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Hometown Advantage with a “D”

Flying Tapmaster at the Detroit Jazz Festival

People from Detroit call their hometown the “D.” The reason at first appears obvious—Detroit, the letter D—it’s straightforward.  But below the surface, that single letter represents so much more.  Walking around the city center, it’s impossible to miss the Diverse city culture.  Artists and foodies intermingle with suits rushing from one meeting to the next.  White faces intermingle with black.  From Dawn until Dusk, the business district is a melting pot of culture and creed.  But as evening approaches, faces grow darker, not for lack of light, but because 8-5 Detroit has gone home for the day, leaving 24-7 Detroit to its reality.

Harsh Reality
Beyond the gleaming high rises and art-deco sky scrapers, is the real city center.   Detroit, which was home to over 1 million-souls just 20 years ago (and close to 2 million 40 years ago) will be lucky in the next census to reach 800,000.  The aftermath of this Decline includes 30,000 homes that must be raised in just the next few years; 10,000 school children who leave the school district every year in search of a quality education; the collapse of median home values from $50-60,000 just five years ago to $7,500 today; and a population where over 1/3 live in poverty.

Detroit Moxie
espite this reality, Detroiters are proud, professing their moxie and facing challenge like home-town hero Joe Louis, chin set and fists flying.  Thousands of homes lost? We’ll develop green space and explore urban farming.  School children lost? We’ll build a robust charter school system that outshines the old. Adults left behind? We’ll promote broadband access and help thousands cross the digital divide to promote access to learning and information.  National media reports negative views of our city?  We’ll launch Declare Detroit, Detroit Yes, Model D, and an array of grassroots community and media efforts to organize, provide a balanced view, convey hope, and clean up our act.

Detroit takes punch after punch and keeps on rolling, but if the city is to move forward it must do more than endure. Various transformation efforts underway in the City have become points of pride that drive passion and hope.  A recent Knight Foundation/Gallup study shows that strong passion for community is highly correlated with economic growth.  The question is how to best help these transformation efforts not just stay on track but maximize their capacity to yield a brighter future.

Transformative Engagement
A 2004 MIT book, Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown, looked to two struggling manufacturing communities in Pennsylvania (Youngstown and Allentown) and found that, despite sharing very similar economic histories, the two took very different transformation paths.  The critical success factor for Allentown over Youngstown was the mobilization of key organizational actors around desired outcomes.

Both communities had prevalent and strong social networks and relationships, but in Youngstown social ties among the community’s leadership tended to reinforce civic relationships among actors who were already well-connected.  In Allentown civic ties tended to bring together more diverse actors who were not traditionally well connected and emphasized idea-sharing and alignment.  The book concludes that, an important element of Allentown’s relative success was its broader, more interactive civic-engagement approach.

Communities that emphasize the development of smart social networks, and that cultivate those networks around a common vision and goals, experience more inward investment, innovative thinking, and ownership and action-taking. It is a positive outcome that numerous stakeholders are organizing to take on Detroit’s many challenges and are harnessing passion to build a new community future.  But understanding how to harness the strength of social networks and to maximize the power of well-conceived civic engagement could accelerate positive momentum and shift efforts to a higher playing field.

Winning Team
Communities are made up of complex webs of systems and networks that emerge and recede depending on the moment’s need.  If those systems and networks fail, communities can fail, regardless of the passion people have toward an alternative outcome.  Detroiters are not willing or ready to admit defeat, despite unprecedented socio-economic and other challenges.  In fact, many Detroiters are struggling against all odds to repurpose and rebuild.  In the midst of the scramble, we can give these efforts a significant boost by helping them align with and engage key players that can help them innovate, connect resources, and succeed in moving their implementation strategies forward.

In these unusual times, we must look beyond the usual suspects to cultivate innovation and commitment that can turn the tides for the city.  Moxie counts, but it’s the people who are in your corner who can help you lose or win the fight.  Being deliberate about engagement and collaboration can make world of Difference in the D.

