...consider how impactful the result would be, if it were achieved. What would it do? What would it change? Does it help solve a big problem? Does it put a dent in a major challenge?"
While How to Focus, Categorize, and Integrate Your Urban Technology covered key topics, it did not get into the details of evaluating technology product types for potential impact. How to Combine Mapping and Results for Holistic Organizations states, “The impact your organization makes is the combination of the proven results across the three levels – functional, cross-functional, and outcome-based. Each level is important in its own right, but it is the combination of all three that holds real power for exponential impact.” Further, potential impact is the likelihood of successfully moving from anticipated results (AR) to proven results (PR). Review the second link above and How to Map for Outcomes for an explanation of functional, cross-functional, and outcome-based levels as well as for AR and PR. This is a framework you’ll use to evaluate potential impact.
Pinpoint each technology’s anticipated result
First, alone or with colleagues, build out a table that lists the technology product types under discussion in the left column. For each technology, decide where each one best fits - functional, cross-functional, or outcome-based. In some cases, a technology that is multi-faceted could belong to more than one of these types. In such cases, describe the detail according to the appropriate column. Explain the anticipated result in each box, as you currently understand it. This will evolve over time as you learn more.
While there are many ways to evaluate and prioritize, I’ll share a fairly simple, subjective approach for you to consider using. To evaluate, use three subjective criteria for scoring including 1) ease of implementation, 2) potential impact, and 3) organizational focus. Ease of implementation encompasses a multiple of subfactors such as cost, internal/external support, staff skills, set up and maintenance, and others. It could vary depending on the potential for partnerships in cases where implementation would benefit from external collaboration. Potential impact is the likelihood of successfully moving from anticipated results (AR) to proven results (PR). Take a look at the anticipated result table you created. Whether the AR is functional, cross-functional, or outcome-based, consider how impactful the result would be, if it were achieved. What would it do? What would it change? Does it help solve a big problem? Does it put a dent in a major challenge?
Then, consider the likelihood of the AR becoming a PR. Sometimes, we have a great technology idea, but there are reasons it is highly unlikely it will get off the ground. Some barriers are surmountable, and others are not. As a professional or group of professionals, it is up to you to understand such implications. If a technology with an AR is very impactful, but with a low likelihood of success, it should probably either be removed or placed on a low priority. The last criterion is organizational focus. This pertains to the organization’s core delivery areas, but it could also relate to its core competencies. This may be formally stated in the organization’s mission, goals, and tactics, or it may be a fuzzier concept worthy of more thought. Once you are done, you’ll end up with a table to summarize the evaluation. You could have actual numeric scores or “low, medium, and high” categories.
From here, you will prioritize the technology product types in terms of low, medium, and high. There are a few rules of thumb to follow here. If a technology is “low” across all 3 criteria, it should be removed or put on a low priority. If a technology is “high” across all 3 criteria, it should be put on a high priority. If a technology is “low” on potential impact, it should be removed or put on a low priority. If a technology is “low” on organizational focus, it should also likely be removed or put on a low priority. If it is “high” on impact, regardless of the score for the other 2 criteria, it may deserve to be on a high or medium priority, unless it is also “low” on organizational focus, rendering it infeasible. And the list goes on until you have each technology associated with a low, medium, or high priority. After this step is complete, you can build the technologies into other planning efforts for budgeting and phasing. Keep in mind, this is a highly iterative process. This is just a first pass at bringing together a large and complex amount of decision-making information. You’ll continue to refine these steps as you move forward. Some of them may even be left grey while research is conducted to have a realistic idea of how the technology would perform or to understand its value to your mission.
Ecosystem and network effects
After you finish an initial pass at evaluation and prioritization, consider that some of the technology product types may be mutually reinforcing. What that means is that some might be stronger together than separate. Take a look at the integration diagram you created through How to Focus, Categorize, and Integrate Your Urban Technology. Are there connections between some of the technologies that warrant a note on your prioritization table that they should stick together? Perhaps two highly connected technologies are on different prioritization levels and should be brought onto the same one and thought of as a complementary pair. Think of how you can translate insights you gained from the integration diagram into your prioritization table. Learn a few new tools in How to Apply Strategic Planning Techniques to Manage Future Technology Unknowns.
