we helped Watson Institute staff recruit Community Implementation and Planning Teams in each of the municipalities; identify and design shovel- ready projects; and help each community develop local versions of the regional initiatives.

Deliverable:

Read the 2015 Urban-Focused Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the North-Central Region of NJ here!

 

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

Develop a winning plan for the I-86 Corridor to compete in New York State’s one-time competition for $500 million in economic development funding, including an ecosystem of well-developed project concepts to deal strategically with the critical issues facing the Corridor.

What we did:

M&B, in collaboration with Camoin Associates, an economic development firm, and Bergman, an engineering firm, designed and facilitated an accelerated strategic planning process for the I-86 Corridor to meet a tight eight-week deadline from start to finish to prepare for a one-off state-wide competition for large-scale investment funding. The project involved two counties, seven municipalities, and 70-80 stakeholders representing utilities, business, education, community and local government groups.

Our work resulted in the I-86 Corridor consortium and its partners in nearby Binghamton, which forms the Southern Tier, being awarded a $500 million investment from the State of New York to fund their projects.

M&B employed a combination of the Zing technology, systems maps, and project planning templates, to guide participants through the strategic planning process. The result is an ecosystem of 50 fully developed systematically interrelated projects/programs. Each project/program is described in considerable detail including action steps, strategic measures, governance, anticipated budget and funding and physical resources and talent required.

The workshops were conducted in two blocks of three days during which the participants prepared detailed project plans for infrastructure, innovation, industry development, governance, creating vibrant communities, workforce development and education, and tourism/marketing/branding.

M&B also facilitated a series of robust conversation with the steering committee to develop a corporate structure and implementation process to ensure the many participating stakeholder could work together flexibly under the auspices of an overarching governing body charged with project management oversight.

Deliverable:

View the I-86 Innovation Corridor- Strategic Action Plan, July 2015, here!

 

 

 

As the facilitators of community meetings that require the use of technology many of the rooms are too big, too small, too constrained or just plain weird.

The venues are often a challenge. Maverick & Boutique use the Zing collaborative meeting environment in our work. It requires a video projector, a giant shared screen (for example, a big white wall), wireless keyboards, a computer and tables and chairs for conversations.

After Hurricane Sandy the debrief of the Jersey shore communities (in Monmouth County) were held in a two different courtrooms and an IHOP (the International House of Pancakes) restaurant. The Essex County community response to the Emergency Preparedness Plan was held in the party room at a skating rink. The Vermont economic development strategy was created in a fire brigade meeting room, a night club, a school classroom, an adult learning center, a ski resort and not one, but two old theaters.

We have also heard of other unusual settings for our kind of meetings:

  • In the Papua New Guinea highlands, a large white sheet for a screen, a portable generator for power.
  • In an Italian restaurant, one DeBono Thinking Hat per course
  • In a lecture theater of computerists in Melbourne, clumped together in groups
  • At an embassy in Washington DC
  • A church in Phoenix
  • A boathouse in Canberra
  • On a kitchen table

What we have discovered is that it really does not matter where we meet. It is more important how you set up the room, how people interact and the kinds of questions you ask.

In the world of complex systems that we inhabit, we know that structure influences behavior. The structure of a meeting not only includes the shape and size of the meeting space, whether we have rows of seats or chairs and tables, the rules of interaction, and the way you generate, record and make sense of your collective knowledge.

Here’s some examples:

  • Rows of chairs facing a stage, people on the stage facing the audience: Some Japanese call this the American speaking hall, because the people on the stage speak, and the audience listens.
  • People seated in a U: You can really only talk to one person next to you. Hopefully, no one misses out on a partner in the discussion.
  • People seated in a circle facing each other: No power positions, but very uncomfortable for the introverts among us.
  • Town halls: where the audience members take turns to ask questions, make statements, or issue challenges.
  • Voting: a show of hands or a vote results in winners and losers.
  • Idea Integration: If two people are asked to combine their ideas, then those two people combine their joint idea with two other people, and those four people…..

Here are a few rules of thumb that can ensure meetings are a success:

  • A very large shared screen so we can see and read everyone’s ideas as they are being generated, which sparks more of our own ideas that are connected to their ideas
  • People work in small groups of 6-8 with people from other organizations/fields, so we expose people to points of view outside their community, discipline, part of the organization
  • People discuss the issues in pairs, so there are many parallel conversations
  • One keyboard for every 4-8 people, so everyone gets heard, and there is plenty of variety
  • We employ rich questions that guide people to similar conclusions, also despite our differences.
  • We read all the ideas aloud, so all ideas are valued
  • We introduce a sense-making step, so everyone in the room is asked to look for and we record the patterns in the ideas so we can develop a new shared model, despite our differences.

Workshop

So here’s a few questions to help rethink your meeting:

1. Where’s the most unusual place you have ever held a community meeting? Describe what happened as a result of the unusual location?

2. How are your meetings organized and what is the result?

3. What outcome would you prefer to achieve from your meetings?

4. Thinking about the structure of your meetings (room size and shape, seating, rules of interaction, agenda/questions, type of questions (closed/open), technology to support record keeping/idea sharing) what aspects of your meetings perpetuate or reward conflict?

5. Thinking about the structure of your meetings, what aspects result in reaching agreement despite your differences?

6. What could you differently about the structure of your meetings that would reward success?

There’s a revolution underway in economic development across the USA. Inching its way out is the traditional real estate-focused approach to economic development and some of the $80 billion in tax breaks (NY Times, December 1, 2012) and other incentives state and local governments offer to attract new businesses and jobs.

