The Digital Transition Partnership of the EU Urban Agenda defines the objective of digital transition as “improved public services to citizens, to support European Cities in exploiting the possibilities of digitalization and assist European businesses to develop new innovations and create new business opportunities for global markets”.
Digital transition cannot happen overnight to a city. It is a long journey with many difficulties including minor and major roadblocks. The journey requires the joint commitment and efforts of most local stakeholders - especially of residents and the business community.
Unfortunately, there is no exact blueprint either. Each city’s journey (and exact destination, for that matter) is different and dependant on the specific local circumstances. Our partner cities also learned that local authorities cannot “make digital transition happen” and the best they can do is create the conditions for necessary changes.
Many small- and medium sized European towns have intentions to embark on a digital transition journey. To help, we would like to share what we believe are the most important local conditions which need to be put in place in order to start a TechRevolution. We have carefully analysed the journey of all our partners ( or “TechRevolutionaries” as we call them ) and after many long conversations with our partners we have identified 3 must have pre-conditions and common denominators of successfully starting a TechRevolution:
1. Find Your Digital Champions
2. Start to Build a Tech-Ecosystem
3. Start to Build a Functional Governance Structure.
Find your digital champions
Who Are Your Digital Champions?
Revolutions are started by people. To start your local TechRevolution you will need committed and passionate people. You can call them your digital ambassadors or digital champions. Identify and involve at least a handful of people who can be the drivers of your city’s digital transformation.
Digital champions are people who have a strong local commitment plus ambition to launch, or at least be part of, a TechRevolution. Besides the usual suspects i.e tech entrepreneurs and IT specialists, they could really be anyone: politicians, staff members of the local authority, students, teachers, university professors, journalists or even hackers. And that’s exactly that makes it extremely difficult to find them.
How Can You Identify Them?
Our TechRevolution partners’ experience shows that the potential digital champions are out there, but often they don’t know of each other and feel that they are alone and isolated with their dream of a TechRevolution. But how do you find them then?
Unfortunately, there is no simple and easy way. All our TechRevolution partner cities agreed that the URBACT Local Group (ULG) was instrumental in finding, involving and nurturing their digital champions. Many of them were surprised that in order to find like-minded people locally they needed the nudge from a transnational project.
Being part of an URBACT project is of course a helpful and memorable experience, but you don’t need to be an URBACT city to find your digital champions.
To start with get out there and speak to people. Get like-minded people in the same room regularly to have conversations and exchange ideas. Even if you have a very small number of people (two or four) at the beginning - it is a start. Use the snowball effect and ask everyone to bring others with them they know and who may also be interested. Some may stick and others may drop out quickly. But before long you will have a small group of committed people and when you are not alone anymore, you can also use slightly more structured processes to identify and better understand your digital champions.
Digital Champions Persona
In TechRevolution, we found it useful to use the “Persona Profile” approach to think about potential digital champions.
Creating a user or customer persona is a method widely used by marketers and designers to better understand their customer's needs, dreams and desires. We adapted this method to create the local Digital Champion Persona profile. This exercise can help you to identify your potential local digital champions and better understand them. You can do this alone - but it is even better as a group exercise.
When creating your Persona Profile you will need to consider the following:
● Information about the persona of our future local digital champions (background, age, job title, organization, main attributes, attitude)
Motivations and Goals:
● What does your persona hope to accomplish?
● What does success look like for them? (Short term, long term).
● What motivates her/him?
Pain points, problems:
● What are the main pain points, problems (s)he may need help with?
● What keeps them awake at night?
● Quotes can help to make your persona profile more realistic. It is actually quite useful (and fun) to write fictitious quotes of the future local digital champion that reflects her/his current values, thinking, fears, opinions when it comes to digital.
● If you would like, you can choose (or draw) an image of your champion
● Last, but not least, give your persona a name that reflects her values, motivations and goals.
Use visual support when you think about your digital champions - one example is the image below. We created this together with our TechRevolution partners - its content can even provide you with some inspirations for identifying your local champions.
Take a look at our Digital Champions Persona Profile here.