...make sure 'success' is defined clearly and up front prior to the pilot or first phase. Design an experimentation component to test the assumptions within the success definition."
From Getting Started with Tech Savvy Planning, “…there is the issue of ambiguity and future unknowns. Sure, you can procure something today for this and next year well enough, but what about the year after that? Anything can happen by then, and yet, the hope is that the technology will last for four years. These are tough situations everyone in the field is navigating now. There are rarely clear answers, but there are strategic planning techniques that can be applied."
Focus on the what the product does, not the brand
Try and find a general description for what you need done, and use that language when planning for technology, not a brand, even if you already have it selected. For instance, for fixed route transit planning for bus and rail, route planning could be seen as a general analytical need. Ten years ago, fixed route planning involved data analysis across a number of platforms to understand destination patterns, housing patterns, and key locations for employment, health, and other day-to-day functions. Today, more and more agencies are using route-planning software such as Remix to automate those functions, enabling the professional to focus on evaluating options vs. creating the options. I’m a big fan of Remix and have been for years, but if I were advising an organization on their technology planning, I would suggest they always use the term “route planning.”
Here’s why – technology stays in a pattern of evolution. That’s just what it does. If you focus on the brand, you’ll always feel like you are chasing a moving object over the decades. Who knows how fixed route planning will work 5 years from now? It will likely merge into a hybrid analytical platform of fixed route, on-demand/microtransit, bike/small vehicle share, transportation network companies (TNCs such as Lyft and Uber), and pedestrian networks into a “shared use system planning software.” (I can’t wait to see that!) The general function is known, but the brand is unknown.
Understand your role and your options
There is a current debate in the connected vehicle and autonomous vehicle (CV/AV) space, will the infrastructure run on Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) radio, 5GLTE wireless technology, or both? As urban areas prepare for their growing role in this space, they are faced with this fundamental question. While this is a particularly tricky one, it too can benefit from a few strategic planning techniques.
Stay informed on these trends, understand them as deeply as you can, and pinpoint the options you have now and later. Ask yourself, what types of products am I responsible for exactly? How do they pertain to this issue at hand? What options will I have? What are the partners in the ecosystem planning to do, and how does that relate to what I should do? What information am I missing? Some ways forward seem mutually exclusive as first, and then as you dig deeper, you see there is some middle ground or a way to straddle the options.
Delay major decisions as long as possible
Government procurement, in particular, requires budget programming sometimes well in advance of the actual implementation. For fast-changing technology, this is a major hurdle. I think at some point, it will prove too challenging and a newer approach to procurement will take root. Until then, we need to deal with the reality. If you can, use general terms for procurement like “route planning” to allow for flexibility as you get closer to the time to select a product. Look into all the options you have to select products as late as possible and still get projects implemented on time. This will allow the maximum time for technology maturity before the decision is made. Every little bit of time can help.
Phasing and experimentation are your friends
Do not go all in at once with a new technology. Would you marry someone you just started dating? Pilots and phasing are great tools in the toolkit to dip your toe in the water before you’re fully submerged. Further, make sure “success” is defined clearly and up front prior to the pilot or first phase. Design an experimentation component to test the assumptions within the success definition. Make sure you have a staff member or a consultant looking at these data and monitoring the performance. It may seem ancillary, but in fact, this is a core need for new technology. Establish minimum standards the first phase or pilot must reach in order to progress to the next phase. If they are met, that’s fantastic. If not, research why and find out if there is any way to adapt. Rerun the analysis, and see if the result is any different. In fact, go ahead in the early planning phases and plan for these alternate routes. You’ll be grateful later in the project that you did, and you’ll have tons of documentation about your process in case of an audit or assessment at a later time. Check out all the articles in the Educational Article Series: Getting Started with Tech Savvy Planning.
If you have a nagging thought or sneaking suspicion that your organization operates in a 'siloed' manner that is not holistic, lacks clarity regarding how its parts connect, and struggles with issues of overlap, redundancy, and fragmentation, this series is for you."
What is it?
