Smart Cities Dialogue: Sparking an Urban Revolution

New tools and new learning strategies make it possible to create a city that offers every citizen high quality learning experiences. There’s no silver bullet, it’s not easy and it won’t happen overnight. But the opportunity set gets better every month.
A two year investigation with hundreds of contributors helped us catalog innovations in America’s great cities. Working with 60 thought leaders, we developed a Smart Cities leadership framework that has the potential to yield dramatic improvement in learning experiences and opportunities from early learning to job training. We identified 7 keys to education and employment: including innovation mindset, sustained leadership, talent development, collective impact, aligned investment, incubation of new tools and schools, and policy advocacy.
The Smart Cities template requires community dialogue for local adaptation. We modeled a quick version of that at #iNACOL14 this week in Palm Springs, CA featuring some contributing authors as station leaders for a discussion around each Key.
Innovation Mindset, led by Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Education. Building on the idea that innovation mindset = growth mindset + maker mindset + team mindset, the group brainstormed ways to foster such mindsets in students and communities. One insight the group shared is the importance of distributed networks – as opposed to centralized/decentralized – networks to foster an innovation mindset.


Sustained Leadership, led by Tim Hilborn, TRECA Education Solutions. Tim and team recommended that leaders focus on creating a trustworthy environment that encourages risk. Building on the book’s premise that sustained leadership is lean, iterative and blended, the group also cited Rick Hess’s assertion that “You already have the authority to do what you need to do, you just don’t have the guts or political clout to do it.” Ongoing leadership coaching and collaboration is key!
Like military leadership development, Tim’s group discussed the benefit of varied leadership work experiences complemented by personalized learning experiences.
Shawn-Rubin-300pxwTalent Development, led Shawn Rubin, Highlander Institute. With the enthusiasm (not to mention the expertise) of a football coach delivering an impassioned half-time speech, Shawn shared his beliefs about educators deserving learning experiences that match what we aspire to for students: blended, personalized, and competency-based. They recommended:

  • Moving learning resources online, ahead of time
  • Using qualitative and quantitative data to make decisions about what PD to offer and when
  • Identifying which learners who need additional support and aligning resources accordingly
  • Being clear about the key competencies (e.g., iNacol standards).

Collective Impact, led by Matt Williams, KnowledgeWorks Foundation. Matt and his crew encouraged the group to use data to “improve” rather than to “prove,” thereby setting the table for productive accountability. Innovation at scale requires stakeholders working in partnerships to solve problems through shared community vision, evidence-based decision making, collaborative action, sustainability. The group also reinforced the importance of driving with economic development, being patient (change takes time!), and ensuring the community owns the plan.

Incubating Tools & Schools, Matt Candler, (4.0 Schools). Matt joined via Facetime and shared his insights from his extensive experience and described his expertise in school replication to recognize that, “The big problem is not brokenness, but obsolescence,” and to innovate Matt learned to embrace uncertainty over arrogance.


Matt discussed what might be the most important Smart Cities conclusion–that every city needs an incubator to spark learning revolutions. The core theme of this key is “incubate, invest, and incentivize.” Matt shared some great school examples including Bricolage Academy and Acton Academy.
Advocacy and Policy, Carri Schneider, Getting Smart. Carri and several other advocacy and policy gurus drew a connection between policy and mindset – when the focus is on an innovation mindset (instead of compliance), culture and behavior changes for the good! They urged the group to focus on proof points, positive public relations and support for policy changes. At its best, policy can reduce barriers and inspire innovation.
Next Gen Learning, led by Andy Calkins, NGLC. Next gen learning is blended, personalized, and competency-based. Some tips from this group:

  • Learn by analyzing failures
  • Cultivate ground-up forces for change
  • Recognize the key role of sustained leadership
  • Be ready to overcome funding challenges
  • The system is designed to resist innovation and we must overcome resistance

Every person, organization, and city needs to learn more — and innovative new tools and learning environments are making that possible. Most innovation occurs in ecosystems where talent and investment meet emerging learner demands. Not every city will become an EdTech hotspot, but every city should have an education innovation agenda.  We think the dialogue modeled at #iNACOL14 is a good first step.  We’ll be co-hosting Smart Cities Summits in a city near you as a catalyst for action.
Resources from this Session:

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