Posted in Collaboration, Community, Economy, leadership, Longform, Social Change, Social Media & Engagement Factoids, social networks | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seven Reasons to Love Lessons for School Fundraisers?

Fundraising for Public Education
I’ll be frank. I have mixed feelings about (seemingly endless) school fundraisers. As a policy wonk, I understand that needs exceed resources, but am perpetually frustrated when we are not transparent about the value of donations and contributions in public-school budgets, making it impossible to know what it actually costs to educate a young person. As a member of the village (no kids of my own, but aunt or god-parent of many), I do not favor buying things I don’t need in order to provide basic learning opportunities for the next generation. And as a citizen, I have a nagging suspicion that the effect of engaging hoards of parents, teachers, and children in fundraising exacerbates existing resource inequities and lets budgeteers (in state legislators, school boards, even foundations) off the hook, encouraging ever more local fundraising over deep thinking about sustainable solutions for providing high-quality public education.
I was prompted to try DonorsChoose while doing some fundraising research – I had not used the site before and was looking to compare its functionality and ease of use to other similar services. I logged on, set up an account, and found a request from “Mr. Tourzan”, a teacher in a rural, southern Oregon school. His request hooked me right away: stream monitoring kits to be used in the first environmental-science magnet program (also a K-5 program) to collect data with the intent of both presenting it in a public symposium, and using it to inform water policy in the community. This was something I could get behind. It’s science, civics, math, environmental stewardship, outdoor-education, and peer-learning all rolled up in one.

I made my contribution, finished up my research (loved the site by the way), and moved on with life and work.

Envelope: Courtesy of the USPS,, Mr. Tourzan, and his Students
This week, I received a 9 X 12 envelope from I opened it half cringing, expecting a plea for another donation. Instead, I found hand-written, illustrated, and teacher-edited thank you notes from Chris, Vivian, Bryce, Cora, Cassia, Kazes, Julianne, Thomas, one that was unsigned, and one from Zach Walker at DonorsChoose. I read them all outloud half-laughing and half-crying. They were hilarious: heartfelt and specific about what each students liked best (e.g. going to the stream “6 times!”, talking at the symposium, adding in the poisonous chemicals, watching the “0xygen go down”, etc.).

Here are the photos and thank-yous if you’d like to take a peek. My favorite illustration is posted below.

The whole exchange was a great experience.

What’s Going on Here?

Hmmm…..Feeling a twinge of guilt. Why did I respond so positively to this experience (which benefited kids I do not know personally), compared to other recent experiences at the schools of my nieces, nephews and godsons?

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. The ask was simple. I knew exactly what was needed and why, how much it cost ($490), and who would benefit. (Assuming one more of those kids adopts environmental stewardship as a lifelong practice, we may all be saved. You’re welcome. Please pay it forward).
  2. The donation supported applied, interdisciplinary learning, not pencils, textbooks, or teachers. Personal preference maybe, but I am squeamish about fundraisers that aim to pay for basic classroom supplies, capital expenses, or program fundamentals (of which art, music, and physical education are a part). I want my donations to support programs that address unmet need, explore new ways to offer learning opportunities, or connect subject-matter to civic engagement. Mr. Tourzan’s program meets these criteria (heck, I would like to enroll in his program).
  3. The transaction was mission-related. I can’t stand bidding on wine at a silent auction so that kids can have computers in school. There I said it. Again, I understand how we’ve come to this situation, but that does not make it right. It takes a lot of effort to organize auctions and events, and most leave me wondering how we might have invested that time differently for greater gain. Not to mention, I’m not sure what we’re teaching kids when we suggest that their ability to have a decent education depends upon the decision of a private citizen to buy a vacation weekend, massage, or fine-dining experience at an auction.
  4. The scale of the request was manageable (for my budget anyway) and I really liked the crowd-sourcing aspect of contributing on DonorsChoose (I like this about, too):  I couldn’t shoulder the whole $490, but together, five of us could. And we could even connect with one another and Mr. Tourzan, here.
  5. The approach is entrepreneurial but does not engage kids it direct selling, nor place undue burdens on teachers. It wasn’t that long ago that I sold everything from garbage bins to honey to people who did not need these things so that we could maintain a music class. Enough said.
  6. The site makes visible what’s going on in classrooms that participate. This is certainly a higher level of transparency than most schools and districts offer about their special projects.
  7. The thank-you notes were an unexpected, personal, and delightful surprise. They engage kids in the effort (and cultivate good writing habits). And the difference between my reaction to those letters, compared to the average polished, corporate-style appeal that arrives at my doorstep…let’s just say I’ll be giving to DonorsChoose again.

