What Barn Raising Looks Like in Petaluma, California

My last post argued that we should think of the role of local government in communities more in terms of “barn raising” than the more transactional metaphor of a vending machine. This idea was put forth in the great book Community and the Politics of Place by former Missoula, Montana mayor Daniel Kemmis, and later picked up in a popular article written by Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California. The crux of the notion is the need for communities to move away from an “us” and “them” relationship between citizens and community organizations on the one hand, and local government on the other, and rather think of local government as a key community institution that is both part of and an extension of the community.

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Local Governments and Non-Profits: Building Community Through Partnership

Photo by Crissy Pascual, Argus-Courier (Oct. 20, 2016)

NBC News recently aired a short feel-good story during its Nightly News broadcast about a code enforcement officer working for the City of Petaluma, California. Joe Garcia had received multiple complaints about a dilapidated home surrounded by overgrown weeds. Clearly the home was out of compliance, and so the natural course of action would be a warning and fine. But that’s not what happened. What happened instead is an example not only of decency and caring, but of the power within communities to build community and improve quality of life through partnerships. In this case, Joe learned about the homeowner, WWII vet Albert Pericou. He found out that Mr. Pericou lacked the resources and physical ability to keep up with his property. Joe realized that something could be done about it. He knew about a non-profit organization called Rebuilding Together and made a connection between Mr. Pericou and the organization. Before long, community volunteers, including Joe Garcia, with the help of a $10,000 donation by Home Depot, were giving Mr. Pericou’s home and yard a makeover.

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The Power of Partnership: The Case of the NC Commerce Park in Alamance County

NC Commerce Park
The Times-News, 3/22/2016

The N.C. Commerce Park in Alamance County, North Carolina is an economic development success story that underscores how vital interlocal and regional collaboration is for community and economic development. It highlights the power of partnership and also the importance of local leaders that share a collaborative mindset.

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Mapping North Carolina’s Local Food Infrastructure

NC Local Food Infrastructure Inventory
NC Local Food Infrastructure Inventory

Strengthening local food economies can be viewed as an important part of a holistic approach to community development. Local food can be a positive contributor to social capital, public health, environmental preservation, and overall quality of life. It also can be an important component of local economic development. In thinking about the development of robust local food economies, a lot of attention is given to the poles of local food supply chains: namely, local farmers and farms on one end, and outlets for distribution on the other, such as farmer’s markets, co-ops, and CSA operations. But for many local farmers, too little attention is given to the intermediary steps in the supply-chain. The intermediary steps together constitute a critical infrastructure for local farmers that can make a huge difference in making a local food operation viable or not.

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New Book of Interest: This is Where You Belong

9780525429128I am just finishing a pre-publication version of a forthcoming book by Melody Warnick titled “This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live” (available June 21, 2016). Warnick is a fellow-blogger on the Community Engagement Learning Exchange, writing about all things community from the perspective of a “regular” citizen (i.e. not an academic and not a public or nonprofit professional). Warnick is a freelance journalist and has been published in many prominent magazines, but This is Where You Belong is her first book. And it is excellent. I will be writing a proper review of the book soon, but for now I’d like to simply recommend the book and point out why folks interested in community and economic development might find this book useful and inspiring.

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Community Food Strategies: Food System Network Building in NC

CFS_WebsiteAs I have written about before, I see local food organizing as a powerful community building enterprise. Because everyone eats, local food efforts literally can have an impact on entire communities. And because local food organizing touches upon all aspects of community capital (social, environmental, financial, and so on), focusing community development energies on local food seems like an effective strategy to achieve at least some broader community development goals. Perhaps no state in the U.S. has a better infrastructure for local food organizing than North Carolina. In this brief post, I’d like to draw attention to the supportive infrastructure that is helping make NC a national leader in local food efforts.

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What is Your Strategic Vision?

horizonA familiar Biblical Proverb states: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” I would argue that this principle is true for communities and organizations as well. Perish may be too strong a word, but I do think we could say something like, “when a community or organization has no vision, they are prone to stagnate, go nowhere, or decay.” Does your organization have a strategic vision? What about your community? Continue reading “What is Your Strategic Vision?”

Working Across Boundaries: The Tryon International Equestrian Center

Source: http://tryon.coth.com
Source: http://tryon.coth.com

I’d like to recommend a recent article in the Palm Beach Post that tells the story of the Tryon International Equestrian Center, located in Polk County, North Carolina. It is framed as a “missed opportunity” for the City of Wellington, Florida. Wellington is already a major player in the equestrian world, but missed the chance to host this new “Disneyland for equestrians” due to “a paralyzing political climate” and a lack of the kind of capacity for collaboration that this project required. On the other hand, it is a story of how working across boundaries is critically important in economic development.

