Critiques of Open Source Economic Development: A Reponse

Submitted by Ed Morrison on Sun, 07/24/2005 - 18:34.

Jim Harris has posed a critique of Open Source Economic Development. Read more.

Here's my response to his main points.

• The first deals with language: OSED is too jargon-driven. Its obtuse terminology undercuts its inclusive impulse. Too much of OSED is delivered in a tone of manifesto-driven pomposity. Just consider the phrase “Open Source Economic Development.� Even after recognizing the Linux allusion, most of us still need a Standard English translation.

Actually, OSED is easier for people to understand than the technocratic language that drives economic development. The story line is simple: We need to start byu building brainpower. We need to convert brainpower into wealth through entrepreneurship and innovation. We need to keep wealth in our region by building quality connected places. We need to tell our story to ourselves and others through effective branding. Most important, we need to develop new habits of translating dialogue into action, because with economic development, nobody can tell anybody what to do. Command and control does not work.

• The second is how to move translation into focused action. Convening meetings celebrating the potential of OSED is just not enough. More of OSED’s energy should be given to advancing viable, mainstream projects in practical contexts. Without that, OSED is a consultancy brand, not a way to get things done.

We have a remarkable success in converting ideas into action. Here are some of the successful outcomes: A new biodiesel distribution company in East Cleveland; the Universities Collaborative; the Center for Health and Disease Management (funded by Civic Innovation Lab); the new Car Sharing project (funded by Civic Innovation Lab); a new community networking initiative, REAL NEO; a new business, Smart Meeting Design; a new initiative to establish a collaborative among component manufacturers; a proposal to establish a truck driving school (supported by at least one major company, Falcon Transport); a pilot project to test electric commuter vehicles.

All this was done with no money.

• To put talk into action, OSED has to involve more key business leaders on their own turf. Ironically, by being severed from Weatherhead, OSED has been freed from the convoluted clutches of the Peter B. Lewis Building (a building that embodies confusion) and is being forced to set up shop in broader venues, such as at libraries and business incubators. This should make it more comfortable for active business people and take OSED out of its ivory tower.

Northeast Ohio will not likely be a leader in implementing OSED. Instead, you should look to the Bluegrass region of Kentucky and different regions in Indiana as leading adopters. The business communities in these regions are already focused on the specifics of implementation.

• To engage broader public participation, OSED needs to reach audiences beyond the Internet. Its IT bias assumes those who count the most live to blog. (And I do get the irony of that statement, given this essay is being written for an ED blog.) Sometimes, OSED is too enamored of wikis for its own good. OSED insiders forget that the Internet is a communication medium, not an end in itself.

Jim, I'm surprised at this comment. OSED focuses on connecting people with weekly session. We are testing various technology tools to see what works.

• And finally, I believe OSED is making what may be a fatal mistake by continuing to characterize itself as a “disruptive� agent for change. There is no reason why OSED should be defined this way. Effective collaboration is supportive, not disruptive.

Don't be too afraid to rock the boat, Jim. Good economic development is inherently disruptive. Disruption and collaboration are not opposites. With our approach to economic development, we are building new networks of collaboration.

To understand Open Source Economic Development, you need to practice it. We have developed a whole range of tools and frameworks to build open innovation systems.

For all of those people who are still confused about Open Source Economic Development, I thought I’d pass along a note I received from the Commissioner for Exsiting Business Development at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. JR is a “customer�:

“I just finished catching up on your last two weeks - and had to write to tell you how much I continue to admire you and your inclusive style of economic development. Without knowing all the circumstances or individuals involved, I clearly recognize the adherents to top-down economics that cringe at the thought of hearing new (and diverse) voices in the mix. So the only real news is that all dinosaurs are not yet extinct.
Congratulations on staying true to yourself, and best of luck in your new location!

Still a fan,

J. R.

J. R. Wilhite, Commissioner

Department for Existing Business Development

Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development

Old Capitol Annex

300 West Broadway

Frankfort, KY 40601

Phone: 502-564-7140

Fax: 502-564-3256


Other comments we received about Open Source Economic Developmpents and our activities at REI:


REI’s focus on building networks and on magnifying the effectiveness of existing networks in NE Ohio provides exactly the kind of practical activity that makes best use of our resources in our program (foreign students and business professionals) and opens immediate ways that we can contribute through internationalization to the region’s development. My initial excitement on affiliating with REI has already been justified, and I am very confident and optimistic about our future together.

Malcolm Watson

Director, International MBA

Baldwin-Wallace College


It is with great pleasure that I write in unequivocal support of Ed Morrison and REI. Ed and his staff have been tireless in their efforts to reach out and communicate with the surrounding community. I cannot applaud these important efforts enough. Their success in doing this is demonstrated in the energetic collaborations between individuals and institutions where none existed before.

I think that the fact that three “Tuesdays at REI� have been held at the Natural History Museum clearly demonstrates that the invisible walls that, in the past, impeded communication between CWRU and University Circle are being razed through greater communication. Ed and his REI colleagues are helping make this long needed transition. I was very flattered to have been invited to participate in three REI events, again showing increased communication between our respective institutions.