Build a tech ecosystem
More than ever before, industries are using the term ‘ecosystem’ to describe the landscape or community in which they work. This is particularly the case in innovation, entrepreneurship and tech, and recently much has been written about Entrepreneurship Ecosystems. The original dictionary definition of ecosystem is the following: “a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.” If you want to start a Techrevolution to encourage entrepreneurship, promote innovation and support digital transition - it is not something you can do alone. It requires the existence of an interconnected and interdependent network and cooperation of diverse entities and a supporting environment - a functioning entrepreneurship ecosystem. Make no mistake - an entrepreneurship ecosystem is not something a local authority (or any other organization, for that matter) can create from the top down. It is possible, however, to create the right conditions to encourage a vibrant ecosystem to flourish.
Key Ingredients of an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
One of the most interesting concept comes from Professor J Isenberg from Babson College, Boston who states the key components to any successful Entrepreneur Ecosystem. These are policy, finance, culture, supports, human capital and markets.
Let’s take a look at these components one-by-one.
Policy - There are clear local policies and programmes in place which help to create the conditions in which entrepreneurs can flourish. Thought leaders from all sectors are engaged in driving future policy.
Markets - Startups have easy access to local, regional and international markets. There are early adopters who are prepared to take a risk.
Human capital - There is a pool of local talent / skilled labour able to respond to the ever-changing needs of tech companies. Education and training providers are flexible and responsive to the needs of tech start-ups. There are opportunities for paid internships and apprenticeships within tech start-ups.
Space and support - There are open workspaces such as incubators, accelerators, makerspaces, fablabs and co-working spaces which are rooted in the local place and have a strong community offer. Entrepreneurs and start-ups can access the support that they need at the time that they need it in the way that they want it.
Culture - Different ecosystem stakeholders cluster around a particular geographical location. Public and private spaces and places are conducive to chance meetings. There is a genuine ‘pay it forward’ mentality in the entrepreneurship community.
Finance - Entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale ups can find and access a wide range of finance opportunities including investment, debt, grant finance or simply contracts/sales.
TechRevolutionaries' Top Ten Tips for Building an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
Since you cannot build an entrepreneurship ecosystem from the top down, there is no recipe for its creation. Based on Barnsley’s (TechRevolution Lead Partner) experience, however, there are some key principles to consider when creating an enabling environment.
1. Have an open approach. Be welcoming, honest and collaborative - and never make it mandatory.
2. Embrace messiness. When it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation, you need to accept that things may be vague, sometimes even disorganized. During the journey often you won’t know exactly what will happen - and however difficult it might be from a local authority’s position, you need to allow room to explore.
3. Create the right environment. It is crucial to secure senior buy-in and empower local leadership; you need to provide easily accessible, attractive space to meet and hold events and even to allocate some funding for those events and small projects. And when you managed to put like-minded people in the same room, make useful introductions.
4. Give people a voice and listen. Involve the relevant communities and people, ensure that inputs are diverse, hear from experienced founders and other stakeholders, identify and win over network champions. Most importantly act on what people say.
5. Try things out. Make sure to create a portfolio of ‘spin-off’ activities, facilitate testing of new solutions. And don’t forget: small projects can lead to large programmes.
6. Choose some themes. Define local challenges based on strengths and strategy, think about unique aspects to create some focus areas - it could help catalyst some initial activities.
7. Have a start-up mindset. Even as a public body, you need to be agile, ready to adapt, determined, and proactive, always looking for solutions, You need to be prepared to react quickly and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Last, but not least, you also need to be willing to fail.
8. Communicate. Communication is key - get information out there about news and events, about business support and funding. Always use channels suitable for audience. Don’t forget to recognize success and celebrate good news.
9. Maintain activity. Keeping the momentum in the long run is a challenge - and it is hard work. Keep in touch with people, be proactive and helpful, ensure lots of ways to connect, offer value and provide opportunity for learning. If you can, create some FOMO (fear of missing out).
10. Keep things fresh. The best way to remain relevant is by learning from others – regionally, nationally and internationally, Share and seek out best practice, welcome other cities to tell their stories, Look for opportunities to connect, always bring in new people and knowledge.
How to Start
Building an ecosystem - or rather, creating the right conditions for an entrepreneurship ecosystem - is a complex and daunting task. There is no exact blueprint to follow, so where are you supposed to start?
Initiating a conversation with your stakeholders and identifying what you already have and what are the things that are still missing could be a good start. There are various ways to do that - one option could be to use the workspace we created in TechRevolution to facilitate such conversation - our partners found it quite useful. It is a simple visual collaboration workspace you can use either online or during an in-person meeting with stakeholders.