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The Heart of Collaborative Leadership

Water_HeartThe need for collaborative leaders in communities and regions has never been greater. Most, if not all, of the community development issues we grapple with are highly complex and “boundary crossing,” meaning they cut across organizational, jurisdictional, and sectoral boundaries.

Collaborative leaders are catalysts who bring stakeholders together to address shared issues. They are conveners and facilitators that lead more from the middle than from the front. Much has been written in recent years about the skill set of these post-hierarchical leaders. They are systems thinkers. They are effective facilitators and negotiators. They help resolve conflict.

But in my observation it isn’t the skill set that sets collaborative leaders apart. Rather, personal attributes, one’s “heart” if you will, is the real difference-maker when it comes to leading across boundaries as a catalyst, as a collaborative leader.

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System Leadership and Community Development

From "The Dawn of System Leadership" (SSIR, Winter 2015)
Stanford Social Innovation Review (Winter 2015)

An article titled “The Dawn of System Leadership” was recently published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in community development. While the notion of system leadership is not new—it is getting at similar ideas that others have called collaborative, integrative, boundary-spanning, adaptive or catalytic leadership—I believe the emphasis on “systems” thinking, change, and leadership is very helpful, and their short article does a great job of distilling down a lot of learning into a few key points that I’d like to summarize here.

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A Gathering of NC Food Councils

Gathering of NC Food CouncilsLast week (December 4-5) I attended a remarkable event, perhaps the first of it’s kind. It was a gathering of people involved in local food system work from all across North Carolina, as well as some representatives from South Carolina and Virginia. The title of the event was “Connecting for the Future: A Gathering of NC Food Councils.” About 150 people were in attendance at the Biotech Place in Winston-Salem. The event was convened by the Local Food Council of North Carolina in partnership with the Forsyth Community Food Consortium. Many sponsors helped cover the costs of the event, including the BlueCross BlueShield Foundation and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). It was a great opportunity to hear about the ‘state of the art’ when it comes to local food networks/councils.

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Councils, Common Purpose, and Collaboration

Food SystemI read a terrific blog post at Harvard Business Review (HBR) the other day about collaboration. The author explained that “purpose is collaboration’s most unacknowledged determinant.” Community collaboration has never been more important as today’s challenges are too complex and interconnected for any one organization–government or otherwise–to handle alone. The issues we care about, more often than not, are enmeshed in complex systems that connect many disparate stakeholders. The ideal is to bring the different stakeholders–the different parts of the system, if you will–together, to work together, to collaborate, for the betterment of all. I’ve written several posts lately about local food economies as an example of this kind of complex system that requires collaboration in order to become more equitable, resilient, and sustainable. I’ve argued that local governments in particular should have local food system development on their radar screens. But collaboration amongst the relevant stakeholders doesn’t just happen. Collaboration is difficult. Councils for cross-cutting issues like food are a tool to help overcome barriers to collaboration. They can help create the common purpose needed to drive collaboration.

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What We Can Learn About Community Leadership from Sir Ernest Shackleton

One of the cases I have students read in the leadership class I teach is the story of the Endurance expedition to Antarctica, led by famed polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. This story has received a tremendous amount of attention in the last several years, with several books and documentaries, a four hour BBC film starring Kenneth Branagh, and most recently (last month), a three hour PBS documentary called “Chasing Shackleton.” The attention this story has received though was not about the success of the audacious mission to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. The ship never made it to shore. Rather, the story is an awe-inspiring saga of survival, and Shackleton’s efforts to make sure his entire crew made it home safely is frequently cited of one of the greatest examples of leadership ever. But while the Endurance expedition is an incredible epic, and Shackleton an inspiring hero, one might legitimately ask how such an extreme story—so out of time and place with our day-to-day experience—can offer lessons for leadership today. I actually think we can learn a lot about leadership in general and community leadership specifically from the Shackleton story if we think about the crisis the Endurance crew faced as a metaphor for community crises today. This post explores a few of the lessons we might learn from this amazing story. Continue reading “What We Can Learn About Community Leadership from Sir Ernest Shackleton”

Local Foods as Community Development, Some Questions and Answers

tenpercentEarlier in this Fall I reported on a webinar co-sponsored by the UNC School of Government and the Center for Environmental Farming System (CEFS) on local food and local government. The purpose of the webinar was to educate local government officials about how the local food movement can be an important part of a community and regional community development strategy. Sustainable local food systems contribute significantly to a community’s economic, environmental,  social, and public health. A lot of information was covered in the webinar and a lot of questions were posed by viewers, and there was not enough time to address all the questions. In this post I’d like to take up a few of the questions, and with the help of my colleagues from CEFS, provide some answers.