What is 360 Degree Planning, and why is it important for urban planning and management professionals to practice it? It is a systems thinking approach that involves thinking holistically about the wider system an organization and its efforts are involved within, so that professionals can take action after understanding the big picture, how the parts connect, and their role. For urban planning and management, the urban “system” centers on the soft and hard infrastructure elements that combine to make it work, but it also includes all the people inside the system and leading parts of the system. People make individual decisions each day, which en masse manifest as larger trends. Leaders, formal or informal, may hold power and influence over various elements of soft and hard infrastructure. The terms "soft" and "hard" infrastructure refer to the degree to which the element depends upon built (i.e., hard) components to complete its purpose. For example, transportation infrastructure relies primarily on built components, such as roads and bridges, while education infrastructure leans towards non-built (i.e., soft) components such as teachers and lesson plans. While they both have aspects of soft and hard, they tend to depend on one more than the other, which helps to classify them in general. The educational article series will be focused on the soft and hard infrastructure elements that combine to make an urban system function.
For whom is it?
The primary audience of this series includes executives and managers working on urban planning and management in the public sector. Though others may benefit, the series is targeted at such an audience because they tend to hold decision-making authority and often operate at a level that oversees multiple departments or divisions. Alternatively, they may have the power to set the direction of an individual department or division as a manager. In short, they are well-positioned to address silos and integrate systems thinking into the organization. The strategic direction executives and managers take for an organization correlates with the organization's specific role in the urban system, actions taken to change the urban system, and how funding is spent in pursuit of such changes. This is why the series is focused on the professional and their strategic, high level approach. To shape our urban areas, we must first shape our own minds and thinking in order to take holistic, big picture actions.
If you have a nagging thought or sneaking suspicion that your organization operates in a "siloed" manner that is not holistic, lacks clarity regarding how its parts connect, and struggles with issues of overlap, redundancy, and fragmentation, this series is for you. If you think that urban systems and interdependencies within your work areas exist, and you’d like to carry your work forward in a more holistic manner, keep reading. If you are not sure which work areas to protect in times of a budget crunch or how to talk about the parts of the organization feeding into a united vision, you’ll appreciate this series. If you hear talk of government “silos” reducing effectiveness and nod your head in agreement but are thinking, “yeah, but what can I actually do about that,” you’re in the right place.
How is it useful?
Executives and managers often work on strategic plans to set the tone, vision, and priorities of the organization. They may also track their performance and progress according to performance measurement systems for monitoring and evaluation purposes. They may be considering reorganization, but are unsure where to begin or what logic a new organizational pattern should follow. This series can help with all of that and more. You may consider Civic Sphere for assistance on such projects, or you may leave the series with the information you need to move your organization forward. I hope you find the guidance useful enough to take action, transforming the way you think, your organization works, and urban systems thrive.
What are the articles in the series?
While specialization was a very natural response to the needs for deep knowledge, it has left us with a significant unintended consequence - a lack of clear, actionable knowledge about integration, interconnectivity, and interdependency across subject areas in urban planning and management."
Roles of various sectors in urban planning and management
The urban planning and management field, on the public side, is comprised of local level governments such as municipalities and counties, state level organizations, and federal level organizations, the latter two often having decision-making authority over funding allocation amounts and goals on the local level. On the private side, there are a host of private companies that support government agencies with products and consulting services. There are also nonprofits and philanthropies with growing influence and decision-making authority over how urban and rural areas are developed. Nonprofits and philanthropies often provide social services or urban management guidance that would otherwise not be provided. The academic sector produces students and valuable knowledge products that help move the field forward. The organization type of focus for this article is the public sector, since the public sector is the primary decision-making authority for urban planning and management in general.
Urban planning and management and the historical rise of the specialist
Urban planning, historically, has been closely linked with the engineering and architectural fields. A single professional often provided the direction for how all the streets and water infrastructure would be laid out as well as providing the engineering specifications for how each component would be built. Up until the 1800’s, this would generally have been the case. The Industrial Revolution changed the way that space was commonly used, as many Western societies shifted from mostly agricultural to a mix of agricultural and industrial. Industry thrives on close proximity to goods and services and requires a ready local population for its work. People moved to cities more and more frequently, and soon urban planning professionals were faced with many of the challenges that continue to this day in cities. Overcrowding was probably the biggest issue at this time. Concerns grew over tenement housing in places like New York City and London. Sanitation facilities were basic and in short supply. The field of medicine did not know the origin of all infectious diseases, but there was an assumption that close proximity contributed to the spread of disease and illness. Some would say this was a peak period for understanding public health concerns.
