I-Open Leadership Retreat Shares New Practices and Tools for Community and Regional Economic Transformation, Susan Schaul

Submitted by Betsey Merkel on Tue, 04/29/2008 - 10:00.

I-Open Leadership Retreat Shares New Practices and Tools for Community and Regional Economic Transformation

By Susan Schaul

Special Presentation: Open Source Economic Development
    Ed Morrison and the Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open)

Ed Morrison has a different way of looking at economic development, by using open source thinking and networks to encourage innovation. This approach sounds easy, but it is not.

“We need to shift the conversation,” says Ed Morrison, Director of the Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open). Morrison, speaking at the I-Open Leadership Retreat, Punderson State Park in Newbury, Ohio, April 23, 24 and 25 paints a picture of economic expansion by first describing the history behind 20th century business development.

“Our grandfather’s economy, the first curve economy, generated enormous wealth using top-down models created in vertical business silos. But the forces of globalization, started back in the 1960s and accelerated by the Internet in the 1990s, have collapsed costs and integrated markets. In Japan,” he explains, “the automakers organized production differently focusing on flatter organization, networks of suppliers, more flexible production, simpler product design, and faster build cycles. This is an example of networked production. And it proved to be an effective model”

The shift in the economy, declared by economists as moving from manufacturing to services, was too simplistic. Traditional business models based on command and control hierarchies are now being replaced by business models based on more open, porous networks and collaborations. The second curve economy, a new form of capitalism, has emerged based on networks. Morrison uses cell phones as an example. “What value is there if only one person has a cell phone?” he asks. “As the number of people with cell phones increases, the nodes of the network also increase raising the value of the communications network exponentially in a knowledge economy.”

Punderson State Park in Newbury, Ohio, was a beautiful venue for 18 workshop participants from Indiana, southern Ohio, the Mt. Pleasant Community, Akron, and the greater Cleveland area, to share ideas, brainstorm, and learn new concepts to grow their own programs. “We need to build new habits of thinking together,” Morrison advises. “This is not about who needs to be at the table, but who is at the table and what can we do?” He is a firm believer in the value of civic forums, creating the civic space where people can convene and talk together, developing trust and forming collaborations. Linking and leveraging together - these are the tools for the open source economic development process. With people linked together in clustered networks, they are in a collaborative position where they can conduct strategic doing, a disciplined approach to taking action toward economic revitalization. Even though the workshop participants came from non-profits, universities, and businesses, they were all eager to learn about these economic development tools realizing this approach made sense and could be applied to any situation.

Many people talk about economic development, but few people have actually worked in the field, plumbed the depths and shaped new strategies. Borrowing from the open source software developers, Morrison has created a new economic development paradigm called Open Source Economic Development harnessing the strength of open participation and network clusters. Morrison has spent close to 20 years in economic development, starting his career in Washington as a legislative assistant, taking on an analyst position with the American car manufacturers, then working in economically depressed areas in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Kentucky. After a three-year stint at the Case Western Reserve University Center for Regional Economic Initiatives (REI), he started his own business, I-Open, along with three former colleagues. Presently, he serves as the economic policy advisor to the Purdue Center for Regional Development at Purdue University and coordinates the federally funded WIRED (Workforce Innovation for Regional Economic Development) grant for North Central Indiana.

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