Monday, September 1, 2014

10 Lessons from 10 Years in Regional Physics

I shifted from trying to change the world through journalism to changing the world through civic engagement about 10 years ago. My focus has primarily been on issues related to economic competitiveness. (Read this post for why I hate the term "economic development.")

I'm still learning, but here are 10 lessons learned so far.

  • Economies are regional, but many of the systems that shape a region's economy are local. Dealing with the regional while ignoring the local is a recipe for frustration.
  • Regional economies are product portfolios. The vibrancy of the regional economy reflects the quality of and demand for a region's products (goods and services). 
  • Regionalism means strengthening community assets and connecting them to the regional economy; it does not me consolidating local government (that's called consolidating local government) nor does it mean bigger places telling smaller places what to do.
  • Economic growth without increased opportunity is insufficient and unsustainable. But only if we truly care for those who are less fortunate.
  • Economic interventions should either be focused on improving a region's product portfolio and/or improving the performance of multiple complex systems – including the education, entrepreneurship, innovation, business development and workforce systems – that contribute to a region's competitiveness.
  • The outcomes of those systems are beyond the control of any single entity or program and reflect how well the individual organizations within them perform and the quality of their interactions with each other.
  • The quality of an organization’s performance reflects the clarity of its goals and the level of accountability to which it is held for achieving those goals. High performing organizations are rare. Organizations being held accountable for outcomes are rarer.
  • The quality of the interactions among organizations within a complex system can be improved by creating the capacity for collaboration, including the capacity to build trust, develop a common agenda, align actions, and measure and communicate progress.
  • Philanthropy has a vital role to play in supporting high-performing organizations and effective collaborations within these systems. 
  • Supporting a growing, opportunity-rich economy is work that never ends.
And number 11, the most important lesson of all: Sustained positive change only occurs when leaders within a community refuse to tolerate the inequity they see within the communities that they care about.

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