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February 26, 2009

Connected Cities: A Small Contribution to Advancing Knowledge at the Intersection of Education, Technology, and Open Content

I’ve enjoyed blogging this past month for the Chronicle of Higher Education. An edited version of this blog appears today.

Working and being associated with a great university is a privilege. Taking the mission of the university seriously also brings with it obligations. There is a natural tendency in times of local or national economic distress to become inwardly focused. It’s a basic instinct and form of human survival. The problem is that instinct leads to behaviors that work at cross purposes to the underlying interdependencies that now characterize the global economy. At the very moment when economic nationalism becomes politically expedient, we need an architecture for global education that balances the chauvinisms that comes with much ‘wrap ourselves in the flag’ economic policies. With the world economy ever closer to the edge of the precipice, building and reinforcing the undergirding of interdependencies are vital to our collective future.

In my last blog entry, I outlined that we now have an educational economy of information abundance confronting an educational delivery system that was built for a time of information scarcity. Although I don’t consider myself a technological reductionist, I think there are a number of immutable forces at play which will result in more and more open educational resources. Over a relatively short period of time, through fabrics of trust and various forms of peer review, those open educational resources will improve in quality. Will we simply substitute open resources for the legacy and largely proprietary learning economy? If we are to meet the challenges facing the education community in the context of the tensions in the global economy, I think it would be most unfortunate if that was the limited extent of our aspirational goal.

The long term health and well being of our great universities are intimately and ineluctably linked to the health and well being of the cities within which we work and study. Ours is, as we are now finding out, a fragile eco-system. Cities around the world are links in a chain of value which produces knowledge, economy, politics, and different forms of community. Technology, open educational resources, and the education community are the key drivers and enablers of an arc of human activity that can lead us to learn and appreciate more about one another and about ourselves at the very moment when the forces of economic nationalism (and the likely corollary of reassertion of different form of militarism) are pulling us in a very different direction. I think the stakes are that high. I hope that Universities will serve as beacons and a clarion call to both the risks and challenges we face and the need to take action to avoid repeating the lessons of history.

Cities like Cleveland have dozens of sister or twinning cities around the world. In Cleveland we have twenty sister cities as diverse as Taipei, Bangalore, Gdansk, and Alexandria. What if we began a 10 year project to design and develop a university-initiated “connected cities” project (with concentric circles of other twinning cities following to allow the project to scale and extend to many other cities and Universities). The different segments and communities within our cities (children, schools, professionals, unions, educators, artists, elected officials, and cultural communities and so forth) would be afforded a systematic and fully integrated opportunity to advance our working, learning, and cultural relationships with peers and counterparts in our sister cities. The quality of rich interactions could extend from sharing oral and multimedia histories of our communities with one another to formal professional, educational and research exchanges. Technology mediated household to household exchanges or churches here and there could be augmented by international exchanges and visits by graduating seniors, educational leaders, or elected officials. Scientists might share common work underway to attend to sustainability and alternative energy not in a disconnected way from members of the same communities learning about the ways in which high school students are using open learning resources to learn about ecology and the economics of recycling and waste streams. Mentoring relationships, local capacity and human development, collaboration for research and education, professional exchanges between communities are one of the important service roles that universities can play in the 21st century. We can and we should leverage our universities’ ability to create powerful networks of technology and learners to create binding partnerships that matter.

As we learn more about others we will also learn more about ourselves and grow a better appreciation of the ways in which we can leverage technology, open educational resources, and our commitments to community-building to attend to the priorities of our own cities and neighborhoods. We are bounded together not only by common destiny. The oceans that once separated us are now made smaller by the technology that we have helped invent and deploy. We can continue to transact with the world around us in an atomistic and disconnected manner. We can also leverage the power and genius of the university as a creation and ongoing project of creative women and men to lead and to enable science, discovery, and wisdom. Deepening the linkages within and between our communities and across our cities is a 21st challenge worthy of great universities.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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February 24, 2009

How Technology Will Reshape Academe After the Economic Crisis

Today's blog appears in an edited form in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Where will the Academy be the ‘day after’ the current global economic crisis passes?