Another example is the recent “Cultural Collaborative� between the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This event represents not only a novel and unique partnership in University Circle but to North America as well. This developing collaborative was assisted by Ed and one of his students.

In sum, I fully support the work being done by Ed Morrison and REI. I look forward to working with them in the future.

Bruce Latimer, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Cleveland Museum of Natural History


Thank you very much for the opportunity to share how impressed I am with what you and Betsey Merkel have done at REI – your organization has changed my life. When I moved into Cleveland Heights, I had misgivings, because the distance to work is farther, and the taxes are higher; but now I am overjoyed. Your organization has introduced me to high caliber people who make things happen and get things done. I can’t wait to have a party for the new friends I have made through REI.

Furthermore, I am impressed with the more immediate projects that REI has inspired. People like Herb Crowther and Phil Lane are developing bio-fuel plants and electric cars. You also have other energy-related initiatives, along with ways to improve Cleveland’s infrastructure. You are doing a great job, and I am proud to be part of it. I am copying this note to Art Anton, the President and CEO, of Swagelok Company, where I have worked for 38 years. Art, like me, is a Case grad who is very interested in serving the city of Cleveland and North East Ohio. I’m sure he will be very impressed with your accomplishments as he learns more about them.

Richard Medvik

Standards and Regulatory Compliance Engineer

Swagelok Company


REI is the vehicle that gives concerned Clevelanders access to one another. It is not only the place where conversations begin, but an organization providing the resources needed to take the next steps. Our personal experience began with a discussion at REI. That forum planted the seed of an idea, which led to a concept, and began a collaboration. That collaboration developed the RAMTEC proposal which we believe can revitalize the manufacturing industry in North East Ohio, and potentially, the United States. As our team works to take the next steps toward making the proposal a reality, we would like to gratefully acknowledge REI’s role as incubator and mentor.

Marybeth Mathews

Tom Strbac

Dave Watson



REI has done a great job connecting various groups within the region. They have truly been the leader in networking in NEOhio. NEOSA has worked with the staff at REI on the Future Forum. They are a group of creative thinkers who are able to get a lot done with a very small staff. I believe they have been invaluable to the region and look forward to working with them in the future.

James B. Cookinham


Northeast Ohio Software Alliance NEOSA


REI has been a great partner in the work to create a broad network for sustainability in Northeast Ohio. REI regularly convenes some of the most innovative people in the region — bringing new faces to the table and providing a conceptual framework for the transformation of economic development practices. It’s a model for how universities can engage the community.

David Beach

Executive Director

EcoCity Cleveland


REI is a catalyst that helped us understand the potential for libraries to intentionally engage in regional economic development. Substantial civic space, social networks, skilled staff and information resources are already in place–REI helped us understand how to “host the party� rather than wait to be invited!

Cathy Monin


Board of Trustees

Cleveland Area Metropolitan Library System


The Center for Regional Economic Issues, under the leadership of Ed Morrison, is a vital strategic partner with the Indiana Humanities Council and IHC-Leadership Indiana™. Working with 2,000 of Indiana’s top corporate, government, education, foundation, and nonprofit leaders, the Humanities Council is partnering with REI and Purdue University to develop competitive economic strategies, human capital strategies, and shared vision among the public, private, and nonprofit sectors for the Next Indiana.

The Center’s model of Open Source Economic Development and its emphasis on civic networks and dialogue as competitive strategies are truly innovative practical tools that our research shows to be unique in the nation. IHC and key Indiana leaders specifically sought out REI as one of our most critical strategic partners to help Indiana become more globally competitive. Open Source Economic Development is remaking Indiana’s economic landscape.

Scott Massey , Ph.D.

President and CEO

Indiana Humanities Council


I am overwhelmed with the willingness of the members of REI to so graciously volunteer their time, energy and talent to help my administration and the citizens of East Cleveland in our critical time of need. My gratitude is beyond measure. I cannot thank REI enough for what they have done and are proposing to do for my city. Their support is truly bringing to reality “a new day in East Cleveland�.

Saratha Goggins.


City of East Cleveland


REI plays a very important “honest broker� function of bringing resources, and people, together around important and exciting ideas. In this regard, you are unique in the scope of your interests and competence you bring to the table. I think of you as one of Case’s “community outreach� departments in terms of serving as a focal point for economic development and education issues in the community.
Thank you for your leadership on these issues.

Paul Sears

Dean, College of Business

Ashland University


Partnering with Ed Morrison and the REI team could not have come at a better time. Our Center for Regional Development was just in the infancy stage, and this partnership allowed us to (a) work with REI on a high-profile project in Indiana and (b) bounce around ideas about our centers, how they can be helpful to their respective universities and how they can be most effective in making a difference in the economic development arena. The latter discussion led to the joint submission of a proposal to the National Outreach and Scholarship Conference at the University of Georgia (October 2005). The proposal has been accepted and we look forward to working with REI on the conference presentation and on other future projects and ventures. REI has a very impressive vision, products and services. We are delighted to have such a close working relationship with Ed and REI.