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Why Local Governments Should be Thinking About Local Food Systems

buy_fresh_buy_localLast month I hosted a webinar here at the School of Government, in partnership with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (or CEFS for short),  on the topic of local foods and local government. I was fortunate enough to have with me a who’s who of local foods experts to talk about different aspects of the local foods movement as a way of introducing the topic to local government officials, and perhaps more importantly, serve as a springboard for local conversations between local officials and local food system stakeholders as to how local government can be a catalyst in growing and nurturing vibrant local/regional food systems.

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Book Recommendation on Civic Leadership

A new book by David Chrislip and Ed O’Malley titled For the Common Good is a highly recommended source of ideas on how civic leadership can facilitate meaningful change in our communities. The title captures how the authors argue we should redefine civic leadership. Rather than being motivated by personal interests (such as “not in my backyard” concerns), civic leadership that is focused on proactively effecting change for the good of the whole community can “help transform the civic culture of our communities and regions.”

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Community Development and a Sense of Place

Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry

The work of community development is very much tied to place. Even though today we speak of virtual communities or communities of practice that are disconnected from place, when we speak of community development we are talking about developing the capacity of local communities–neighborhoods, towns, regions. Wendell Berry is one of America’s preeminent thinkers and writers on sustainable communities and the importance of having a sense of place in particular. Berry has said “if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”

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Local Food Policy Councils as Community Development Strategy

Sustainable Local Food System
Source: www.cmap.illinois.gov

One might say that the local foods movement or “locavorism” is all the rage. We’ve done several posts here on the CED Blog about local food systems as they relate to community economic development. I posted a while ago about the local foods movement as community economic development. Sybil Tate wrote a post about efforts in Cabarrus County to promote local food. And Maureen Berner discussed the new Western North Carolina Food Policy Council as a way to develop “synergy and connections” regionally around sustainable local food systems. This post explores local food policy councils in a bit more detail and points to resources on the topic. These forums for discussion and collaboration may be the single most important step that can be taken by local governments (or other sponsoring entities) to really make progress in developing a sustainable local (or regional) food system.

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Higher Education, Employment, and Economic Development

Recent comments on a talk radio show by North Carolina’s governor has spurred debate regarding the role of higher education in economic development (and, by extension, the role of public funding of higher education). There have been many op-eds and other statements in reaction to those comments, including from UNC President Tom Ross, as well as the UNC faculty. The purpose of this post is not to take sides in the debate, but rather, to review a few points about what we know about higher education as it relates to economic development.

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Collaboration and Community Resilience

In the wake of the recent mega-storm Sandy, we hear a lot of discussion about “community resilience.” RAND Corporation defines community resilience as “the sustained ability of a community to utilize available resources to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations.”  Hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires are certainly all examples of adverse situations communities may face. But natural disasters aren’t the only kind of adverse situations communities may want to be resilient in the face of. Public health problems like obesity, persistent poverty, and water pollution (for example) are likewise adverse situations. In other words, all communities should be thinking about resilience, whether the likelihood of a large-scale disaster is great or not.

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Citizens Academies and Background Checks

An earlier post of mine discussed citizens academies as an investment by local governments in various forms of community capital. In a conversation with a coordinator of one of these programs the question of background checks came up. Should applicants to citizens academies be subjected to some kind of background check before being allowed to participate? How many programs are currently doing such screens, and if so, why? I posed this question to program coordinators and the results are worth considering. And the implications extend beyond  citizens academies but also, potentially, to advisory boards and other official community volunteer capacities.

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Community as a Process

When we speak of community development, we often gloss over the conceptual fuzziness of the term “community” (let alone “community development”). At a very simple level, when we speak of community development we are speaking descriptively of communities of place, whether they be neighborhoods, villages, cities, or regions. There is some sense of territory, shared space, and interdependence. A recent article in the journal Community Development by David Mataritta-Cascante and Mark Brennan titled “Conceptualizing Community Development in the Twenty-First Century” (which I highly recommend) reminds of some of the standard conceptual components of what we mean by community.

