by Dave Faulkner and Rick Smyre
Both of us are sports fans. As futurists and economic and community transformers, we try to think about what local communities will need in the early part of the 21st century to prepare their economies and societies for a different kind of future: one full of contradictions, counterintuitive thinking and challenges never before seen. We believe that we are in a period of historical transformation from the Industrial Age to a Creative Knowledge Age, and that so many of the traditional ways of thinking and acting will not keep our rural communities vital and sustainable.
So we chose two famous quotes of one of our baseball heroes, Yogi Berra, to lay the seeds for this article in a way that may be confusing and counterintuitive. We suggest that this is appropriate because any time of historical transformation is confusing, requiring counterintuitive solutions when compared to traditional thinking and action.
With this in mind, our article has three objectives: 1) to introduce you to the Champaign Transformation Project of Champaign County, Ohio, and why a Futures Institute was established to help leaders become familiar with trends of the future and key principles of the nationally known Communities of the Future effort; 2) to focus on the importance of the use of wired and wireless communications technology for creating a culture of transformation in support of an evolving Creative Knowledge Economy, and 3) what strategies, processes and actions are needed and in progress to build capacities for transformation in a rural area such as Champaign County, OH.
We begin with a simple idea: that we live in a time of such transition that change is more than it used to be (reflective of Yogi Berra's quote.) In the past, one could increase or decrease what had always been done, and get the improvements needed. For example, recruit more industrial manufacturing jobs to improve economic development or reduce class size in conjunction with buying new textbooks to improve education.
Today, such ideas are no longer working because the context of our society in which these decisions are made is transforming, not just changing in traditional ways. Until core groups of local leaders become knowledgeable about and committed to preparing their communities for a different kind of future, we will continue to see increased frustration and tension build in our society. How we go about laying seeds for community transformation will determine how vital, viable, sustainable and successful our communities will be in the future. The economic future of any community in the 21st century will be tied to the ability of that community to transform from an Industrial economy to a Creative Knowledge Economy to a Web/Networked Economy over the next thirty years. With this in mind, we would like to introduce you to an ongoing experiment in Champaign County, OH which is attempting to evolve a system of community transformation using concepts and methods which have resulted from the work of the Center for Communities of the Future over the last decade. The COTF System is not a cookie cutter model, but reflects core principles that can be applied in varied and flexible ways by any community. We offer this article not to provide a model for the future, but to say that seeds have been planted which are emerging in different, interesting and innovative ways . . . many of which could not have been predicted.
Of most importance is the early success in getting a core group of leaders to grow beyond traditional thinking. As a result of a Futures Institute, these local leaders are beginning to work in collaboration to develop ideas and projects that are based on understanding how new trends and new fundamental principles will need to transform all citizens' thinking and behavior. By integrating cutting edge ideas in the use of communications technology, leadership, and community planning and learning, Champaign County has embarked on a journey to show how a rural area prepares itself for a constantly changing, interconnected and increasingly complex society. Although early in the overall effort, small successes are beginning to break through traditional barriers of thinking and action, and new seeds are beginning to show signs of growing.
The following combines the story of how the Champaign Transformation Project originated, how the Futures Institute emerged, how a Big Idea was developed that focused on a cutting edge communications technology component, a transformative leadership component, and a cultural transformation component. As you continue to read this article, consider the differences between what Champaign County is doing and on what traditional strategic planning is focused. At the same time consider how these two concepts are complementary. As transformative ideas and projects have been spun off from the "futures generative dialogue" of the Futures Institute participants, strategic planning takes over. We will introduce you to ideas such as and/both thinking, parallel processes and ecological planning that are a part of community transformation but not a part of traditional community development and strategic planning. As the Champaign Transformation Project has evolved, it has become obvious that cutting edge communications technology will be a key element in helping to create a transformation of culture in Champaign County. We start with the story of how the idea emerged, how it evolved and what can be expected in the future. Don't read the following looking for a "silver bullet" to help your community or to give you the model you can use. Read this article to start your own personal journey of transformational thinking, so that you will be able to help your own community lay seeds for a different type of culture….a culture which will support and nurture continuous innovation and a Creative Knowledge Economy/Society.
