The Community As A Modern Ecosystem

Brian Lee-Archer

What is the difference between a city and a community?

Cities are centers of population, commerce, and culture, while communities are groups of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

Think “city” and you may be drawn to cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, or to cities within these capital cities, such as Parramatta or Frankston. Take a more regional perspective, and cities like Bendigo or Albury come to mind.

Now change the context from “city” to “community.” Some people will think big and consider Sydney a community, while others think small and consider community as the street they live on.

These different perspectives present challenges from a governance perspective – what body is accountable and responsible for making a community “intelligent?”

Governance within a smart cities framework is often focused around a city council. The council, along with state and federal agencies, considers investments in smart technology and social capital for the city as a whole.

However, if a community can be a street, who has their interests at heart in making them intelligent? There is a governance risk in demonstrating a deep understanding of community needs and following through with adaptable solutions.

In considering an intelligent community agenda, we need to recognise that communities come in many shapes and sizes. No matter the size, a determinant of sustainability is how individual communities associate to form ecosystems.

Communities are often seen as proximity-bound, independent entities, but in reality they form ecosystems where symbiotic relationships ensure their mutual sustainability. This happens by trading labour, goods, and services.

This trading culture depends on efficient infrastructure to enable effective supply chains. The supply chains leverage investment in transportation, telecommunications, utilities, and essential services such as health and policing. This trade-enabling infrastructure falls to the level of governance with accountability for social and economic development across all communities.

For the communities within an ecosystem to be intelligent, a level of self-awareness of their function and role in the ecosystem is required. An intelligent community seeks to influence infrastructure-related investment decisions, which, at a minimum, protect and grow its value proposition to the overall sustainability of the ecosystem.

OECD research from 2012, Promoting Growth in All Regions, found that “broader-based inclusive growth brings other benefits to countries in terms of equity, resilience, and fiscal health.”

Focusing investment on thriving communities and regions and ignoring those which are struggling to figure out what they contribute to the ecosystem could be an error of judgement: “When policymakers focus only on the leading regions, they miss a crucial opportunity to improve aggregate performance.”

If we accept the OECD point of view, public policymakers must address capability gaps within non-thriving communities to help make them resilient and mutually sustainable within the ecosystem of communities.

While not every community can be a tourism hot spot or the next Silicon Valley, they can be innovative by leveraging their assets. Innovation is a function of the capability and investment in business insight leading to ideas for asset-based growth. These ideas leverage the smart infrastructure investments made by higher levels of governance.

Business insight comes from data analysis. Mutual sustainability of community ecosystems depends on the trading of data, the raw ingredient for business insight.

Communities need capacity building support to leverage data created within their ecosystem and beyond. This requires collaboration between communities, all levels of government, and industry. Collaboration is dependent on a culture of openness and transparency towards data.

Some communities may hold back from sharing data for fear of giving away competitive advantage. However, to do so is akin to a mineral-rich country not exporting raw materials.

Once value-adding analysis such as aggregation and linkage are applied to raw data, it becomes information. Information is where value is derived for innovation towards community-level, asset-based growth, leading to mutual sustainability within the ecosystem.

For more on the role of government in fostering technological growth, see Smart Government Strategies To Drive Measurable Success.

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Brian Lee-Archer

About Brian Lee-Archer

Brian Lee-Archer is director of the SAP Institute for Digital Government Global (SIDG). Launched in 2015, SIDG is a global think tank that aims to create value for government by leveraging digital capability to meet the needs of citizens and consumers of government services. In collaboration with government agencies, universities and partner organizations, SIDG facilitates innovation through digital technology for deeper policy insight and improved service delivery.