Rivalry & Collaboration – can they co-exist?

If you are a Mizzou fan, would you get on a bus driven by a Jayhawk fan? As we learned from Kansas City’s former mayor Joe Reardon, sometimes the rivalries run so deep that the answer is no. We are surrounded by rivalries and competitive mentalities every day. But we can still collaborate, can’t we? Unfortunately, sometimes the answer to that question is also no. A recurring theme of Monday’s presentations was collaboration. Everyone wants it, everyone wants to see it improve, but we struggle to find the right language to improve the awareness and knowledge of the other party. So the resistance continues. And we can’t work together until we can communicate and are willing to make some compromises along the way.

Mayor Reardon shared his observation that what we do is full of jargon that outsiders and executives either don’t understand or don’t want to understand. Our jargon isn’t approachable by legislators – just look at the descriptions of our presentations for examples. But the jargon is leading to results, and the technology is evolving to the point that we can make the data more and more relevant to the consumers. It’s making it easier to help people reach the conclusions that you want them to reach without having to explain everything you did along the way.

So how did we get to where we are? Throughout our history, technology has advanced, and infrastructure has been put into place that opens up possibilities that weren’t there before. Do you think that if the decision had been made to not complete the interstate loop around Kansas City that they would have built the Kansas City Speedway where they did? If the train yards hadn’t been built here (KC is the 2nd largest rail hub in the country) would so many opportunities been open for farmers to share their goods? Infrastructure enables economic development – if more things come to your community, quality of life will improve, the tax base will broaden and employers will want to come into the area and bring jobs.

Kansas City’s work to implement the 1 Gb Google Fiber demonstrates this principle, as it already seems that the value of homes that have the 1 Gb internet are higher than homes without, businesses are willing to move into the areas with the faster connections and bring jobs. We want things to be faster, even though what we have is probably enough.

All this can happen if we are willing to share our story and use the right jargon.

Collaboration was a running theme through the day. The Enterprise Architecture & Governance Committee of NASCIO now has a working group that is surveying states for successful stories of collaboration. Check out their site at http://www.nascio.org/atdvocacy/collaboration for more information. Eric Sweden noted that one of the most downloaded reports they have is the NASCIO top 10 priorities. It shows that we are trying to find the right things to talk about.

Nathalie Smith reminded us that having data and maps isn’t enough. We don’t gain knowledge and understanding until we share it. Michael Terner & Jeff Hamerlink showed CHAT, the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool that uses hexagons to show their state model results. Not a typical map representation, but it’s what the end users are accustomed to. This is a great example of finding the right lingo to fit the audience.

The Roll Call of States just emphasized our differences and shared challenges. Even with our differences we can collaborate with each other to share knowledge and experiences. With open minds we have a lot to learn from each other.

The afternoon panels again reiterated finding a common language. According to Stu Davis, most CIO’s don’t understand what GIS is and what we do. Zsolt Nagy and Rick Miller both stated that we can do a better job with the State’s constituents and our local governments and empower them with knowledge. Maybe with more outreach and education we can help open minds and work through our underlying ‘rivalries’ to work towards mutually beneficial goals. We need to open minds and break down the barriers – help them see what is in it for them so we can collaborate.

So why do we have such difficulty working with local governments in some cases. Do we want their data so another agency can beat them up with it? Of course not. Is it this perception that leads to the seeming competition to show you have the best data and reluctance to share? If we communicate better, can we get past this to improve collaboration? What can we do and how can we get there?

Keith Hangland from Kansas said that their clearinghouse has been very successful. Local governments can choose for themselves if they want to share their data. Turns out most have. Stu cautions us against setting expectations that we can’t meet, as there are always people who are going to try to stop you. Is that rivalry or competition or something else? It certainly doesn’t help with collaboration if you can’t even ‘get them on the bus’ with you.

Stu’s observation of what NSGIC could have done sooner was to engage the IT side of organizations. I think that emphasizes the need to communicate early and often to help the process progress. Dan Ross highlighted their experience with making sure you let the owners of the data know what they will get in return if they share. Erin Tesh from Maryland also experienced that it is very important for everyone to have an equal voice at the table.

So essentially, and in short, if we drop our ‘rivalries’ and just get on the bus, together we can really go a long way and truly collaborate. We can all find compromises that we can make to be successful. Otherwise we may be travelling alone…

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