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The Arts and Culture Industry and Economic Development

Photo Credit: Jenny Warburg for The New York Times

A new report has just been released that documents the significant impact the arts and culture industry has on North Carolina’s economy. Many people may be surprised to learn that nonprofit arts and culture generates well over a billion dollars of economic activity annually. The release of the report highlights the value of cultural assets as part of an assets-building approach to community economic development. Investing in and supporting cultural assets not only engenders the type of environment attractive to the the “creative class,”  but it also, as this new report demonstrates, provides economic benefits for the here-and-now.

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Citizens Academies and Developing Community Capital

Community Capitals Framework

For decades now, Cornelia and Jan Flora of Iowa State University have been at the leading edge of community development research. They have found that sustainable communities nurture and make investments in seven types of community capital. Thus community development can be viewed as the development of these various forms of capital. This post looks at citizens academy programs as a local government practice that simultaneously develops human, social, and political (or civic) capital.

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Interlocal Cooperation, Shared Services, and Community Resilience

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

In my last post I highlighted the importance of interlocal cooperation as a key strategy for local governments to “do more with less.” I would like to share a couple of short articles that connect to this line of thinking and make a connection to the idea of community resilience.

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Interlocal Cooperation Has Never Been More Important

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

Continuing state budget problems, combined with shrinking tax bases and the reduction in federal aid work together to put local governments in long-term fiscal crisis. The responses of local governments to this fiscal crunch have significant consequences for community growth and well-being. Simply scaling back may do long-term harm to community economic sustainability. One alternative to cutting services is to creatively “do more with less.” And one of the best ways to do more with less is to work together. Interlocal cooperation in its many forms represents a key way local governments can work together (with other local governments) to do more with less.

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Collaborative Competencies

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

Collaborative governance in its many forms, from intergovernmental and public-private partnerships to stakeholder consensus building processes, is becoming more and more common across the U.S. and will continue to be so due to the highly interconnected nature of public problems. The realm of community economic development in particular exemplifies the need for and value of partnerships across traditional boundaries, as the example of the Wayne County Development Alliance demonstrates. But collaboration is inherently difficult, and it “requires people to develop and put to use collaborative behaviors, skills, and tools in order for it to be most effective.” Thus it is critically important for public and nonprofit development agencies to develop and nurture collaborative competencies. The University Network for Collaborative Governance (UNCG), in partnership with the Policy Consensus Initiative, recently published a Guide to Collaborative Competencies. The rest of this post will summarize and review this important new resource and offer suggestions on how it might be utilized in community and economic development (as well as other public service) organizations.

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New Video on Collaboration for Infrastructure Financing

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

The fiscal climate for local governments (rural communities in particular) is daunting. Local governments are in a state of fiscal crisis and the long term forecast is not encouraging. Many use the term the “new normal” to express the sentiment that the “good ‘ol days” where state and local governments could adequately finance all their needs are never coming back. Hard choices have been made and are being made that have significant long-term consequences.

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Overcoming Obstacles to Collaboration: The Role of Emotional Intelligence

LadderRick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

While cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional partnerships are often key to successful community and economic development, the fact remains that there are many real obstacles to collaboration, including time, turf, and trust. People naturally resist changes to the status quo, tend to want to protect their own turf, and are reluctant to share power and control. What can community leaders do, then, to improve the chances of collaborative success? Research on collaboration has underscored the key role of leadership, and here we look what is perhaps the most important aspect of collaborative leadership: the leader’s ability to cultivate and manage relationships. And at the heart of that competency is a cluster of personal attributes that psychologists now call “emotional intelligence.”

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New Video about Creating a Public-Private Partnership for Economic Development

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

Economic development is a classic example of a boundary-crossing problem. Local economies are impacted by the actions of multiple jurisdictions (e.g. neighboring municipalities, county government, etc.), as well as the actions of private and nonprofit sector actors in the community. Success in growing local economies often requires coordinated action of these actors. Local economic development is certainly not the domain of any one government or other organization. Going it alone just doesn’t work. This is why many communities and regions are creating boundary organizations to facilitate collaborative economic development. The Wayne County Development Alliance is an example of this kind of innovation in local governance.

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Recommended Book: Working Across Boundaries

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member. His work focuses on collaborative governance and public leadership.