Early Musings & The Futures Institute
In the fall of 2002, Dave was in a class of the national Economic Development Institute that I taught. As we talked after the class, we realized that he was in an audience at Urbana University to which I spoke several years before. In that keynote in Urbana I had introduced how trends of the future would impact local communities. By the EDI class in 2003, the ideas had matured and specific concepts and methods were discussed about how to introduce transformative ideas and methods to prepare local areas to be competitive in an emerging Creative Knowledge Economy.
Over the next six months, Dave and I talked by email and phone a number of times. He was interested in learning more about the COTF ideas as well as how such ideas might be introduced into the thinking and activities of Champaign County. Dave has a real passion for learning and began, on his own, to read books such as Emergence by Steve Johnson and Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida. As he began to integrate the ideas and methods of COTF about which he was also learning, Dave decided that he wanted to find a way to introduce these ideas to leaders in Champaign County. The first thought was to set up a two-year process in which Rick and Dave would co-facilitate parallel ideas set out in a comprehensive proposal that was developed.
As Dave approached individual local leaders and small groups about helping to fund the two-year proposal, as well as becoming involved in one of the projects, he found there was a resistance that he had not expected. As he thought about what was occurring and as he and Rick talked about the reactions of various individuals, it became obvious that two things were happening: 1) those to whom he presented the overall idea were overwhelmed with the magnitude of the concept, and 2) several of the people, through both words and body language, reflected how threatened they were.
With this feedback, a shift was made to connect with a positive access point of the situation, and another approach was taken. Recognizing that local leaders in Champaign County didn't understand the language or the ideas of community transformation, Creative Knowledge Economy (CKE), or transformational learning, it was decided to start small and have a one-day session to introduce the concepts and find out if there was interest in going forward with the idea of a major project.
Dave sent 100 invitations to targeted leaders, asking if they were interested in hearing Rick speak about trends and their potential impact on Champaign County. The cost was set at $35 to prevent anyone from being excluded because of cost. All invited were told that there would be a cutoff of 45 people. This one-day session was held in August of '03 and the audience was full. On purpose, Dave and Rick had designed the day so that both linear and nonlinear thinkers would have their needs met. Dave led-off the morning and introduced economic statistics for Ohio and for Champaign County. Rick was next and introduced economic trends, resulting in a dialogue with the participants about ideas that was not a part of the experience base of those involved. Dave then gave educational statistics for Ohio and Champaign County. Rick spent an hour talking about new trends in education and learning, especially transformational learning, and interacted with the crowd. Finally, Dave offered four ideas to include a Futures Institute to be considered as a next step. Over the next two weeks, those at the first session were polled and it was decided that a Futures Institute was a good next step.
With this information, it was decided to invite individuals to another one-day event as a recruiting tool in October to introduce the concept of a Futures Institute to see if there would be interest. The same procedure was used and 45 showed up to hear about the Futures Institute. It was interesting that one-half of those who showed up were different from the original group in August. During the rest of October, Dave recruited participants at a cost of $200, and he and Rick designed five sessions of the Futures Institute to be held once a month from Dec to April.
Twenty-two signed up to participate with the Futures Institute. The initial session was structured loosely to give those attending a feeling that this series of dialogues would not be tightly controlled. Each session was held over four hours and Dave and Rick co-facilitated dialogue that was built around megatrends, weak signals and concepts and principles of personal and community transformation. The objectives of the Futures Institute were threefold: 1) to continue to introduce major trends such as a shift in energy from fossil fuels to hydrogen systems; 2) to build skills of thinking, collaboration and planning not existing prior to involvement in the FI; and 3) to develop an overall framework of ideas and projects that would help seed a cultural transformation for Champaign County.
