Collaboration is the name of the game
More than 70 of the top business, civic and educational leaders in Dakota County assembled in the Dakota Room at Dakota County Technical College Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, to attend the Project Launch Celebration of one of the most ambitious undertakings in the county’s 160-year history.
Spearheaded by Dakota Future, a nonprofit organization working to elevate and secure the county’s competitive position in an increasingly global economy, the Dakota County Intelligent Community Initiative is on track to have the county named a Top Seven Intelligent Community in 2012 by the Intelligent Community Forum, a world-renowned think tank focused on the economic and social development of communities in the 21st century.
The ICF defines Intelligent Communities as those that comprehend the colossal challenges and opportunities offered by the broadband economy. Communities that make the Top Seven are considered pioneers and role models for other communities wishing to grow and prosper in the Digital Age.
Robert Bell, an ICF founder, was present at the launch event to explain the Intelligent Community concept, which hinges on five key indicators:
- Broadband Connectivity
- Knowledge Workforce
- Digital Inclusion
- Marketing and Advocacy
Bell also presented the results of a Community Accelerator analysis ICF completed for Dakota Future. The analysis compared Dakota County’s performance to an average of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities selected by the ICF in the last four years, giving his listeners a clear picture of the county’s current progress in reaching their goal.
Afterward, the attendees, who included mayors, state legislators, college presidents and administrators, school district superintendents, city administrators, economic development directors, business executives, and county commissioners, broke into teams designated for each key indicator as well as a Leadership Team, which would provide strategic direction to the overall effort.
Each team processed the Community Accelerator analysis and then decided on a team objective that would mesh with other team objectives to guide the initiative over the next eight months.
“I went from group to group, listening, answering questions, offering suggestions,” said Bell. “Go ahead and call me a geek, but I found it thrilling. People from many different backgrounds and organizations quickly coming to grips with complex issues…exchanging facts, fears and hopes…writing and debating and rewriting their goals. All in collaboration. And all in about forty-five minutes.”
The benefits of Dakota County becoming a Top Seven Intelligent Community go well beyond the actual award. The build-up needed to raise key indicator ratings (the county is already very strong in three out of the five) would naturally lead to world-class broadband, globally competitive industries and businesses, and a citizenry that is better informed and better connected. The county’s worldwide recognition as a tech-savvy and forward-thinking community would inevitably attract more and more investment dollars.
LaDonna Boyd, Dakota Future chair and Dakota Electric‘s economic development director, served as head of the Leadership Team. She crystallized the direction of the initiative by inviting the attendees to return for four subsequent two-hour meetings, promising that with their expertise and guidance Dakota County would determine how to score a perfect five out of five in every one of the ICF Intelligent Community indicators.
Also serving on the Leadership Team, Ronald E. Thomas, DCTC president, echoed the importance of achieving the initiative’s goal. “Becoming an Intelligent Community is everybody’s business,” Thomas said. “For Dakota County to continue to compete regionally, nationally and internationally, we need to be identified as a technologically advanced and connected community with a prosperous and inclusive economy. DCTC is ready to help.”
After the launch event, Robert Bell met with Dakota Future board members. He noted that the central theme involved continuing the momentum, keeping everybody in the loop and widening the circle of people involved.
“Will they succeed? I don’t know—but I believe they will,” Bell said. “And here’s why: because they asked well-meaning people to contribute ten hours of their time. No more, no less. They kept it real. They signaled that this is not going to be a talking shop, but a doing shop.”
Bell went on to quote Margaret Mead, the illustrious American anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”