What would Jane do?

IMG_2962Last week, I had the opportunity to keynote the Intelligent Content Conference (ICC – follow #intelcontent for great conference take-aways) and deliver an expanded presentation about how I have used urban planning principles to reignite my social media/community inspiration and reimagine the digital ecosystem.

Following me from computer to computer, I have a crumpled Post-it note and in Sharpie, it reads: What would Jane do? Jane, as in, Jane Jacobs – activist and God Mother of urban planning revitalization. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities first published in 1961, rocked my world. Jane took on the status quo to combat the breakdown of the physical community as an outcome of expansive highways cutting through and eradicating culture to further urban sprawl. The problems Jane discusses in the book and her subsequent works (Vital Little Plans is a collection of her shorter works and my favorite publication, if not the easier to read/digest) may be over 40 years old, yet reflect classic change management problems and community behavior regardless of physical or digital space.

The following quotes are Jane’s words.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Before people can participate in any form of social media or community activity there needs to be an understanding of the social contracts and constructs in place. With the ICC audience, I shared the organizing principles I have created in previous roles and honed over time and now the basis of any digital transformation effort. These principles encompass the reimagined digital ecosystem and are meant to be daily reminders and guardrails to compliment any use case and project timeline. There is no end… These principles cover establishing truths, fostering an information ecology, consistent (and understood) and transparent measurement, platform and system integration, business accountability, and establishing a historical account of policy, process, and technology decisions.

“Cities are not just great lumps of chaos. They are a form of intricate, wonderful order, and they seem like chaos mainly because we do not understand this order not the processes by which it works.”

I have said it before – governance is the most unsexy part of any digital transformation effort, but the most powerful. You pay now, or you pay later. The choice is yours. Governance is not a one-and-done activity, but ongoing and must include different voices and perspectives from all business areas and at all levels, to really gain traction. What appears as chaotic, does have a sense of order if you tune into the mindset to observe and analyze for patterns.

“The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”

There are a number of actors with responsibilities on and off the stage and no performance is ever the same. Establishing governance is not a concerted activity to make every building structured with the same gray, faceless façade or (even worse), the same brick and colored awnings for each and every business. The utilities and construction of the scaffolding of social media and community activities require same or similar elements, but how the community manifests itself in design and tone, varies.

I used to negatively react to being pigeon-holed as the ‘governance’ person, but as I have become more seasoned, I am not running away from this classification. When you have barriers, there is focus and a challenge to be creative within parameters and an obligation to push those boundaries. I look at my Post-it, re-read Jane’s words and pretend she and I were chatting about the challenge over tea. What would Jane say to me? What would Jane do?   

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