It became quickly apparent that new skills of thinking were needed. As expected, the participants wanted to be given "the" answer to the issue of how trends would impact their community. In addition, a number of those involved were schooled in the theory and practice of strategic planning and wanted to be able to predict what would occur in the future. Through stories, games of the future and small group exercises, several new concepts were introduced in Session II to help those involved feel comfortable with ideas foreign to their traditional approaches and to their experience. Most important was the idea of looking for connections in everything, whether direct, indirect or oblique. Oblique connections were identified by introducing the concept of "weak signals," defined as potential shifts in thinking and acting before they become trends. As an example, the idea of electronic infrastructure as an economic development tool was used. When the Web first was introduced in 1992, no one could have predicted that it would be at the core of economic activity by 2004.
This ability to see connections was identified as "and/both" thinking. This brought a number of people to go "aha!, I see about what you are talking. If we only look for the 'right answer' then we will not be able to see connections. Bingo. This led to a dialogue about the importance of having Champaign County develop a wired and wireless electronic capacity where all citizens would have access to new trends, new ideas and each other. By connecting these ideas with trends of the future, it soon dawned on the participants that the culture of Champaign County would need to support continuous innovation for the region to be competitive in a Creative Knowledge Economy and Society.
This led to the third session of the FI where serendipity intervened. As a result of a snow storm, Rick was not able to come to Ohio. It was at this session that those attending identified ideas and factors that became parts of what was known as the "Big Idea." Building on a concept called "Tri-Vecta Innovation" developed specifically for the second FI session, the group realized that their original level of thinking was much too limited and linear to be able to conceive ideas and projects that would be necessary to prepare the culture of Champaign County for a constantly changing and more complex future. It became clear to them that they would need to work in collaboration and take risks previously perceived as inappropriate and "not practical."
It was at this session that the concept of "team innovation and leadership" emerged in ways that previously had been unclear and fuzzy. Multiple ideas were suggested in a free form, unstructured dialogue of brainstorming. It was from this session that Rick took the ideas and worked to organize them within the conceptual framework of the COTF System of Community Transformation. As Dave and Rick talked about the session and how it got the participants fully involved, they both realized the serendipity that had occurred . . . if the plane had brought Rick to the session, the dialogue would have evolved differently. At the same time, both recognized the fact that those involved were just beginning to understand some of the basic COTF concepts, and had not yet heard of the COTF System. Between sessions three and four, Rick took the multiple ideas and projects suggested by the FI group, and organized them into three major categories that reflected the objectives of the FI as well as the need to have the participants move beyond strategic planning into the arena of ecoplanning. In developing this method of creating categories and subcategories, it would be necessary for those involved to use their new way of thinking as they conceived how to build "parallel processes" and "process projects" within the framework of the three categories:
1) Champaign Connectivity
a) Universal Broadband Access
b) New Media Center Downtown
c) E-services Development
2) A Corridor of Culture
a) Artspace Project
b) Youth Enrichment Project
c) Connected Corridors of Transformation
d) Entrepreneurial Opportunities
3) Transformative Leadership Development
a) Futures Institute
b) Master Capacity Builder
c) Learning for Transformational Leaders
d) Journey of Personal Transformation
All of the ideas developed in Session II were incorporated in a series of graphics which showed how the categories overlapped and connected.
The following graphic is designed to reflect how the ideas that have emerged from the Futures Institute dialogue can be grouped into three diverse systems of focus. The overall framework of the relationship of connections of various elements of the three systems constitutes what is called the "Big Idea."
Then this graphic and backup was used to introduce the key ideas of the COTF System to include:
1) Values, 2) Concepts, 3) Strategies, 4) Capacities, 5) Behaviors and 6) Attitudes.
Several key ideas were introduced such as a) ecoplanning - the capacity to utilize networks, webs and parallel processes to lay seeds of transformation in the thinking and actions of a local community; b) interdependency - linking people and ideas in a foundation of innovation and implementation; and c) a transformational learning - using a system of and/both thinking, individualized instruction, working within a futures context, asking appropriate questions and seeing connections among disparate ideas and factors.