And I have not put the letters in the recycling bin.

Posted in Fun, leadership, Non-profit, Young People | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“We Seek Agility”

Team: Take a look. It’s as if we helped create parts of this. (Perhaps in a complex, highly networked kind of way, we did). Grateful to ResonanceBlog for sharing.

Posted in Fun, leadership, Treasures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Open Leadership, Charlene Li – A Practical Guide to the Emerging Open Future

Open Leadership, Charlene Li I loved Groundswell (Josh Bernoff, Charlene Li). While little in the way of specific content was new to me at the time I read it, the book offered an organizing framework: an environmental snapshot, an articulation of changing practices, and specific strategies for embracing (and measuring) them – all of which gave me a coherent way to talk with colleagues and partners (including skeptics) about social technologies (more often called “social media” at the time). More importantly, colleagues and partners to whom I loaned or recommended Groundswell also liked it, and a few were inspired to take action.

A follow-up to Groundswell, Open Leadership is Charlene Li’s latest book (to be released today). While similar in structure – there’s a very practical kind of “roadmap” quality to it – Open Leadership is ultimately a more important contribution to modern organizational thought leadership and to the efforts of millions of people trying to apply open leadership in their own contexts.

First, it’s focused on leadership. While this might seem obvious from its title, there are thousands of books on leadership (Amazon lists over 61,000) that are really about a particular leader (e.g., Jack Welch), a leadership style, or characteristics of a collection of leaders. Far fewer interrogate the nature of leadership itself. This one does – simply, and in the context of broader social, cultural, economic, and environmental changes. Pointing to the rise of a “culture of sharing” that increased connectivity makes possible, uncomfortable territory for many leaders to be sure, Li states, “At a time when customers and employers are redefining how they make and maintain relationships with social technologies, it’s high time organizations rethink the foundations of business relationships as well.” Open Leadership reflects transformative thinking not just at the level of practice but about how people in organizations and their customers relate to one another.

Second, the book profiles not just private sector firms, but global charities (The Red Cross) and key government agencies (the US Navy and State Department) responsible for some of the world’s most important and dangerous work. This underscores the emphasis on leadership broadly – not just for firms selling products and services, but for all kinds of organizations and institutions.

Third, the “roadmap” chapters (assessments, choices, etc.) offer practical direction not just for CEOs, but for open leadership and social technology advocates at all levels in their organizations. While Li doesn’t quite come out and say it, Open Leadership is a manual for leading openly from wherever you are. I would like to have seen more (and more explicit) emphasis on leadership outside of a firm context (community level government, multiple organizations engaged in humanitarian work, etc.), but these cross-organizational and network-based models could make nice case studies in a future book?

So What is Open Leadership?

“Having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.”

There’s an important nuance here – giving up the need to be in control is different than giving up control. The critical point is that social technologies have shifted the landscape so fundamentally that leaders simply cannot exercise the kind of control over information and decision-making they once did. However, they can connect to and collaborate with more customers and partners than ever before, provide a platform for those customers to connect to one another (engaging the collective “we” in problem-solving), and facilitate meaningful relationships along the way.

Li identifies five rules of open leadership:

  1. Respect that your customers and employees have power.
  2. Share constantly to build trust.
  3. Nurture curiosity and humility.
  4. Hold openness accountable.
  5. Forgive failure.

