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Foreword to the Revised 2020 Edition

The Revised 2020 edition of A New Digital Deal is rich on additional segments, insights, new call-outs by urban innovation leaders and entirely new (sub)chapters. Per the below, I am sharing the Foreword to the 2020 Edition. It provides an insight as to what to expect from this 2020 edition, but it also provides a sense of my own perspectives and sentiments on what is different today compared to where we stood when the book was first published in 2017…

 

Today, a New Digital Deal is needed more than ever. In the years and months between making the final edits to the first edition of A New Digital Deal and writing the foreword to this updated edition, some serious water has passed under the bridge: Big tech breaches to data privacy, governments using data against their own citizens, citizens pushing back against ever more technology in their streets, schools and workplace environments. It has been a sobering period, following so many years of virtually unbridled optimism about where digitalization would lead us and what that might mean for our cities, our communities. What these past few years have taught us, if anything, is that technology on its own cannot be expected to lead us to a safe future. We need to have a plan in place if we are to champion the journey. I call this plan a New Digital Deal.

Over the past few decades, many have come to believe that the phenomenon of ‘connectedness’ translates into new levels of individual and collective resilience – and with good reason. Digitalization has allowed for unprecedented access to information, education, care, jobs and entertainment. It has enabled better management of scarce resources, smarter mobility and effective collaborative modes of working. Indeed, digitalization has facilitated new modes of human conduct and adaptability.

At the same time, connectedness is also responsible for unprecedented layers of complexity, exposing us to a world that many of us experience as being more volatile, more chaotic and more unpredictable — often leaving us more vulnerable and less resilient. It has all the hallmarks of a paradox: we need to strike a fresh balance between leveraging connectedness to boost our resilience, and boosting our resilience to stem the uncertainties and complexities produced by increased connectedness. How adept should we be in the art of isolation — in an opposing mode to connectedness? It’s a question we ought to address across virtually all domains, from dealing with cyber threats to our networks to managing our energy grids and next-generation automated mobility. A New Digital Deal must encompass that balance.

Being a ‘net tech optimist’ myself, I have often argued that technology is not neutral; that in its very design, embedded in its expressed functionality, lies a set of underlying values and assumptions. The design of a gun, for instance, leaves little room for debate on underlying values. It is an object designed, at its most benign, to engender fear, and often used for far darker purposes. Its DNA is clear. In the case of network technologies, no such darkness is seemingly present, and the core characteristics appear benign. At the heart of network technologies lie connectedness, collaboration, the greatest access for the greatest number, resilience, redundancy of pathways, and so on. However, technology that is benign at a DNA level can certainly be used for bad intentions. The past few years have made this increasingly clear. This insight amplifies the need for a New Digital Deal.

But despite all this, I believe there’s a lot of room for optimism. As decision makers, technology leaders and ordinary citizens like you and me become more aware of the negatives that come with digitalization, tools and methods to mitigate such negatives are also maturing. The concept of the ‘smart city’ as a tech-led episode in a long history of urban innovations appears to finally be evolving to make way for a more mature approach to digitalization in and for our communities — one in which people rather than technology are at the heart of the effort, with citizens, residents, tourists, entrepreneurs, refugees, politicians and civil servants now taking center stage. Emotional intelligence, collaboration and design thinking have surfaced as the skills central to effective community digitalization and innovation efforts, in addition to old-fashioned engineering and traditional leadership skills. Sociology and philosophy are increasingly becoming accepted as essential disciplines for the task at hand. If ‘smart city’ efforts of the past were run mainly by men, current and emerging community innovation endeavors have ever more women at the helm. More young professionals are finding their way into chief innovation officer-type roles in their cities, communities and regions, as they should. Additionally, digitalization has begun to expand from the confines of single cities to involve regions that may cross state or even national boundaries. Smart regions allow smaller communities to be included in activities, leveraging converged skills, know-how and procurement power. All of these changes are profound, and they point to a learning curve that is unprecedented in terms of depth, speed and impact.

A New Digital Deal has appeared in various editions and translations, and my hope is that it will continue on its journey of evolution and proliferation as the subjects it covers evolve. The insights shared in this book reflect the processes and learnings that many cities have experienced in developing their own digitalization plans – and (since its first publication in 2017) also vice versa: many communities have in part built their plans on the framework, references and experiences shared in this book. I very much hope that we can continue to refine our observations to reflect the latest thinking in the community digitalization field. There is a clear need for a New Digital Deal, and an increasing number of peers and professionals appear to agree.

On a practical note, developments in technology – and specifically in the area of community digitalization – are advancing rapidly. Leaders driving these efforts are moving quickly too. Many of the people that contributed to the original edition of this book have already moved on to adopt new roles. Many new leaders have provided their call-out for this updated 2020 edition. All call-outs – both older ones and newer – have been collected in the closing chapter of the book, with the year the call-out was produced stated upfront, as well as the position the person in question held at the time.

I extend a profound thanks to the hundreds of people that have contributed to the effort of producing the original version of this book, the translated publications, as well as this revised 2020 edition. I would like to thank Ann Marcus for being such an incredible peer and editor on both the original and revised editions. I would also like to thank my friends Raffaele Gareri in Rome and Yousef Al Assaf in Dubai for being such incredible captains steering the Italian and Arabic editions of this book respectively. Last, I would like to thank Change= (www.change-is.com), the Cities Today Institute, Cisco, Rainmaking and the Thunderbird School of Global Management (Arizona State University) for providing me with platform, peerdom, channel and insights.

Enjoy reading A New Digital Deal.

Bas Boorsma

February 2020

Comments

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