Sam Cordes

Co-Director, Center for Regional Development

Purdue University


The Schubert Center for Child Development has been delighted to establish a working relationship with REI on the multitude of issues impacting children in our city and region. This was evident in your recent presentation on the relevance of research on children at Case’s recent Research ShowCase. You and REI have been invaluable in bringing to the University and surrounding community the critical viewpoint that investment in early childhood is an economic development issue. This is a topic that is receiving increasing interest nationally and we are delighted to have someone with expertise in this area on the Case campus. The Schubert Center looks forward to continuing and developing work with you.

Jill Corbin, Ph.D.


The Schubert Center for Child Development

Case Western Reserve University


“Regionalism� and “economic development� have never been greater topics of conversation or higher public policy priorities than today in Greater Cleveland. REI has brought substance and form and focus to this imperative community-wide dialog. Diverse ideas and opinions on a myriad of critical subjects are invited to REI, dissected by the audience and used to advance our community’s knowledge and momentum in practical and innovative ways.

Paul Oyaski

Director of Economic Development

Cuyahoga County Commission


A report from Kentucky states that just a 20% substitution of conventional, high pollution imported diesel fuel with clean burning, American made biodiesel will create 10,600 jobs in a region of 4.4 million people. We are doing this in Northeastern Ohio, and it started in East Cleveland through the collaboration made possible by Ed Morrison and REI. There is not space enough here to describe the next set of success stories we are creating through these synergistic efforts, but they will redefine and return our region to its full potential.

Phil Lane

Chief Technology Officer

Midwest Biofuels LLC


I am delighted to respond to Ed Morrison’s request for a testimonial about REI and its impact on me and my programs at Case Western Reserve and in the community, like The Intergenerational School. I think REI is a exceedingly valuable resource for Case and our community that spurs us on to think creatively and deeply about community and academic networking in service to enhancing the viability of this region.

The programs I participated in concerning environmental sustainability, technology, early childhood development intergenerational learning and cognitive science were top notch. Ed and his staff (also to be lauded) attract the key players and their process stimulates people to go to the limits of their creative powers. REALNEO and its open source software compliments the appreciative and inquiring process at REI. I am sure REI is a challenge to some in Cleveland who currently purport to control the economic development space and think in limited ways about entrepreneurship; so it should be and Ed and staff have done that job well.

Peter J. Whitehouse M.D.-Ph.D.

Director Integrative Studies,

Department of Neurology, Case Western Reserve University

University Hospitals of Cleveland


REI is a treasure and an invaluable resource for the Greater Cleveland region. The value of having nationally recognized experts right in our own neighborhood should not be underestimated or taken for granted.
Issues ranging from government structure to regional cooperation to economic and workforce development, I can count on REI to be on the forefront of issues facing our region and economy. In my position, I depend on the research and expertise of REI nearly everyday.

Hugh B. Shannon

Government Service Coordination Manager

Cuyahoga County Commission


REI provides the intellectual underpinnings to the practice of open source economic development. The significance is this is of incalculable value, in the context of the industrial policy-derived solutions practiced in the region by others. The world’s successful regions use IT-empowered networks and their presence is the factor differentiating regions of growth from others, in the United States.

My perspectives are those arising from a near 20-year career in Washington, DC and from having learned the region’s enterprise culture from my father, Allen C. Holmes. Close to home, his legacy is remembered through the Weatherhead School’s annual community service award. As a former chairman of Case and national managing partner of Jones Day, his networking practices imbued those close to him with a core appreciation of their value.

Moreover, the commercial and not-for-profit enterprises that I have founded in the past year, rely upon open source technology. Your vision is an asset to the region: Keep up your continued support and encouragement.

Peter Holmes

Founder, Regional Economic Action Links North East Ohio (REALNEO)


REI is a great platform which connects us with regional business and industry leaders on many levels. REI also provides a great window for our interests in bridging the gap between academia and the real world. I hope that REI will continue grow as the important player in NEO to bridge academia and business.

Jurgen Faust

Chair, T.I.M.E Digital Arts

Cleveland Institute of Art


“Open Source Economic Development�, developed and taught by Ed Morrison, is an important tool for Leadership Indiana as we move our network of regional leaders to action. Globalization is a big concept that can leave the individual feeling powerless as huge forces wash over the world. REI’s model helps frame a conversation where leaders can determine the action steps that will make their community more competitive.

Ed Durkee

Director of Leadership Programs

Indiana Humanities Council

Northeast Ohio will not likely be a leader in implementing these ideas. Instead, you should look to the Bluegrass region of Kentucky and different regions in Indiana as leading adopters. The business communities in these regions are already focused on the specifics of implementation. More important, the presidents of Purdue, Ball State, Indiana State, and the University of Kentucky have all listened to my ideas and embraced this approach to economic development. Sadly, Case has lost an opportunity to lead this emerging national trend.

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