Creating and Sustaining Healthy and Successful Communities

Modern tools and technologies help improve quality of life for residents.

by / March 10, 2008

Do you know what you're doing? Of course you do ... right? That certainly must be the presumption anyway after the scrutiny and sometimes convoluted hiring procedures most public officials endure. 

It's a question that I, too, have received from a few of you since I became director of our Digital Communities program. I know where it's coming from. It comes from the pressure many of you feel to deliver obvious and tangible results that justify the significant investments your jurisdictions are making in IT applications and infrastructure. 

So why are we putting a special focus on digital communities? After all, doesn't a digital community simply seek to provide wireless Internet for everyone? Who has time to think about something so seemingly esoteric when the pressure is on to support the day-to-day business of government? Public safety communication systems must be improved and made more interoperable. Financial systems must be updated to provide better, more useful data. Through changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the courts brought new focus and urgency to the challenges of data management and digital public records retention and production. Everyone wants his or her organization to be more "green," but the financial situation in many jurisdictions means the green needed to make the investment is harder to come by.

Well, 2008 is off and running, and now is exactly the time to think about what it means to be a digital community. In fact, if you aren't thinking about it, you're falling behind. CIOs from some of the country's largest jurisdictions convened with us during a December snowstorm in Chicago to discuss that very topic. It's no surprise that the substance of their interaction is reflected in the polling and survey data collected by many publications and associations (ours and others) that seek to identify the CIO agenda for 2008. And while wireless infrastructure is an important digital community component for many, there's certainly much more to it than that. 

Based on what most of you are saying, the 2008 CIO agenda seeks to enable innovation, align IT and business goals, and integrate and consolidate existing systems, services, processes and infrastructures. But what does that mean? 

We created our Digital Communities program to help provide specific answers to that question. We think the first step is to organize like-minded people who care, and we believe we're uniquely positioned to do that. 

Our annual Center for Digital Government Digital Cities and Digital Counties surveys identify and recognize the most innovative work being done in local government. Conducted and presented in partnership with the National League of Cities and National Association of Counties, these surveys highlight the best community building work being done nationwide. Starting this year, we'll make more of that information available to you. Knowing what your peers are doing is interesting, but we think you'll agree that knowing more specifically about how they do it is even more valuable.

To support that sort of job-critical information exchange, we'll write more about local government in our publications. We're also creating some special events and Internet seminars showcasing award winners that are tailored to meet local government needs. That way you and your staff get more of the details behind the story or award and get to fully examine programs and solutions that are up and working in other jurisdictions.

At a time when things change so quickly, it's especially important to know what others are doing. Very often, it seems like public service presents problems or issues that have no easily identifiable solution. But maybe someone else has already found a solution.

Because of this, our Digital Communities program is creating a series of task forces that will come together virtually and face-to-face to explore and examine these issues. The task forces are being

designed to be responsive and relevant to every level of local government, from senior elected and appointed officials to those serving at the more tactical, technical level. Through this organizational structure, the future of local government and emerging technology solutions and approaches will be envisioned by participants, potential methods will be examined and documented, partners and teammates engaged and the results of task force work published and shared through Digital Communities communication channels such as to help establish a national leadership discussion and further timely and efficient solution development.  

As anyone engaged in working in local government knows, creating and sustaining a healthy and successful community isn't simple. Everything is connected to everything else. That's why, by design, our Digital Communities program focuses on the importance of linkages, and recognizes the interconnectedness and inseparability of issues.

In an earlier Digital Communities special report, Foundation for the Future: Digital Communities Do It With "E's.'" I wrote that for a community to think, act and prosper as a whole, it must unite the various communities within the community. To successfully accomplish that, community leaders must see and understand where those communities and issues that affect them intersect and overlap.   

For example, demands for emergency response are typically highest in those sections of a community where economic activity is most depressed. Depressed economic activity negatively affects property value and the environment. Areas with low property value often have difficulty adequately funding education. Below-average educational achievement decreases job opportunities for residents. Unemployment or even underemployment makes it difficult for people to fully participate in the economy - leading to despair, desperation and the need for increased expenditure on emergency response. 

Everything is interconnected, and better data and information management can make those connections more visible. It takes comprehensive, timely information and the best efforts of all community members from the public and private sectors to break the negative cycles and support the positive ones. 

Communities nationwide are learning first hand that the modern tools and technologies of communication, information management and community building can and do make a difference in the quality of life their residents enjoy. We know where those communities are, who they are and how they are doing it. There are communities that know what they are doing and have made the decision to become digital communities.

Now we want to invite you to join with us and them, and take advantage of the power of community as we work together to spread success. By working together and organizing like-minded people who care, we can make a tremendous difference in 2008.  

Please keep visiting this Web site for more information on how you can meet and work with others who understand and share your challenges. If you have thoughts or ideas on how the Digital Communities program can help and support the work you're doing in your community, or if you have something you'd like to offer to others, let me know at




Todd Sander Executive Director, Center for Digital Government

Todd Sander is Executive Director of the Center for Digital Government, and is responsible for driving the strategic direction and development of the Center's programs and for providing thought leadership and hands-on expertise in expanding the Center’s services to both government and industry.