And then the book delves into roadmap territory (10 elements, assessments, models, checklists, etc.), so you’ll have to pick it up for yourself to make use of them. Importantly, these chapters (more than half the book) frame choices. How open do you want to be? About what issues? What kind of structure supports the kind of openness you want to achieve?

If you are an aspiring open leader, these alone are worth the price of the book as they will prevent you from having to reinvent a wheel or two. [Note: The chapter on structuring openness provides sage advice, and a myriad of examples, but if you need more, a host of social media guidelines or policies is here on the Altimeter Group wiki].

A Closing Note

While many of the examples cited in the book (Best Buy, the Obama campaign, Cisco, Comcast, Ford, etc.) have been the subject of inquiry many times before, Open Leadership presents them as unfinished stories rather than tales of hero/ines. This does a couple of important things.

First, it strengthens the case for open leadership on the grounds that ever more connected markets, communities, firms, and people both accelerate change, and make it less predictable, a condition for which open communications and information-sharing systems are well-suited.

Second, it portrays leaders as learners for whom adapting to the changing technology environment is mission critical – not just “fun.” Whether it means blogging, tweeting, or platform building, these leaders are not only embracing these practices but making them central to their work.

Anyone who has ever stood in front of a room full of skeptics trying to explain what a wiki is must have cheered at Paul Levy’s defense of CEOs blogging. [If you haven't been in such a position, imagine yourself trying to convince someone like Justice Antonin Scalia that Twitter matters.]

Finally, and on a personal note, I don’t know Jeremiah Owyang, but I’ve been following him on Twitter for some time now. I also read his blog and catch one of his webinars or videos now and then. I appreciate the wisdom he’s shared and sense that I would like him. I was surprised by the story in the chapter on failure (now you’ve got to buy the book), and felt at once supportive of his effort to “get back on the horse” and less embarrassed by my own open mistakes. We’re all learners really. And social technologies, used well, help us share experiences so we all move forward faster.

That’s Open Leadership.

Note: This review is cross-posted on Networked Publics.

Posted in leadership, Longform, Social Change, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Economy, Place, and Public Radio

Thanks to wanderingone on Flickr!

Thanks to wanderingone on Flickr!

“The Economy.” The phrase suggests one economy – as if our experiences of markets and the forces that shape them are universal. But we experience different economies, based on the industries in which we work, the particular jobs we hold, the communities in which we live, and our own unique circumstances.

Some people have suffered (real) wage declines for decades and have little experience of “the economic booms” that carried the country through the late 1990s and mid 2000s. And today, the similar economic experiences of people thousands of miles apart can make them seem like neighbors.

National Public Radio and its affiliate stations have been delving into this story – sharing the experiences of resilient people and painting an aural mural of the secular transformations underway.

Three noteworthy examples follow.

Full disclosure: CSW advises the State of Michigan on workforce, energy, and economic issues, and supports Michigan Public Radio – many of our employees are also members of their own public radio stations across the country, including OPB).

Posted in Community, Economy, workforce | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rock Stars, Regions & Resilience

Rock Stars
It’s funny how, depending on the lens you use, certain people can become your own personal rock star.  I recently attended an International Economic Development Council (IEDC) event in Texas.  I was pulling all of my best networking moves and finally decided I needed to take a break and actually “listen” to one of the break out sessions.  As I was I was making the latest update to my FaceBook page, I was interrupted by someone making sense.  I looked up in amazement as a saw…Kim Didier.

Kim Didier is from Newton, Iowa, a little town of 15,000 that rests smack-dab in the middle of the state.   In my imagination she regularly belts out would-be top-40 hits in the shower, but only when she’s not on tour with her entourage and counting the millions she’s made from going platinum.  In reality, Kim’s—well—totally normal.  She’s friendly, inquisitive, entirely approachable, and generally nice to be around.  She has a professional haircut and sports business casual with the best of ‘em.  So, what makes her so undeniably cool?

