Sustainable communities need a different kind of planning: Agile planning

Submitted by Ed Morrison on Sat, 06/25/2011 - 17:25.

At the Purdue Center for Regional Development, we are working to evolve more agile planning models under some HUD sustainability and Choice Neighborhood grants. 

So far, this much is clear to me: HUD’s staff is more project or transaction driven, and they have little experience thinking in a longer term strategic or systems context. So, the feds are not likely going to provide much guidance on these new models. 

Second, “logic models” — a primary tool used by the Feds and foundations to evaluate a potential investment — tend to be too simple to capture the complexities of a sustainable economy, which calls for a systems mindset. 

Third, we will need to experiment with new, agile planning approaches, because the traditional, linear planning models are inadequate for building sustainable communities. They are too liner, slow, inflexible and costly. 
The challenge we face involves developing agile, open processes that are guided by experienced collaborative leaders. Balancing open participation and leadership guidance seems to me to be at the heart of what we need to do. 
Finally, we need some simple simple rules to guide us. We need to design a flexible, light-weight, and continuous “planning and doing” process. We cannot manage complexity with a complex planning process. 
These simple rules will enable us to develop clear metrics that have meaning for our communities. Our simple rules should encourage experimentation.  Metrics in a sustainable economy will play a different role than metrics in an industrial economy. 
In an industrial economy, metrics (and the impulse to measure everyone by the same yardstick, e.g., jobs) emphasizes control and undercuts experimentation. In a sustainable economy — and economy reliant on flexible, adaptive networks, metrics provide a critical tool for learning and evaluation to figure out “what works”. 
We are gaining some other interesting insights. In sustainable development, value creation takes place at two levels. First, value creation emerges as civic organizations develop more sophisticated collaborations. This idea is explored in Steven Goldsmith’s new book, The Power of Social innovation. So, for example, a neighborhood takes a step toward a more sustainable economy if leaders connect career pathways from high schools to deliver skilled students to assist entrepreneurs in an emerging cluster of urban food businesses. 

At a second level of value creation, urban design and planning guides the development of a built environment that supports and amplifies these collaborations. The neighborhood, for example, can create additional shared value by turing a vacant land warehouse into a food business accelerator with high energy and water efficiency. A new “learning center” within the accelerator serves as a food processing center for product development, an entrepreneurship and technician training center, and retail distribution hub. 

Value creation comes first from organizational collaboration and, next, from integrating these collaborations into the design for a flexible built environment that reduces the environmental costs and creates new opportunities for turning waste to profit.  
We are focused now on integrating the disciplines of Strategic Doing into these new, agile planning models. 
Some other observations: Sustainable development requires us to develop “portfolios of collaborative investment”.  Managing this portfolio involves initiating pilot projects, experiments that “link and leverage” assets across organizational and political boundaries. (Connecting high school career guidance with entrepreneurial start-ups is an example.) 


To build sustainable, resilient economies, we need to place a lot of small bets. These experiments need to be scaled, based on an evaluation of what’s working. Our metrics will help us evaluate and learn. No single experiment should be so big that its failure will destroy our agile planning process. In other words, we need to manage the downside of each experiment by asking “What could go wrong?”  
At the same time, embracing our failures will accelerate our learning. So, the agile planning process needs to be open, transparent, and continuous. In building sustainable communities, the civic process for developing and launching collaborative investments is what matters. 


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HUD is a disaster

Good to see you here again, Ed. 

I wish I could point to a better safety net model.  Let's put our heads together here.  The safety nets in America have big holes in them and greedy, fake, "do-gooders" are underneath the net, catching the dollars.

AGILE Planning... for sustainable communities

Ed, I really appreciate your article on AGILE Planning. It's nice to hear a different side of the spectrum on this process.

Some of my questions about this entire planning process include: 

How does HUD prevent these "NFP Organizations" from becoming both codependent and contingent on HUD Funding for their sustainability? 

Why doesn't HUD offer more start up businesses not more than 2-5 years of support to get going with a cap at the end of the period? 

It is my observation that so many of these "Community Development Organizations" (CDC/CDO) became political tools for candidates and elected officials to steer HUD funding allocations to their "pals"... This alone created an unsustainable environment.

In the real world of business; small businesses have to "sink or swim", if you will, in order to sustain their operations. I believe that the same should be true for these CDC's/CDO's. That would prevent tons of fraud on the public at large or better yet; the quotas at large who are allegedly supposed to benefit from these "projects".

36 years of Community Development in Cleveland has made a lot of players rich while destroying and targeting lots of regular citizens for CDO"sustainability" requirements. It' sad that these players benefited by violating the people that they were hired to serve as public servants.

A prime example of this in Cleveland includes the HUD funded "CODE ENFORCEMENT OFFICER" role through CDO's. Our city government has paid unionized city inspectors who are supposed to do this job. Why should the city inspectors do their job if the CODE ENFORCERS of Community Development are doing it for them? This appears to be a double tap on the tax payers and there appears to be excessive abuses of it via the CDO's. (They often target development planned areas/homes in an effort to broker long term deals by code enforcing long term owners out of their homes.) 

Millions of tax dollars have went to pay the salaries of both inspectors and code enforcers concurrently... a breakdown in the system including a complete lack of oversight in the Building & Housing Department in our local government resulted in surreal abusive practices locally. More tax dollars were wasted along the way.

Ultimately, the big government business of development and pay to play politics became unsustainable. The world of folks who got used to the big federal grant slush fund money have been partying for years at the expense of the taxpayers. People got tired of it and stopped participating locally. Hundreds of thousands of people have moved out of Cleveland as a result of this ineffective and unsustainable concept.

You stated the following: "So, the agile planning process needs to be open, transparent, and continuous. In building sustainable communities, the civic process for developing and launching collaborative investments is what matters. "

I agree with your comments regarding the need for an open, transparent, and continuous planning process. Through the years, our local regime has "divided and conquered" our people with their "betting processes" which resulted in countless organizations vying for that funding to sustain themselves. Too many leaders of those CDC's/CDO's have "steered and taken away transparency from these processes." How do you all intend to protect the rights of citizens in the future from this typical activity that has disillusioned countless citizens over the years? 

Thanks for sharing... May God Bless.

Always Appreciative, "ANGELnWard14"