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Collaborative Innovation – the New Competitive Edge for Economic Development

/ December 18, 2013

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Collaborative Innovation – the New Competitive Edge for Economic Development

Much has been said about innovation as well as collaboration, but when the two mix, they create something entirely new and special. Let’s call it collaborative innovation.

We all recognize that innovation refers to something new, changed and better than the original as it breaks away from traditional approaches. For this article, I am suggesting that it’s about creating better solutions that meet the new requirements of our cities, economies and societies.

Collaboration is a social construct that has as its base a sense of trust and working together to achieve positive, shared goals, take on shared obligations and share in the rewards at the end. The concept of collaborative innovation suggests that teams of people, possibly groups once thought of as competitors, now work together on the basis of agreed upon principles. They do so in new and better ways around a collective vision or goal by sharing ideas, resources and tasks to achieve a result that benefits everyone.

This is not cooperation or even co-opetition (cooperative competition), which lack the essence of trust at its core. We see cooperation or co-opetition when companies or communities work together to gain collective competitive advantage. In the process, companies and communities save money on shared costs while remaining fiercely competitive in other areas. But the act of collaboration is much more intense and strategic and occurs at the intersection of common goals or communities working together to share knowledge, learn from each other and build consensus.

Most cities and regions around the world are competitors. Competition has been shown to be extremely healthy for economic and social gain. These communities compete to gain trade and attract capital, jobs and talent to the community. In the process of promoting competitive advantages, each city or region independently set up competitive booths at trade shows; take delegations to targeted cities and visit companies in foreign locations (sometimes even at the same time), and develop collateral materials that would show that their city is in the unique centre of the universe. That is the way competitive economic development has been played for decades.

But your father’s economic development and city branding is no longer valid in a world of global connectivity, open innovation and team networks. Consequently, new approaches are worth considering: collaborative innovation as a new competitive advantage.

The value of these new approaches can benefit citizens around the world, especially among like-minded communities and citizens willing to collaborate for mutual benefit. Global cities like London, New York and Tokyo are well known, but there are many cities and regions among the hundreds of thousands of known towns, cities and regions that would not be on the lips or radar screens of most people around the world.

Clearly these communities have a huge job to ever get noticed above the noise in key target regions around the world. To sustain a massive advertising campaign to gain awareness to attract foreign investments and talent is simply not possible for most communities. While some cities are more recognizable than others thanks to playing host to past World Fairs and Olympics, most cities are simply invisible at the global level. But imagine what could be done if communities banded together and took a collaborative approach to share knowledge, learn from each other, build consensus and get a consistent message out to other communities interested in collaborating for mutual benefit?

There are some examples worth considering. In Canada, we are actually considered leaders in this new collaborative innovation approach. Consider the collaboration that occurs at the local level among unique organizations such as the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance (GTMA) and Canada’s Technology Triangle (CTT). Each of these organizations represents the municipalities and regional governments that make up their geopolitical areas. These non-profit Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are highly innovative and collaborative organizations that work with their PPP partners and stakeholders to attract investment, talent and jobs.

One of the innovations created by Toronto, Waterloo Region and Ottawa are multi-city collaborations, formed at the regional level, such as the Ontario Technology Corridor. The Ontario Technology Corridor formed out of the idea that together the participating communities would be able to achieve far more than as individual communities.  In this case, three communities came together in 2002 to create a new method of attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

While cautious at first, each community was aware that by working together they would be able to eliminate duplication and by combining efforts and resources increase their ability to raise awareness. In their enthusiasm to work together, the three working partners have been able to create clear and consistent messages and in the process, the Ontario Technology Corridor also developed a true sense of collaboration and a trust. Today, when one of the communities is not able to participate in an investment attraction effort, the other partners ensure the missing community is equally covered. The city of London has also joined the original trio of communities.

This same spirit emerged in a unique group that covers all of Canada. Fiercely competitive economic development agencies from among Canada’s eleven large cities, calling themselves the Consider Canada City Alliance, have been working together for the past several years to build bridges and promote Canada to the world to attract FDI. The Consider Canada City Alliance recognized that Canada is not on the global investment community’s radar screen. Along with the Federal government’s Invest in Canada and Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), the Consider Canada City Alliance has created a unique collaborative innovation initiative to promote Canada through its key cities. This group represents 54% of Canada’s entire population, 59% of the nation’s GDP, and between 2007 and 2012, 72% of GDP growth and 90% of jobs growth in Canada.

Furthermore, the Consider Canada City Alliance has set out to promote international trade and investment with a new sense of collaboration and a new unified message and brand known as ConsiderCanada.com.  This collective brand gives 11 cities a consistent rallying point and a destination on the Web where foreign trade organizations and companies from around the world can seek information, success stories, and contact information about investment opportunities in these cities.

After two collaborative missions to Asia in May of 2012 and April of 2013, 815 contacts were made with Chinese companies and 208 leads qualified for follow up. In November of 2013 there was another investment mission, this time to Europe with more than 350 meetings with key groups, resulting in many more business opportunities than any of the cities would have been able to gain on their own.

At an international level, nearly all of the cities of the Consider Canada City Alliance have also been able to qualify as Intelligent Communities under the Intelligent Community Forum and are benefitting from the global association of these unique cities. The Intelligent Community Forum’s Alumni build on the collaborative innovation model sharing ideas, information and are beginning to actively work together at a global level for the betterment of our citizens around the world. For example, Waterloo Region, Eindhoven, Netherlands and Taipei, Taiwan these three Intelligent Communities have agreed to work together on sharing best practices, talent mobility and supporting each other on specific projects of mutual interest. They are just beginning their journey together it will be interesting to follow them as they evolve this new international collaborative innovation triangle.

At the local level, regionally, nationally and even internationally, collaborative innovation is breaking down old silos, surprizing the competition and creating a new direction for the cities and organizations that care about making a difference.

John G. Jung is the Chairman and Co-Founder of the Intelligent Community Forum and President of its Intelligent Community Forum Foundation. John is credited with initiating the concept of Intelligent Communities with his work as an urban planner and urban designer from the 1970’s to 1990’s. His work in the field of urban and regional economic development and foreign direct investment since that time has helped to formulate the work of the Intelligent Community Forum. For more information on the Intelligent Community Forum please visit www.intelligentcommunity.org.