Enter stage left are new partners in economic development, a grass-roots assortment that includes libraries,  community organizers, special interest foundations, teenage app developers, Big Picture schools, churches or sustainable energy entrepreneurs.

We explored how communities might partner with such organizations/people at the Build North East conference in Worcester (September 7-9, 2014). Robert Leaver of New Commons Rhode Island and John Findlay, Maverick & Boutique conducted rapid-fire 5 X 5 workshop to:

  • Identify opportunities for partnering with strategically positioned community organizations such as libraries, leading edge schools and colleges
  • Explore how to expand social and business entrepreneurial activities at a grass-roots level, especially in urban and rural settings
  • Plan the start-up of public access making/manufacturing, design publishing, app development in the center of a village or town

Six teams began by identifying a village or town in New England that was experiencing an intractable economic/community development problem.

  • Good New England Bones
  • OK for 6 months of year
  • Struggles economically during Winter
  • Youth unemployment, drug epidemic
  • Can’t get critical skills
  • Good in parts – has sprawl, some blight, brownfields (costly to remediate)
  • “Poverty in paradise”

Each team chose one of six PARTNERS to work with, for which a profile had been developed. Here are the profiles:

Libraries: are adopting new “wise application of knowledge” roles in a rapidly changing and more complex world. They provide a local high touch experience for the high tech world we live in. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Maker spaces – 3D printers, electronic and electrical, publishing equipment
  • Public access to the Internet, computers
  • Lend books, CDs, software, equipment,
  • Meeting rooms and meeting facilitation
  • Incubator spaces
  • Courses for completing K-12
  • Support for college study and research
  • Research for new businesses
  • New skills – software, webpage, databases

Public access manufacturing/makerspaces: Cooperatives and companies such as TechShop are establishing manufacturing and production facilities for the public to rent/use by the day, week or month. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Time share equipment use
  • Basic training, On-site instruction and college courses
  • Metalworking – mills, lathes, routers, plasma cutters, 3D printers
  • Culinary – shared commercial kitchens, Many kinds – metal working,g rooms Agricultural – equipment for bottling/canning, fermented products – wine, beer, cheese and yoghurt production
  • Arts and Artisan – woodworking, framing, showrooms etc.

Big Picture Schools: Personalized learning one student at a time. Big Pictures Schools prepare students for the real world, with applied as well as soft skills – leadership, project management, mentoring and planning – rarely found in “curriculum driven” schools. Their roles in economic development include:

  • Students complete an authentic project connected to their interest
  • Students learn how to be adults by being with adults
  • Mentors are expert in the field of student’s interest and in their field
  • Assessed by growth and change, not tests; family involved
  • Project based – portfolios, exhibitions, reflective journalling
  • Small group learning, maximum of 150 people per school
  • Learning by serving the community via projects

Churches: As community and economic development are increasingly inseparable. Faith-based organizations, which have a long history of education, health care and support service delivery have a critical role to play, including personalisation – reversing the trend to corporatisation and large scale service delivery. Their roles in economic development include:

  • Education and health care service delivery
  • Support for those who have fallen on hard times
  • Aged, children’s, and rehabilitation services
  • Fostering a sense of community
  • Drug dependence and recovery services

A gaggle of 14 year old app developers: Who knew? Many of the next generation of Tech Millionaires are starting their businesses on-line before they are old enough to drink or drive.  They are developing phone and tablet apps that operate at between current paradigms and disciplines. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Capable of building new applications in a few weeks.
  • Low-cost business models
  • Solve customized local business and community problems
  • Connected to the world and other developers
  • Entrepreneurial – regard work as projects rather than careers
  • Low barrier to market entry

Sustainable energy entrepreneurs: Plug-and-play sustainable energy solutions which deal with the business case, permits, marketing, installation, connections to the grid or shared use are the hallmarks of the sustainable energy entrepreneur. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Local energy production from solar, wind, biomass, pellets
  • Local solar networks, linking neighbors with great and not so good aspects
  • Architecturally appropriate moldings to integrate solar into New England-style houses
  • Transportation fuels from landfill gas, biomass gas; biodiesel
  • Plug-and-play solutions which solve the complexities of permits, connections

Participants used a worksheet to collect ideas from both the perspective of the TOWN and the new new PARTNER, and how each could serve each other’s interests in a syngeristic, win-win-win way, so not only did the participants get a successful result, but so did the broader community system.

Workshop

Here’s the workshop outline:

1. TRENDS: What are the big trends for your TOWN? What are the big trends for your PARTNER?

2. CAPACITIES RESOURCES: What resources, capacities and other stakeholders do others in the TOWN have that could be really useful to your partner? What skills, capacities, access to resources, customers and other stakeholders does your PARTNER have the town needs?

3. BAKING A BIGGER CAKE: How could the TOWN help your partner become very successful and the town/region to be successful as well? How could your PARTNER help the town/region? How could you put the TOWN and PARTNERS’s resources and interests together to bake a bigger cake?

4. FUNDING AND FIRST STEPS: To get started, what are the first steps? Who will you get involved? How will it be funded? Actions: Who, by, for?

5. REPORT BACK: Prepare for the report back in any way you choose but at MINIMUM, give the project a SNAZZY 4-5 WORD TITLE AND A 25-WORD DESCRIPTION. (Consider Song, Dance, Skit, Slides/Talk, Demonstration, All of the above, etc)

It can be challenging to interact with people whose perspectives and opinions differ from ours, but there are many benefits, including making us smarter. In this Washington Post entry, Gregory Rodriguez explains why this is so.