To give some inspiration to your stakeholders, you may want to present the top tips above.
The results of the ideation of TechRevolution partners about a “dream ecosystem”.
Self Assessment Tool
- See our slider of information here.
Build Your governance system
What is Governance?
When one thinks about “starting a TechRevolution” and driving a digital transition process, governance may not be something that comes to mind as one of the key conditions. In fact, governance is quite often an overlooked element of urban change processes. Governance is not really tangible, nor is particularly interesting - and still, without a proper governance structure in place, our digital transition is doomed to fail in the long run. Therefore, starting to establish a proper local governance framework should be one of the first things on your to-do list.
But what is governance?
According to Mark Bevir, “Governance comprises all of the processes of governing – whether undertaken by the government of a state, by a market, or by a network – over a social system (family, tribe, formal or informal organization, a territory or across territories) and whether through the laws, norms, power or language of an organized society.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines governance as “the act or process of governing or overseeing the control and direction of something (such as a country or an organization). The word “govern” originates from the Latin term “gubernare” (to steer, rule) and the Greek “kubernan” (to steer)."
Key Elements of a Governance Framework
Together with our TechRevolution partners we have identified the following six key elements of a functional governance framework.
1. Shared vision and strategy - Most importantly, you need to have a clear vision of the change you want to achieve, and a strategy - a roadmap of your journey to your planned destination. It is important, though, that the vision and the strategy are developed in a participative way, with the active involvement of stakeholders.
2. Political commitment - If there’s one thing all our partners have agreed is that a strong commitment of local leadership is crucial for the success of any urban change process. As part of your governance framework you need to ensure the commitment of local decision-makers as early as possible. A word of warning: it can be challenging to get a definitive commitment of local politicians.
3. Dedicated organization/internal resources - Having political commitment is key - but so is having people who actually do the work. Without a dedicated organization or dedicated internal people, who have appropriate capacity, empowerment and clear tasks, your digital transition process will slowly die. It is not realistic to expect that without dedicating additional human resources the already very busy existing local authority staff will simply take on extra responsibilities.
4. Intellectual capital and knowledge - Not all teams are created equal; if you have a team of dedicated people, passionate for the cause is already half of the success - but having relevant knowledge and some experience within your team doesn’t hurt either. So bring in knowledgeable people at the start, if you can, and then make sure they can keep learning continuously. Cooperate with other cities, attend training courses, learn from the endless supply of good (and bad) practices, participate actively in transnational cooperation projects - these can all help your team grow and remain relevant and fresh.
5. Financial resources - There is an abundance of public funding available for digital transition initiatives - so getting funding for your projects should not be a problem. If however, there is no stable funding for the operation of your dedicated team, whether that’s an internal team or a dedicated organization, one of two things will happen: either the team/department/organization ceases to exist, or they change priority and instead of focusing on projects for the public benefit they will implement initiatives that guarantee dependable funding for their existence. Neither is a good sign for your digital transition process.
6. Participation, involvement of business community and civil society - As a local authority, you cannot “implement” a digital transition process; you can create an enabling environment, even coordinate activities, but various actors - including institutions, businesses and NGOs - need to work together to deliver results. Therefore, you need to build a governance framework that guarantees continuous active participation of stakeholders from the very beginning of the process.
Self Assessment Tool
Once you understand the key aspects of a governance framework, you need to start to build your own. In fact, you probably you don not need to start from scratch as it is likely that you have many elements in place already. You may have a existing digital transition strategy, a dedicated team within the local enterprise agency and even some financial resources - but you may need stronger commitment of local leaders, more active involvement of stakeholders and better understanding of methods and digital transition good practices. Or you may have a really committed mayor, but you need the work on the rest of the aspects.
Before you start, it is important to understand what you already have in place, what are the things that are there but need significant improvement and what may be the elements that are still to be created.
In TechRevolution we used with partners a simple visual tool to assess their governance framework - this could be something you try together with your local stakeholders.
You may want to organize a meeting to discuss the governance of digital transition process. After briefly explaining each aspect and their importance, you can ask participants to individually assess your city against the 6 criteria using the “slider” tool like the example above. After the individual work you can have a discussion about each criterion - what is already in place, what is still missing and what needs improvement, etc. Doing this exercise with your stakeholders can give you a good overview of the current situations - and plenty of insights regarding the individual aspects.