Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview in Bogota's Semana Magazine

 
The following interview appeared in Semana, a widely read weekly news magazine (also semana.com) published in Bogota, Colombia, Nov 16 2011


Semana Magazine
We have seen approaches on urban development come and go. More recently cities appear to favor the pursuit of an adequate competitive environment. This is also the case of major Colombian cities. At the same time, our cities remain primarily responsible for urban upgrading, delivery of social protection services, promoting employment and otherwise securing economies of agglomeration. Do you think the pursuit of an urban competitive environment can subsume and further stimulate cities commitment to inclusion, social protection, employment and environmental protection? How?
TCampbell
Cities, like their national counterparts, have to grapple with the natural tension between growth and well-being, social and environmental. But concern for a competitive environment ought to begin with the core responsibilities of cities such as high quality infrastructure, an educated workforce, and healthy and attractive environment. An important part of competitiveness is to attend to these concerns as a way of keeping firms already in the city and attracting new ones to invest there. One of the city’s key jobs—and a job only the city can do best—is to be sure that the interests of the people, poor and rich alike, unemployed as well as employed, have a voice in setting the direction for the city.  In other words, competitiveness is not a matter of all-out efforts merely to attract one or another industry or manufacturer.  Rather, it’s a long-term process of balanced growth.
Semana
Your book  Beyond Smart Cities:  How Cities Network, Learn and Innovate (Earthscan, Feb 2012) is about how cities learn. Do cities actually learn? Do they learn from each other? Or, rather is learning primarily an internal process of individual/corporation sharing and enhancing each other’s knowledge?
TC
When I began research for the book I asked myself the same question.  Can loose organizations with no clear success measure like a corporate bottom line, without mission goals that guide institutions like schools and hospitals, really learn?  I found that the answer is that cities not only learn—by that I mean that they acquire new knowledge—they also find ways to store knowledge, to verify it, and to apply new knowledge in innovative ways.  The nuggets of learning are usually insights about best practice and good policy that cities observe in other, peer cities.  Most of the time, cities don’t even recognized that they have a system of learning.  My research shows that learning systems take different forms, some are technical, like a think tank, others are informal.  Of course individuals and corporations are involved.  But the secret of city learning is that the process is a collective one.  The acquisition of new knowledge is shared and validated in a process that includes linkages of confidence that I call “clouds of trust” among civic elites.  Creating clouds of trust takes effort and investment.  For example, the city of Seattle sends nearly one hundred business and civic leaders to a different city every year.  Like many successful cities, Seattle brings in public sector officials, elected authorities, private sector, organized civil society, and other groups to take part in identifying good policy and best practice when they make their city visits.  Also, cities create mechanisms—documented practice, web pages, surveys, seminars—for anyone in the city to have access to and remember stored information.  At the same time, many cities don’t learn, but research shows that policies can make a difference.
Semana
What role do networks play in the process of city-learning? Is it formal or informal networks? Are elite networks more/less important than networks of common citizens? How do you identify networks? What evidence do you have? From which cities? How many case-studies?
TC
I mentioned “clouds of trust” earlier.  These are informal networks of confidence that link civic elites, and they are an essential feature of city learning.  I call them elite networks not because they are exclusive, but because they consist of people, public and private, who are engaged in a specific project to improve the city, because they live there, they have a stake in the outcome, they care about their city.  Networks like these were revealed in extensive interviews of 20 to 25 stakeholders in each of four cities.  In each city, I asked key stakeholders to simply name up to 10 people they trusted, people who were active in the same area of concern (in each city, this was either a strategic plan, a program, or a project).  Trust was defined in terms of confidence only, and not popularity, or status, or income, or family ties.  It was surprising for me and others to see that key figures in the community who were most often trusted—sometimes people who were not obvious—and others, for instance elected officials—who were not named at all.
Semana
Assuming networks are indeed important and city learning is a real process, how is city learning related to innovation, higher productivity or better quality of life in the city?
TC
A large fraction of the literature on organizational change and innovation focuses on conversion of tacit to explicit knowledge as a key step in innovation.  And for this, whether in private sector or public domain, the key ingredient is trust.  We are not talking about private sector innovation:  We are talking about collective action in the public domain.  Learning cities address two challenges at once:  as they acquire new knowledge, say of how PPPs are formed and run in City X, or transit solutions are integrated in City Y, learning cities are also nurturing trusted relations among those taking part in the learning.   This tends to build an environment that is conducive to reaching agreement on what works and what doesn’t, what priorities and mission should be, and what new novel applications (innovations) are worth trying.   
Semana
Is culture part of or rather a result of the learning process? Can cities learn to improve their competitiveness culture? How do you account for cultural learning?
TC
My belief is that culture plays a very significant role in the formation of trusted relations in the public domain.  An example is that the “cloud of trust” in an Italian city was much tighter and more coherent than a similar cloud in a U.S. city.  Nevertheless, I think deliberate policy and dedicated effort can make a difference.  The city cases I studied suggest that building up this social capital is a form of culture, and it takes more time in some places than others, but it can be achieved. 
Semana
Cities such as Bogota have recently emphasized PPPs as a means to enhance city services, investment climate or competitiveness environment. Is there any difference between PPPs and networks? Which one is more effective for what?
TC
There is nothing magic networks, any more than there is magic in PPPs.  What matters is the degree of coherence and trust within a network, whether it is a PPP or any mixed group of citizens, business people, and public officials.  Networks come in all shapes, sizes, and compositions.  Further, they are formed for many different reasons.  Networks, like PPPs, function for specific purposes.  To make them effective for competitiveness depends on the extent to which the beliefs held by members of the group are aligned and that they share a mutual trust with one another.  For example, a competitiveness task force for a city would need to have a broad balance of membership and have made efforts to build trusting milieu in which to work.