Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines ‘connection’ as: “Something that joins or connects two or more things; the act of connecting two or more things or the state of being connected; or a situation in which two or more things have the same cause, origin, goal, etc.”
The act of linking people and ideas through communication and relationship building is critical to solving the complex problems that challenge us. It’s also what will help us capitalize on new opportunities. When we talk about increasing engagement and cross-sector collaboration, what we’re really talking about is creating the conditions for meaningful and productive connection.
These days, I’m working in the exciting territory smack-dab in the middle of a collaborative experiment in creating stronger connections in Southwestern Ontario.
In a unique arrangement between Grey County, the Southwest Economic Alliance (SWEA) and the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (WOWC), I have been seconded from my position as Grey County’s communications officer to a blended role as community engagement and benchmarking liaison for SWEA’s Intelligent Region project, the WOWC’s SWIFT Regional Broadband Network project, and Grey County’s own Connected County initiative.
This collaboration integrates complementary efforts to transform Southwestern Ontario through the strategic use of broadband and information and communication technologies to promote innovative, creative community and economic development.
It’s a good gig – and it’s teaching me some great lessons about creating new opportunities for connection and collaborative leadership.
“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.” – Maya Angelou
Grey County has been a strong supporter of the Intelligent Region initiative, piloting Cisco’s Smart + Connected Communities Benchmarking process for SWEA in 2013. The county has also been instrumental in supporting the WOWC SWIFT broadband initiative. Knowing these were innovative, transformative initiatives, I wanted to get involved (who wouldn’t?!).
So when SWEA’s Intelligent Region project started picking up steam, I started making connections and exploring possibilities with colleagues at SWEA and senior leaders at the county. This quickly turned into a secondment to the project team and an opportunity to strengthen links between related projects.
The instant response of “how do we make this happen?” and support that I’ve received since I first asked, “is this possible,” has underscored Grey County’s open-minded approach to innovative public service and has produced a wonderful professional plot twist for me as a public servant.
Lesson learned: great things happen when you have enough curiosity and courage to ask.
“Collaborate with people you can learn from.” – Pharrell
Innovation depends on skilled individuals applying their talents to complex problems with lots of moving parts. Because we’re working on future-focused initiatives, everyone involved is learning how to navigate the path together. As we bring more people to the table and connect more people with different ideas, we’re learning from each other.
Through collecting and sharing stories, we’re seeing common patterns in the quest for revitalization. No matter the sector – agriculture, health, education, government, artists and business – all have lessons to share. By bringing all the players to the table to advocate for the required infrastructure while sharing the stories of individuals and organizations that are leveraging technology in compelling ways, we’re creating meaningful connections between the “how” and the “why” of what’s involved in connecting communities and illuminating a new way forward.
Lesson learned: we’re all in this together.
“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.” – Margaret Wheatley
Regardless of who you are, where you live, or where you work, you deserve access to the opportunities afforded by connection. Further, you deserve support in making the most of those opportunities. By hiring and supporting skills-development for 30 people through a job creation partnership and engaging innovative community and business leaders in meaningful conversations about what it means to be an Intelligent Community, while pursuing the creation of the necessary infrastructure required to connect communities, SWEA, SWIFT and Grey County are producing meaningful connections and taking deliberate steps toward supporting sustainable, transformative economic development in Southwestern Ontario.
Lesson learned: nothing works unless we do.
For more about SWEA’s Intelligent Region Initiative, visit swea.ca or Twitter @SWEA_ca or Facebook: Southwest Economic Alliance – SWEA. For more about the WOWC SWIFT Regional Broadband Network, visit swiftnetwork.ca or on Twitter (@networkswift) or Facebook (SWIFT Network).