Public health challenges, such as the spread of cholera, were linked to cities. A remarkably engaging portrayal of this is through the book The Ghost Map, by Stephen Johnson, chronicling the process of Dr. John Snow understanding the reasons why cholera was being spread rapidly through 1850's London. Of course, we know now, it was due to people who had contracted the disease relieving themselves indoors and then tossing the contents of the receptacle onto the ground below. This is how the disease came into contact with the drinking water at nearby wells dug into the ground, by seeping through the ground and into the drinking water supply to afflict the next victim.
Probably some of the first urban planning specialists worked in multi-family housing, dealing with these urban housing-centric struggles in the 1800's coinciding with the Industrial Revolution. They would have been working with the zoning department on the density of housing, with architects on the quality of housing, with elected officials on policies for improved living conditions, and with the people themselves to understand what was lacking, to name a few tasks. Through such arising needs, urban planning began to have specialists - those who know deeply about one key area with a great amount of depth and less about other areas.
“Probably some of the first urban planning specialists worked in multi-family housing, dealing with these urban housing-centric struggles in the 1800's coinciding with the Industrial Revolution.”
Specialists and silos in the field today
Today, specialists dominate the field. Most planners are focused in a key area, or have been focused in different areas during their careers. Jobs in major cities for planners tend to require an area of focus, such as economic development, land use, transportation, and others. In addition, these areas get much more deeply specialized. For transportation, there are public transit planners, bike/ped planners, roadway and traffic planners, and the list goes on. While specialization was a very natural response to the needs for deep knowledge, it has left us with a significant unintended consequence - a lack of clear, actionable knowledge about integration, interconnectivity, and interdependency across subject areas. Some planners might refer to themselves as a "jack of all trades," which is a valid path to take, but knowing a bit about a lot does not necessarily equate to knowing how to integrate well. Public agencies, such as municipalities, are most often segmented according to the division of labor - planners in the zoning and land use department, traffic engineers in the public works department, information technology (IT) staff in their department, and so on. They tend to be divided not only by topical area, but also function. There are those leaning more towards the planning and strategy side such as city planners and environmental sustainability professionals. There are also those leaning more towards the implementation and operations side such as public works professionals and IT staff. In addition, there are those working on general administration and staff needs such as talent management, legal/contracts, and payroll.
For staff broken down into such divisions, what happens exactly? Day to day, they have staff meetings and team meetings, sometimes within the division, and sometimes outside of it if they have what is understood to be a "cross-functional” role. Many people do not have a cross-functional role, and as a result, largely remain within the confines of their department.
There is a general awareness of the existence of "silos," or organizational fragmentation, in planning agencies and local government as well as interest in reducing them. Some take this to mean that divisions and departments in their current form should cease to exist, since they are a literal translation of the silos. I don't necessarily see it that way. I believe that divisions and departments can serve a valid purpose to do what was originally intended - support the division of labor. What should be questioned is the notion of "labor" for a modern planning agency and local government.
They rise above the day to day of fixing potholes and processing utility payments, important in their own right, and work towards broader, more expansive conceptions of what it means for a place to serve its public well."
Seeing the big picture and acting on it, regardless of silos
If you take a look at the articles How to Map for Outcomes and How to Map for Cross-Functional Areas, you’ll note that although professionals are often described as housing and transportation specialists, for example, their work feeds into higher level outcomes such as economic development, equity, environment, and health. What most professionals are contributing to, albeit indirectly in some cases, are higher-level quality of life needs. They rise above the day to day of fixing potholes and processing utility payments, important in their own right, and work towards broader, more expansive conceptions of what it means for a place to serve its public well. It is not only that the trash and recycling get picked up on the right day, it is also that each individual can pursue economic opportunities, have the same chance at success as everyone else, and breathe easy, knowing that the day to day and the big picture are both being pursued actively, earnestly, and with gusto.
This higher “quality of life” level struggles sometimes because it is, by nature, indirect in some cases, rendering it more abstract and certainly challenging to see with the naked eye. How does equity tie into the current work? How do the initiatives all contribute to economic development? These are the questions that need to be answered up front in order to make holistic progress. To get started, check out How to Map for Outcomes next.