Innovation and the grass roots

James Riley
Editorial Director

There are huge opportunities for bottom-up innovation in regional cities and local council areas, but only if communities can overcome skills and capability shortfalls to make sense of the digital data resources available to them.

Things are never this simple, of course. But if you can at least view newly available digital data as a key component for evidence-based decision-making, then you can start looking at the kinds of governance frameworks that will enable that data to be more easily turned into knowledge and insight.

When we think of cities we tend to think of geographic boundaries. But communities are different; they are bound by more than geography. People can belong to more than one community.

And this is governance becomes a challenge, where it becomes difficult to create structures that enable bottom-up innovation via communities, according to SAP Institute for Digital Government director Brian Lee-Archer.

“Our views of community don’t necessarily align with our traditional governance structures, such as local, state and federal,” Mr Lee-Archer said.

“While there are many technology related initiatives which come from a top down approach, communities have a clearer view of their needs and aspirations and a one size fits all approach doesn’t apply.

“We need to look for ways to empower communities to leverage the assets they have, and to make them capable and ready to take advantage of strategic investment that comes their way from higher levels of government, such as new transport infrastructure or health and education facilities,” he said.

Speaking at the Intelligent Communities forums in Bendigo and Melbourne earlier this month, Mr Lee-Archer said there were lots of different paths to follow to make a community ‘intelligent’ – but included the balancing of priorities across the domains of social, economic, governance and environment (and the combinations thereof.)

There is no shortage of ideas requiring investment in a community. What is lacking, he said, is the evidence supporting these ideas and for managing the perceived risks.

“Social and economic development go hand in hand and we believe an intelligent community finds a good balance across these domains with investment in social capital and liveability initiatives, as well as technology infrastructure,” Mr Lee-Archer said.

“An intelligent community is not all high tech. But the process for making the decision on where to invest and how much to be invest needs to be informed as part of an evidence-based decision making framework – and digital data is a key component of that evidence base,” he said.

“One of the most empowering features of the digital age is knowledge and information which comes from digital data. With knowledge and information, communities can lead innovation from within, rather than waiting for it to come to them.

“Digital data is one of the raw ingredients for innovation.”

The SAP Institute for Digital Government has released a discussion paper that expands these concepts. You can find it here.

The challenge for communities is to find ways to make good use of the vast amounts of data that is already available – although not always easily accessible – and what is coming on stream to create information and knowledge leading to public value.

The tech industry is constantly innovating in products and services, as can be evidenced by ‘Smart City technology like the Internet of Things. IoT in particular will deliver huge amounts of new data – but this collection cannot be considered to be community innovation until it has been transformed into knowledge and insight.

“It is through the power data that we can empower communities of all sizes to develop evidence-based proposals for social or economic development that meet the needs of their community,” Mr Lee-Archer said

This is not to suggest that data is the only source of evidence and it is only valuable when it complements the professional expertise of community leaders, community and stakeholder consultation and scientific evidence.

“However there is a community wide shortage of skills, resources and capabilities in turning data into business insight. Not every community has a data scientist on tap. We need to explore ways for communities to get access to these sorts of skills,” he said.

“You can hope for a strong community leader with vision to drive it through, but a more sustainable approach is empowering community leaders with access to good data and capability to make sense of it, leading to well thought through proposals.”

“While there is no substitute for good leadership in making things happen, a sound proposal supported by good evidence will go a long way to building the broader community support.”


Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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