The FI core group then self-organized into four groups of five to work on key ideas and to select several elements from the Big Idea framework with which to work in the last of the fourth and fifth sessions. The fifth session was used to set priorities and to begin applying ecoplanning ideas and methods to Phase II of the Champaign Transformation Project.
There was unanimous agreement on the part of the Futures Institute participants that no Creative Knowledge Economy or Society would be possible without a fixed and wireless broadband infrastructure.
The following key ideas are fundamental assumptions developed as set of foundation principles important to the future of Champaign County that has communications technology as a key piece of evolving a culture of transformation :
The framework for broadband being utilized by Champaign County is based on the experience of Dr. Andrew Cohill, President of DesignNine, and his work with the Blacksburg Electronic Village, as well as CT Communications, a locally owned telecommunications company, and C-TEC, the Champaign Technology and Employment Center.
As a result of the focus on having Champaign County develop a broadband capacity, there was an understanding that parallel processes would be needed to help evolve the following:
1) Establish Universal Broadband Access
100% of all citizens are being targeted to be included. This would be a statement of equal opportunity that would appeal to all political backgrounds. News coverage will introduce a rural community with
"universal coverage of a different type." Each neighborhood will have
a 'broadband coordinator" using a "broadband manual." Monthly contests among neighborhoods will be patterned after the idea of % of those wearing seat belts. A broad and deep database for the community will be developed. A community web site modeled after BEV will be developed. The site will be linked to COTF and other transformational efforts. Any community organization that develops a "Champaign Transformation" Project will be given a separate web page. Capacity building pages integrated with COTF Community DNA ideas and methods will be developed. Incentives will be given for "conspicuous
broadband connections." Retail discount coupons will be given for broadband use. School groups will be involved in contests to help public and private organizations use the broadband more effectively. A community sign-up center will be established for "third place collaboration." Downtown amenities will be developed to attract young professionals from other areas of the country.
2) New Media Center for Downtown Urbana
The City of Urbana will be a major promoter of the use of connections in Champaign County. The Media Center will be designed in physical ways to reflect the impact of future trends. Collaborative multimedia methods will be integrated to tell the story of community transformation in Champaign County. City elected officials and staff will take the lead in overcoming "community resistititus." The location of the physical facility will optimize the practical and symbolic nature of the Media Center. Urbana University will play a major role in the utilization of the Media Center. A key individual at Urbana University will connect an ongoing Futures Institute to the work of the Media Center. A link will be made to the New Media Center at UCLA. A national advisory group for the Media Center will be recruited. An individual at UU will be designated a NM specialist and integrate modules of NM culture into the UU curricula.
The Chamber of Commerce will create an entrepreneurial council for New Media use by small businesses. Identify and recruit national software firms to explore innovative New Media methods for community transformation. Multimedia will be utilized for helping the citizens of Champaign County learn to think systemically within a futures context and overcome "narrowcast" thinking. Develop a showroom for 21st century uses of New Media.
Develop a Direct Consensus Democracy research and development project. Have youth design a "manual for the 21st century citizen." Create "helping each other succeed" contests and give recognition to those citizens that show how to build capacities of transformation in others. A pilot project using TRIO electronic advances will be established to show community use of this technology. Establish projects built around the interdependent concept of "why are my neighbor's needs as important as mine?" UU and the Chamber of Commerce will cosponsor "creative entrepreneurial forums." Internal and external "free agent" partnerships will be built to help network these capacities in Champaign County. Concepts of continuous innovation will be recognized at an annual banquet. Quarterly "e-business idea" awards will be given by the Chamber of Commerce. Weak signal awards and recognition will be given by the public schools. The city clerk will be "morphed" into a capacity builder for 21st century electronic democracy. Larry Grossman will be asked to speak at an event introducing the Direct Consensus Democracy Project as a part of introducing connection with his Digital Progress Project. Networks of citizens will be introduced to the concept of an Electronic Republic and DCD to reflect the transformation in the structure and tenor of a democracy in the emerging Creative Knowledge Society.