Regional Economic Crisis
In 2001, Maytag Corporation, which had been headquartered in Newton for 113 years and employed 4,000 people at its peak, announced it would reduce the local labor pool by moving to new facilities in Mexico.  On October 25, 2007, Maytag ceased operations in Newton for good, with closure of both a production facility and corporate offices.  That day, a final 1,800 Maytag employees lost their jobs.

Townsfolk began going through the seven stages of grief, starting with shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, and depression.   People might have gotten stuck there but, rather than wallowing in their sorrow, the common loss brought the community together.  Community leaders, including Kim Didier, pounced on the opportunity to shift negative energy focused on confusion, grief, and anger to more constructive purposes.

Taking Action
Like any good counselor, Kim called on community residents to do a little role playing.  The process started off with something called “The Futures Game.”  An Australian “gent” from rural Australia, David Beurle, led the exercise, which helps people understand how, when faced with tough futures about growth and development, different choices at critical points in time can lead to drastically different community outcomes.  This process led to development of a community vision, steeped in the understanding that if people stray from the decision or don’t make collaborative, mission-driven choices, the community’s future outcomes could be sharply affected.  Salt brines or development

In addition, Kim prodded the community to participate in a process called “network weaving.” This entails understanding how strongly connected community leaders are to one another, where their passions and expertise intertwine, and how they view one another as collaborators, innovators, and trusted partners.  U.S. national intelligence agencies use the process to understand the effectiveness of terrorist networks, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has employed the technique to control deadly infections in hospitals.  Kim Didier and her peers employed the process to understand how to most effectively move their community forward.

Did these hokey processes really make a difference for Newton?  The answer is an irrefutable “yes.”    These processes helped the community establish common desired outcomes and rallied leadership around it—fully leveraging the full strengths of the communities assets and building trust relationships that have allowed the community to move forward.  Today, Newton isn’t “formerly the home of Maytag.” They are at the center of innovation, becoming a manufacturing and design hub for state-of-the art wind turbines and, with just one employer, home to 400 new, related jobs.

Slowly but surely, the town is moving through its phases of grief: the upward turn, reconstruction, and acceptance and hope in abundance.   This transition was possible because some folks dared to do the unthinkable—to step back, create a vision, create safe spaces to build trust, and understand how to focus community leaders’ energy at the right places at the right time.

What do you call someone who recognizes the need for this kind of process and gets the buy-in to make it happen? Yep–that’s a “Rock Star” in my book.

Posted in Collaboration, Community, Economy, Regions, Resilience, Social Change, workforce | 1 Comment

Getting Strategic About Skills

Thanks to Cristóbal Cobo Romaní in Flickr.

Thanks to Cristóbal Cobo Romaní in Flickr.

NOTE: This is the third in our recent “let’s share the findings from all those OECD reports with each other (and the world)” series. Again, the content is not likely scintillating, but it’s important to us, and we’re happy to let you in on it.

The OECD Designing Local Skills Strategies Report (2009) focuses largely on questions of balance in locally designed workforce strategies: balance between short- and long-terms needs, balance between training and placement, balance between meeting the needs of people, firms, and communities, and balance between workforce players – private, non-profit, and a diverse collection of government agencies at different levels.

Authors Francesca Froy, Sylvain Giguère, and Andrea Hofer offer case studies of the following communities:

  • Shanghai (China)
  • Michigan (U.S.)
  • Choctaw Tribe (Mississippi, U.S.)
  • Mackay (Australia)
  • Malmö (Sweden)
  • New York City (New York, U.S.)

While, other communities are also cited in the narrative, these communities’ launched initiatives representing what the report calls balanced strategies, the authors’ recommended approach. Balanced strategies focus simultaneously on:

  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Integrating disadvantaged groups
  • Upskilling those in employment – though in most cases, this was the most difficult strategy because of its complexity (designing opportunities for working adults, often with families).

