Voices of Digital Communities

Making the Jump to Light Speed

Dakota Future is a countywide economic development corporation in Dakota County, Minnestoa on the southern edge of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.  Within the ...

by / October 27, 2009

Dakota Future is a countywide economic development corporation in Dakota County, Minnestoa on the southern edge of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.  Within the county, we have more than a dozen communities, six chambers of commerce, a county community development agency, three workforce centers and assorted public and private colleges. Our prime organizational question is how a small membership organization, with leaders from business, education and government, can find its niche and stimulate enhanced economic competitiveness?

Educating the Dakota Future board on Intelligent Communities was the first requirement.  I did some presentations and we borrowed some of Robert Bell's time when he was in town for another conference.  Our board chair bought and distributed multiple copies of the Broadband Economies book - a quick but informative read containing many treasures in its storytelling of Intelligent Community.

As the Dakota Future board of directors learned more about the Intelligent Community approach, they became convinced of two things - that the approach was valid for Dakota County and that Dakota Future was the only entity positioned to organize this countywide initiative.  The Intelligent Community movement focuses growing the economic pie rather than competing for small slices.   This approach fits perfectly into our multi-organization environment.  Our board set a goal to achieve Top Seven by 2012.  Of course, it was easy to set the goal - you just have to say it!  But how do you achieve it?

The Community Accelerator was the perfect program at the right time for us.  We had to know where we stood in comparison to the past winners to know how real our goal was. Completing the benchmarking questionnaire required us to gather the data and our stories on the five Indicators.  It required us to reach out to our stakeholder organizations to find leads on the best practices happening around our county of almost 400,000 people.  It offered an opportunity for low-risk participation for people with limited time and plenty of skepticism.  This approach yielded some very interesting stories new to many established community leaders.

While completing the benchmarking questionnaire, we begin preparing for the ICF visit.  Robert Bell was coming to town and we needed people to be there to meet him.  We planned a meeting with the Dakota Future board at the new countywide 911 public safety center, a press interview, a tour of a beautiful data center and community television studio, a reception and a dinner.  We planned a community workshop where the benchmarking results would be presented. Ensuring that people, the right people, would attend was critical to our success.  This involved phone calls, personally addressed invitations, more phone calls, presentations to city councils and the county board and more phone calls.

We were pleasantly surprised when we received the draft Accelerator report.  It became clear that our Top Seven by 2012 goal was within the realm of possibility.  We had some strengths and some weaknesses, but we were definitely in the game.  As the results were released at our community workshop, peoples' heads were nodding and faces smiling at the positive results.  Looks of concern emerged over our weaker scores.   As we broke into work groups, there was definitely a shared sense of "Let's get this done!"  The buy-in we sought was beginning to take shape. 

Reinforced by third-party verification of our competitive standing, our teams set to work to create goals, inventory assets and develop strategies.  Recruiting additional talent was high on the to-do list of each group.  These teams have initially committed to work over the next six months on the five elements.  Our leadership team is in place to steer and coordinate our application for 2011, to be submitted in September 2010.

When I saw notice of our 2010 Smart 21 status through the Blandin on Broadband blog, I could not believe my eyes.  Our finely tuned work plan to direct our efforts over the next six months was turned on its head.  Now we are awaiting our new questionnaire that must be completed by the end of the year.  The contents of that will determine whether we achieve Top Seven status in 2010, two years ahead of schedule.  The Community Accelerator program has definitely lived up to its name in Dakota County; our efforts, just idling a few months ago, are making the jump to light speed. 

A partner in Community Technology Advisors, Bill Coleman serves as executive director of Dakota Future.  He can be reached at bill@communitytechnologyadvisors.com.

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.