Seeding Transformation in a Rural Area
As we continue to shift our thinking and action in Champaign County, we are reminded of how champagne is aged to prepare it for the best taste and consumer satisfaction. There is an analogy to what we are finding as we deal with the present issues in Champaign County and lay seeds for the future at the same time. As leaders, we are learning that it takes a personal transformation to be able to have the skills, knowledge and emotional strengths necessary to support the ideas and processes of community transformation. We are finding that technology is a vehicle for sharing knowledge and building relationships…yet, if the knowledge is out of date and the relationships have no depth or flexibility, then the technology is of little practical use as a tool of community transformation. More than anything, we have learned that the importance of thinking differently within a futures context is critical. We are in the process of learning how to build small networks for process projects and for connected learning communities.
Once we experienced the Futures Institute, our group has agreed we will never be the same. We are now taking the various concepts of the "Big Idea" and breaking them into doable projects, processes and events to seed a culture of transformation. The following are either in the works or being planned as specific projects intended to respond to various parts of the "Big Idea." Of special interest is our attention to prepare ourselves for the development and use of an electronic infrastructure that will give our citizens universal access to broadband. Each of the other ongoing projects are interrelated. As a part of the outcomes of the Futures Institute, our core group has learned to think systemically.
Big Idea = Building Community Connectivity via GoChampaign.com
One of the projects spinning out of the Big Idea is the GoChampaign.com Portal. As part of a community development project, active residents and community leaders have begun a bold online initiative to develop a community portal web site. A portal web site is designed to be a "point of entry" to the Web and usually provides a wealth of information, web site links and services. This project is intended to serve the interests of early technology adopters in an effort to capture and build a stable foundational audience. As the audience grows, new content sources and other resources necessary to the continuation of the project will also grow creating an economic development engine that is intended to eventually lead to the evolution of a Creative Knowledge Economy in the community.
In order to serve the interests and needs of a diverse audience the portal will provide local news, weather, a community calendar of local events, an online directory of businesses and possibly local residents, links to local web sites, and a discussion forum for local interest topics. The project will be developed feature-by-feature over the course of approximately 3 months for an estimated cost of $15,050.
We have found that community transformation is not easy. There are numerous obstacles that tradition and experience has created that need to be overcome. As local leaders, we are used to moving ahead at a fast pace to get something done. In our work with the Center for Communities of the Future we have come to realize the need to balance getting things done in the short run with laying seeds of new ways of thinking and acting within a "futures context" for the longer run. The skills are different. The knowledge required is different (futures/transformative thinking .) Our expectations and emotional needs as leaders are different.
One of the most difficult challenges faced by Champaign County's new students of community transformation is maintaining the drive of learning and practicing new ways in an environment of traditional thinking and expectations. Sustaining the energy of community transformation given the reality of resource constraints – people, time and money – involves a balancing act of developing and honing transformational skills while simultaneously producing anecdotal, behavioral and measurable results. Ideally, the fledgling understanding of the ideas, concepts and methods of community transformation will be blended into projects in consonance with constituent expectations for tangible and intangible outcomes. Incrementally, as "master capacity builder" status is pursued, the transformational quality of community capacities and output will be enhanced. One key to insure a continuous momentum of community transformation is an understanding that attention and resources must be paid to both sides of the equation – the parallel processes of transformational leadership development and community transforming developments.
Continuing to build parallel internal and external seed laying seminars and small networked processes will ensure the continued broadening of transformative thinking and capacities for a transformative culture in the region. At the same time that important priorities and projects have been identified to be pursued as a result of the work of the Futures Institute, additional parallel transformative capacity building will be established in partnership with the COTF Center. As a result of the vast COTF network of people and organizations, external processes will link the initial efforts of the Champaign Transformation Project to other people and organizations throughout the US and world.
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