A New Digital Deal: “Most people fear disruption more than they fear destruction.” Why our Communities need a New Digital Deal now.

Digitalization has already had a profound impact on our cities, our communities, large and small. That impact is now evolving into a shift, transforming the very design of human conduct – changing the ways we build and run buninesses, provide citizen services, befriend, learn, govern, conduct spatial planning, compete, secure and provide care. As with system shifts in earlier times, the past now ceases to be a source of guidance as to how to handle things in the present and future. At the same time, the resilience of our communities is being tested: the impact of climate change and Covid-19 provides us with a thrust into the unknown, accelerating digitalization and the evolvement of the organizational models of the future. Just look at how the patterns of where and when we work have changed over the course of this single calendar year. While the future may be unevenly distributed, the impact of what many now call the 4th industrial revolution eventually touches all of us, all communities, all businesses, all governments. However, the degree to which we come prepared will determine how benign or destructive we will experience the forthcoming shift.

A New Digital Deal – originally released in 2017 and fully revised per the 2020 edition – provides a focus on this shift and how to prepare our communities, our cities. A fundamental premise to the book is that in order to harvest the full potential of the shift we are experiencing, we need a plan. It will require an intelligent coming together of investment, leaders, new skill sets, data, new business models, adaptive regulatory systems – among others – in order to succeed. The second premise, is the darker other side of the same coin: those communities in which stakeholders come under-prepared, will be the communities that will prove less competitive, less resilient and may experience this forthcoming industrial revolution as a threat. Or worse: it may genuinely be a threat.

It has been said that ‘people fear disruption more than they fear destruction.’ Without a plan we’ll simply get both: disruption and destruction will ensue, representing just half of the Schumpeterian promise – and hardly the nicest part. So we need a plan, a strategy. It’s what I have called a New Digital Deal.

We’ll need to think beyond ‘smart cities’ – a catch all-term that has never been the movement it has been made out to be, a term that has alluded to a tech centric brave future that hasn’t materialized. But the smart city chapter in the long book of urban innovations has proved to be a source of two decades of learnings, providing us with insights as to how to build innovation strategies for cities, regions and entire nations. These learnings are now more important than ever. As we plot for a post-COVID future, as we try to get a grip on the disruptive and destablizing impact of social media, as the impact of climate change is ever more visible in plain sight, as we plan for novel ways to mitigate new economic uncertainty, our communities require innovation strategies that tie new technologies, new designs and new organizational models to social, economic and environmental goals we now must meet. What can be learned from those two decades of smart city learnings? What are the building blocks of successful innovation strategies for our communities, our regions, our cities? How can smaller communities benefit?

A New Digital Deal focuses on these topics. The Revised 2020 edition has leaders from across the world do the talking. In the forthcoming weeks, I will share call-outs produced by these leaders for the book as blogs. You’ll hear from New Orleans’ Kimberly LaGrue, Reykjavik’s Oskar Sandholt, Aurora’s Michael Pegues, Dublin’s Jamie Cudden – among others. We will hear from the co-authors of the Italian and Arabic editions of the book, Raffaele Gareri and Yousef Al-Assaf respectively.

Please, join the debate. We need to build a New Digital Deal.

Bas Boorsma

September 2020



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