by Rich Grady, President

A couple of years ago I was doing my regular catch-up on economic news and trends, and I picked-up on a concept that Michael Porter presented as part of a plenary panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. I’ve tracked some of his writings over the years on topics like global competition and value chain concepts, and he hit on a theme at Davos that resonated with me, because it expressed what I’ve believed for many years – that creating “shared value” for society is good for business. Although Porter wasn’t speaking specifically about the geospatial industry, he hit on values that I think we embraced a long time ago – values that attracted many of us to the GIS arena in the first place, and now, to the FOSS4G arena. What values am I talking about? Read on!

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (FRB) is currently running a Working Cities Challenge as a campaign for systematic change in older industrial cities in Massachusetts. The potential benefits of the program, “to advance collaborative leadership in Massachusetts smaller cities and to support ambitious work to improve the lives of low-income people in those cities”, is of national interest. The FRB studied a number of cities across the country that are successfully coming out of the recession, and looked for distinguishing characteristics that led to successful economic development initiatives in these “resurgent cities”. What they found is that the primary driver of recovery for successful cities was mutually beneficial public/private partnerships. This is consistent with the IDC prediction that 70% of successful smart cities programs will be driven by joint ventures between the public and private sectors, with city leaders and private sector leaders working together.

When Larry Summers served on the National Economic Council in the first Obama Administration, he had a hand in writing a budget guidance memo to the heads of Federal agencies directing them to coordinate efforts across agencies to concentrate their planned expenditures on “place-based strategies,” to achieve synergistic impacts. Understanding this symbiosis between the critical complements to economic growth and revitalization of urban areas, including public safety, education, transportation, and resource clusters (e.g. land use, capital availability, technology infrastructure, workers, and educational attainment), can help focus local investments where they are most needed. By getting everyone “onto the same map” with regard to the visual representation of a city’s assets and needs, leaders are more likely to see the potential benefits of coordinated place-based strategies. Economic geography and cluster mapping apply analysis and visualization that can be used in order to better understand the business ecosystem, leading to better investment planning and the creation of shared value. Porter also addresses this “next big idea” concept of shared value in articles, as part of the U.S. cluster mapping initiative, and via founding the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.

Cities need specific strategies for growth, and part of the strategic process is making sense of multiple sources of data, to analyze and predict what will work, and what might not – and visualizing it on a map. Once a cross-sector team of leaders in a city is established and they develop a strategy, they then need to make sure they have access to data and tools to perform analysis, and methods to engage local residents. Modern tools and methods like geo-analytics and maptivism can help yield insights for leaders to access and assess data, and for citizens to engage. If collaborative thinking and communication is facilitated among leaders, and the power of citizen participation is harnessed – “crowd sourcing” in Web 2.0-speak – progress will happen.

If citizens are given access to information in combination with the right mobile and online tools, they can more easily elect to participate and engage, even if it is from using shared, public tools made available at community anchor institutions (e.g., schools, libraries) and social centers. Enabling self-election is a good motivator for encouraging citizen participation and democratic engagement. This concept is also described in Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, which covers “how we can use digital media to help become empowered participants rather than passive consumers”.

If the FRB “Working Cities Challenge” is considered as a campaign for change, then getting the disenfranchised involved will affect change. By encouraging linkage and trust through no-risk maptivism, shared value will be created by sharing goals, ideas, and aspirations for place-based strategies.

By answering the “where is” question, maps can show the unfortunate segregation between: opportunity and poverty; jobs and unemployment; health care and disease; safety and crime; food and hunger; fortune and misfortune. By clearly showing where opportunities, jobs, health care, safety, and food are needed – visually tied to locations on a map – we can connect these concepts to where people live, more fully recognize the disparities, and engage the right leaders to craft long-term solutions. This shared visualization on a map can lead to a coalescence of thought, a game plan for healthy economic growth, and the flourishing of intelligent cities of the future.

These world-changing concepts are a part of my thought process every day. Here’s hoping sharing my insights have got you thinking about how to apply maptivism and place-based strategies to create shared value into your corner of the world, too.