The report concludes by recommending that local workforce actors seeking to implement effective (and balanced) approaches focus on five key strategic issues:

  • Access to relevant data and information. Local actors need to understand their “skills ecology” and its impact on the wider economy to be able to design appropriate policy and program interventions.
  • Balanced and long term strategies. It is tempting for local actors to focus on only one or two strategic objectives. Focusing on all three areas is more difficult, but also promises to deliver more substantive impact over time.
  • Batter mapping of skills provision, for example through “career clusters” or “career ladders.” This provide a focus for otherwise disjointed systems and creates opportunities for individuals to advance in meaningful ways. However, careers advice is a key (and often lacking) component of this approach.
  • Building strong relationships with employers. While necessary to ensure effective connecting of supply and demand, public-sector and non-profit entities can play an important role in emphasizing long term needs and suggesting changes in workplace practices in ways that round out employer’s tendency to focus on short-term needs.
  • Look to the future and anticipate change. Skills strategies should be subject to regular review and change, and should build toward local areas of “flexible specialization” (sometimes called workforce or talent competencies, or clusters of talent) that encourage the development of local talents and skills that are specific enough to make the community distinctive, but broad enough to avoid dependency on narrow industries or occupations.

Not rocket science, but it does take determination – people who do this work rely on persuasion and trust, not hierarchy.

Leadership and Governance Really Matter

While the report does not emphasize leadership and governance as a theme, the frequency with which the difficulty of this work is noted in the narrative is striking.  Meeting many diverse public and private needs, balancing the short and longterm, collaborating with large and changing networks of partners absent a structure, meeting shared national policy needs and in a local (and sometime divergent) context, developing and allocating resources fairly and in ways that deliver results – this is complex work all over the world, and speaks to the level of management expertise and leadership talent it takes to do well.

What’s our strategy for developing the workforce workforce?

Posted in Collaboration, Community, Economy, Longform, Regions, skills, workforce | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Labor Market Policy: It’s About More Than Skills

Thanks to woodleywonderworks on Flickr!

Thanks to Flickr pal woodleywonderworks.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the series we warned you about a few days ago. We are summarizing several large reports for each other (members of the Community Team at CSW), but we’re doing it here so you can benefit too – you know, if you are interested (since you found your way here for some reason). You won’t find a lot of wit, but there might be some wisdom for the taking.

One thing we love about OECD reports (and international comparisons generally for that matter) is that they remind us that the challenges we face are more universal than we think – and we can learn from looking up and out. On this count, More than Just Jobs: Workforce Development in a Skills-Based Economy does not disappoint.

At its core, the paper argues that although workforce development – the ecosystem of people, policies, and organizations concerned with the intersection of people, skills, jobs, and the economy – has been primarily concerned with narrow targets, transactions, and sets of activities, the field has an increasingly important role to play in improving the prosperity of communities. Author Sylvain Giguère suggests a broader goal for workforce development than the field (on the whole) has adopted to date:

“The comprehensive management of human resources, so as to better meet the demands of a global economy at both the national and local levels, through improving economic competitiveness and social cohesion.”

The reports names governance - leadership, policy coordination, adaptation of policy and program to diverse local conditions, and community engagement – as among the most significant challenges faced by workforce organizations seeking to advance this important aim. It calls for local policy to reflect a better balance between national aims and local needs and greater experimentation throughout the system, tempered with efficiency and accountability.

Policy Recommendations
A comparison of policies in seven OECD countries (United States, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and Korea) yielded the following recommendations:

  • Inject flexibility into management. Decisions about strategic priorities in the implementation of public programs and services should be made locally, using a management by objective framework negotiated with central government.
  • Establish an overarching management framework that embeds local flexibility to ensure alignment while also encouraging differentiation and experimentation.
  • Build strategic capacity. Local staff should have strong knowledge of local economic conditions as well as effective human resource development practices, and the analytical and strategic capacity to be able to set priorities and development methods for addressing them.
  • Build up local data and intelligence. The ability to aggregate and organize data in a way that supports local strategy development is essential and could be better supported by national level efforts to develop tools that adapt to local circumstances.
  • Improve governance mechanisms. Labor market and workforce organizations should collaborate with education, economic development, business, and civic organizations. There is no governance mechanism for this kind of collaboration, but networks of partnerships go a long way in increasing and extending the capacity of workforce organizations.
  • Improve administrative processes. Aligning policies through institutional reform is a difficult challenge, exacerbated by the scale of larger countries. Still efforts should be made to review the cross-agency implementation of broader workforce policy with the aim of better promoting collaboration, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Other Findings

