Sunday, June 27, 2010

Observations from an Outsider....

For those who know me - you know that I don't really like meetings, committees, board rooms and for that matter pants (I wear shorts). However, when we decided to look at economic development as one of the core principals of the HuB - we knew we would have to engage with the community on a more active basis. And for the last six months we have been interacting much more and going to meetings, and being part of committees (but still wearing shorts).

The three "groups" I am part of are 1) The "Design Platform" for Economic Development sponsored by the county and EDC  2) The Regional Incubator group and 3) The Task force for Better Broadband in Sarasota County.

Although all three are organized and sponsored by the local government - they are very different in how they were formed, and also how they operate.

The first one - Design Platform was created as part of a long term economic development strategy by some consultants and community leaders. I am not sure how everyone was picked to be in the group (most are private sector, a couple of government people)... and I am not sure how many of them are really taking an active role in executing the mission. I have gone to a few meetings, and they are getting progressively worse and unorganized. Ironically of the three groups I am part of - there is an actual coordinator and real money being spent on this effort.

The second one was started, because we have four incubator projects going on in the county, and they wanted to have some way to share ideas, work and perhaps leverage experience. Everyone in the group is linked in some way to an incubator project, so they do take an active role in the group since it has relevance to their day-to-day objectives. I volunteered to help orchestrate the group, and help the collaboration process since I was the only one who has actually started and operated an incubator. I want to see this group succeed, because I do believe a healthy economy starts with the entrepreneurs in the community - but I am not sure there is much funding or real economic investment from the city or county on this one.

The third is one I started with the CIO of the city after the Google Island initiative. It is made up of the "tech" leaders from the county, city, school board, hospital. This is definitely an active group or people who understand broadband and play a key role in our future broadband plans. I enjoy this group because it is truly a Task force - we are doing the work - and executing the plan.

There seems to be two key factors that I believe are related to the success or failure of each one of these groups. 1) Expertise and 2) Investment.  As I look at each person around the table at these meetings, I ask myself - How much expertise does this person have in what we are talking about - and how much (time/money) are they willing to invest?

To me - that is the Elephant in the room....

I just want to go around the table and simply ask "What is your expertise you bring to the table and how much are you willing to invest?"

Is that too much to ask??? Am I being rude or politically incorrect?

In my opinion, it would make a group stronger - and more effective... but I fear that the truth may also be exposed, and perhaps that is why we never ask the hard questions. We don't want to know that we lack the expertise for some of these difficult problems, or that the people that should be at the table are not - probably because they don't have the time to waste. And if we truly ask everyone at the table to make an investment of time and money - perhaps we fear the table would be empty before you could say the word - "accountability".

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