Community economic development is a classic example of a “transboundary” issue. There is no single authority that, acting alone, can effectively address community and economic development issues. These issues transcend the boundaries we’ve created—jurisdictional, functional, and sectoral boundaries. Community leaders looking to make a difference in terms of community and economic development, therefore, must learn to work across boundaries. With that in mind, I would like to recommend an excellent book that is somewhat of a primer and even a user’s guide to leading regional, transboundary efforts.

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What are Your Community’s Civil Vulnerabilities?

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

A few months ago Tyler Mulligan and I had the opportunity to work with Bravo Company of the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion of the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Bragg. They asked for our help in developing their analytical skill-set in preparation for a deployment to Latin America. It was a learning experience for all involved. While I think what we shared with them will be useful, I also came away with some insights about community development that I’ll share here in this blog post. I also came away from the experience with a great deal of respect and admiration for these soldiers and the work they do. Continue reading “What are Your Community’s Civil Vulnerabilities?”

Countervailing Trends

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

“Practical futurist” Michael Rogers recently gave a keynote speech at a Triangle J forum in Durham about how technological innovations are transforming society. It was an excellent and thought provoking speech. At the same time, I’ve also been reading Wendell Berry as well as various articles about the local food movement (a topic I’ve recently written about in this blog). What I see here are two trends (globalism and localism for short), both tied directly to community economic development, yet seemingly pulling in opposite directions. On the one hand there are the forces of globalization that are shrinking the world, dis-placing people in the process. On the other hand, community self-reliance and sustainability (seem to be) making a comeback with the growth of the local food movement and related efforts aimed at re-placing people (in their local communities).

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Collaborative Governance: The Case of WNC EdNET

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

To effectively address today’s public problems there is an increasing need to work through partnerships across multiple boundaries (organizational, jurisdictional, sectoral).  “Collaborative governance” has come to be the term of art for this idea of working together across boundaries to solve public problems. There are many fascinating examples in North Carolina of collaborative governance creating significant public value. Here we’ll look at a particularly noteworthy example, the Western North Carolina Education Network (WNC EdNET). Through multiple levels of partnerships, schools in the westernmost part of the state are gaining access to the latest broadband technologies, enabling area students to compete globally in ways not previously “available or imagined.”

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Promoting Local Food Systems for Community and Economic Development

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

By now most people have at least heard of the “local foods” movement. Thanks to Michael Pollan and his compatriots, terms like “locavore” and “foodshed” have made their way into our lexicon. The idea here is to create “more locally based, self-reliant food economies.” The argument is part of a larger one about sustainability, that “sustainable local food systems” are better for public health, the environment, and the local economy.  Thus developing local foods systems can be seen as a strategy for sustainable community and economic development. This post discusses why this may be the case and offers several examples of how local governments and other community institutions can play an active role in developing local food systems.

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Insights from the Emerging Issues Forum


Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

I just returned from the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh (February 8-9) and am still, as they say, “taking it all in.” The theme this year was creativity and the program was loaded with some of the leading thinkers (and doers) on this topic in the world. It was one of the most intellectually stimulating events I have ever been to and Governor Hunt and Institute for Emerging Issues director Anita Brown-Graham deserve a lot of credit for their leadership in making such an event possible. I want to highlight a few of the big ideas I’ve taken away from the conference that I believe anyone concerned with community and economic development ought to be thinking about.

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Exploring Water Partnership Opportunities in Surry County

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

Over the past several months Jeff Hughes and Andrew Westbrook of the Environmental Finance Center, along with my Public Intersection colleague Lydian Altman and I, have worked with Surry County public officials to explore water partnership opportunities. The project underscores the reality that significant interjurisdictional partnerships don’t “just happen” and that collaboration requires a lot of work. But when potential partners are willing to openly explore alternatives to the status quo, a shared understanding of collaborative advantage can be created, leading to the development of win-win partnerships.

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Public Investment in Broadband Infrastructure

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

If you have not followed the news on this, the City of Wilson, NC recently invested $28 million on a fiber optic network throughout the community and now operates Greenlight cable, internet, and phone as a local utility. After the big cable companies would not invest in fiber, the community decided to make a public investment. The thinking is that in the 21st Century, investing in broadband is a public good much like roads and other public utilities.

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Boundary Organizations and Collaboration

Rick Morse is a faculty member at the School of Government.

Have you ever heard of boundary organizations? Probably not, unless you happen to be among a small niche of academics who research the social studies of science. But the for those interested in collaboration and partnerships for community and economic development, there are important insights to be gleaned from the nascent research on boundary organizations.

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