  • Workforce development matters because it directly impacts four drivers of economic growth: Skills, Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Social Cohesion.
  • Three major obstacles impede adoption of the broader goal of workforce development: 1) speeding up education and training systems; 2) fragmentation of local decision-making and workforce resources; and 3) lack of willingness to look long term. All of these could be ameliorated though larger investments and more serious support for governance (collaboration).

Case Studies: Out of Date?
Warning: Although the paper was published in 2008, the analysis of the U.S. Workforce System is very dated. It builds from the original six Workforce Investment Act (WIA) principles (one of which was “strong boards” which was summarily eliminated from WIA implementation documents within a matter of months). Baldridge work (ancient history when I realized I’d become part of the “field” of workforce development in 2003 or so) features prominently, and some of the organizations named in the local case studies have long since been replaced, some more than once.

Having some context from my work in the UK from 2001-2003 (in economic and workforce development), I could see that the U.K. case study was also quite dated, though Departmental names, and configurations change more frequently there (often coinciding with budget reviews).

This made me somewhat suspect of the case study portions of the report, but the larger trends and recommendations identified in the content chapters seem quite sound.

Posted in Collaboration, Economy, Longform, skills, workforce | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Changes at Work

Thanks to NJ.. on Flick

Thanks to NJ.. on Flickr

Last week we were drafting a set of policy recommendations for a project. We’d drafted an introduction that named demographics, technology, and the competitive landscape as among the most significant domains of change in the workplace during the past decade. At that point I realized how many times I’d seen this collection of words and phrases in a bulleted powerpoint list, or similarly glibly treated as if the meaning (and implications) of these change were self-evident.

We decided to say what we meant. Here’s the list we came up with in answer to the question “How is the workforce landscape different today than ten years ago?” We know it’s not complete, but it’s a start. We’d love to know your thoughts.

Key Workforce Trends

“Growth minus Jobs.” While economists debate the causes and implications of the trend, job growth following the last two recessions has been far lower than what was expected. In our current “job-less recovery,” the seven million private sector jobs lost in the 20 months between December 2007 and August 2009 are returning an anemic pace (and many of them do not pay family-sustaining wages), while labor force continues to grow by 1.3 million people per year.

“Millennials and Boomers Sandwich Gen-X.” For the first time in our history, it is commonplace for four or even five generations to occupy the workplace at the same time – challenging tradition hierarchies, management practices, and raising serious equity issues as “baby boomers” delay retirement and firms resist taking on new (younger) full-time employees who are far more racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse than their more senior colleagues (and peers).

“Wanted: Life-long Learners.” The demands on all workers to develop new and more diverse skills throughout their working lives – as the baseline required for good jobs increases – raises complex challenges for employers and government (who pays?), difficult decisions for workers (“Do I train for two years in hopes I get a job at the new Google facility?”), and disrupts assumptions about what it means to be a student (non-traditionals are the new traditionals).

“Anywhere, anytime, any device connectivity.” We’re only at the beginning of understanding how connecting people to data, information, and each other will change the way we live work and learn, but the implications for workers – who’s talents can be tapped globally, firms – who’s value chains now include customers and competitors, and communities – which will thrive based their uniqueness and desirability, are significant (and mindbending).

“Show me the three Rs (Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle).” Questions about the sustainability of our consumption-based economy and its role in climate change are causing a massive rethink of public policy around energy, water, food systems, and how these and other natural resources are used in industry and commerce. This is already changing what it means for workers, firms, industries, communities, and nations to be competitive in the new new economy.

These shifts show no evidence of slowing. Public policy must also change with the times.

And today, there are few areas of public policy more important to the nation’s economic competitiveness than the skills, ingenuity, and health of its 139-million person workforce.

Posted in Longform, Social Change, Work and Learning 2.0, Young People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What We Know About Regional Economic Growth, Innovation, and Recovery

Screen shot 2010-01-20 at 4.52.31 PMNOTE: We’ll be be posting findings from a few papers we’re reviewing with the intent of sharing with colleagues. We’re doing this here so that you might benefit from them too, but wanted to warn you before you read too far.

We just reviewed Regions Matter (OECD, November 2009). It’s chalk full of bits and bobs we’d picked up (and learned ourselves) while studying, conducting research, or providing technical assistance to stakeholders in regions, but offers a difference level of coherence than we’ve seen in some time.  We thought we might share.

Key Policy Messages about Regional Economies and Development (the “Big Picture”)

  • The intent of regional policies is evolving: they are increasingly about fueling growth and not just limiting (or reducing) disparities.
  • There is no consistent relationship between urban concentration and economic performance – simply concentrating resources in a place does not necessarily lead to growth.
  • Public policy matters in maximizing the potential of assets in regions.
  • Leading and lagging regions are both important – when lagging regions improve, they make important contributions to growth and equity, opportunity.
  • The use of productive assets (labor, capital, technology) are correlated with growth, but no single factor explains improved performance in a region. It is the interaction and interdependence of key assets that matters (suggesting flexible and integrated policy approaches).
  • Investment and governance are important dimensions of regional innovation and change, but there is no blueprint for these. Policy should be developed in the context of the specific assets a particular region offers.
  • Research- and technology-driven innovation is highly concentrated, but public policy can impact growth and capacity in regions with assets in emerging fields.
  • Innovation policy is not just about inventing the next new technology, but also about its adoption or application. Different regions have different innovation assets and can and should develop these based on their unique capacities. Some regions will invent; others will deploy or scale.
  • Innovation capacity is moving East (to Asia, where there are high concentrations of skilled labor and dense supplier networks). This mean regions in OECD countries must be mindful of how they develop knowledge capital that allows them to compete.
  • Rural regions offer innovation potential but in different ways – social innovation around environmental issues, better public services (on which most rural areas are highly dependent), and new cooperative arrangements for living, working, and managing communities hold promise.
  • Sustainable urban growth is widely recognized as a key policy priority.
  • Regional policy is difficult to manage at the national level. It would benefit from coordination and multi-year co-financing.
  • Learning, knowledge-sharing, monitoring and evaluation need to be coordinated across levels of government.

What turns places with concentrations of assets into agglomeration economies? (from Krugman, 1991)

  • The sharing of unique, place-based facilities (labs, universities, creative space, etc.)
  • Gains from producing complementary products in a wider array of facilities
  • Gains from a wider array of suppliers (and supply chain connectivity)
  • Deeply and broadly skilled labor reduces risk of adjusting to market shocks
  • Matching mechanisms (connecting workers and jobs, suppliers and purchasers, distributers with buyers and sellers, etc.)
  • Learning mechanisms based on the generation, diffusion, accumulation of knowledge and the systems that cultivate and disseminate it.

Results of OECD Growth Model Analysis

  • Human capital and innovation positively influence regional growth (as traditional growth theories suggest).
  • Elements from new economic geography theories (e.g. agglomeration economies) are also relevant and reveal a spatial connection to growth.
  • Infrastructure is a necessary but not sufficient condition for growth – it is only relevant if human capital and innovation are also present.

Time also matters in regional development efforts…

  • Infrastructure and human capital shifts require three years to positively influence growth
  • Innovation is even longer-term, netting positive effects after five years.

Governance in Regions

Regional development depends on efficient governance. Accountable and credible leadership is important, but it looks different than a generation ago:

  • It’s network-based, not organization based.
  • It’s championed by collaborative leaders, not individual heroes.
  • It’s more likely to be university or public sector-based than private sector based (and that’s okay, as the attention of private sector leaders is now often global, not local).
  • It manifests in shared public-private ventures that can take a variety of forms.
Posted in Economy, Longform, Regions, Resilience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments
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