If we imagine the future state of the university and the education eco-system, of which we are a key institutional part, as effectively picking up from the same point the day before the crisis, then I believe we will have missed the dynamics driving the current crisis. Some are prepared to concede that the financial crisis may take its toll on a number of universities. Mergers, consolidations, and perhaps even closures are all possible outcomes of the financial crisis. Viewed as only a financial crisis, crisis management has attempted to attack the economic equation by constraining and re-directing inputs. Fewer students, fewer offerings, suspend sabbatical leaves, salary freezes, and staff layoffs are all intervention strategies for the financial ledger. As someone who lives with the crushing budget challenge those decisions are painful and risk ripping at the core fabric of the Academy. It’s also not the heart the challenge.

The structural challenges we face are far more complex than (tuition+research+endowment)-(salaries+facilities). Paul Romer is quoted as having once said that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” I leave it to thought leaders across the Academy and readers of this blog to opine as to what opportunities might present themselves to universities prepared to seize the moment.

I offer one arc of insight for consideration regarding the explosion of education content in the past 20 years. The iron lock and tyranny of traditional text book publishers and the tacit complicity of the Academy in this oligopolistic business practice is imploding. In the pre-Internet era, the scarcity model of education was enabled and reproduced through the specialized and encyclopedic knowledge of the professoriate combined with a cannon text which bore truth as a supplemental guide to our favorite professors. The information explosion engendered by the distributed architecture of the Internet has transformed much of our research agenda and also the DNA of the educational experience in the classroom. First it was the electronic posting of syllabi and email for office hours as complements to their legacy analog functions. Hypercard became multimedia and desktop publishing became the World Wide Web. Learning and expressions of discovery moved from fundamentally inward artifacts like a classroom presentation or an exam to student published web pages, searchable discussion boards, and collaborative wikis for medical school education. In a curve which is only accelerating these past 20 years, we now have an educational economy of abundance confronting an educational delivery system which has become calcified and premised on an outdated model of scarcity of information. I am of the general view that we won’t solve the underlying fiscal crisis facing the university until we look at and re-frame the nexus of technology, educational content, and knowledge creation. While it need not be an either or proposition, there is little positive that can come out of continuing to deny the impact of the technological revolution we are living in and contributing mightily towards as we chart the next chapter in the life of our collective enterprise.

The most exciting challenge the Academy now faces is a collective project to advance the research and learning enterprise moving into the 21st century by embracing the tsunami of open educational resources that have been generated by distinguished faculty researchers, brilliant teachers, and exceptional students. Today, those resources live both within the gardened walls of our institutions and our web presences and over the past three or four years as generally available resources through platform technologies like Apple’s iTunes U, Open Courseware, and explosive content creation activities underway in countries like India and China. The collective effort of technologists and technology leaders has created (and will no doubt continue to generate) a series of platforms for re-visiting our pedagogies and our understanding of how different kinds of learners engage in the socializing and processing of information towards knowledge.

While we might have asserted in the pre-Internet era that we had a significant (if not monopolistic) impact on the learning that a typical university student has during their experience on campus, that is simply no longer the case. If we are to remain relevant to the post-secondary education experience of future generations, nothing less than a big, bold, and yes, transformational project is required. If indeed a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, future generations of learners will no doubt look back at the global economic crisis of 2008-09 and reflect on which institutions were agile enough to bring the wisdom of its scholars together with the acumen of its technology leadership and the ingenuity and determination of the universities leadership team to make a difference. It’s actually not only the future of the university that is in play. How we produce, organize, and distribute open education resources is at the heart of the future of education around the world.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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February 20, 2009

Re-Thinking Technology Leadership on Campus

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus carried an edited version of this blog entry on technology leadership at Universities.

I am what I think you think I am.

One of my mentors describes himself as a 21st century highway builder. I used to asked him whether that was his self-image or what he aspired to be. For many technology leaders on our campuses we are indeed seen by much of the campus as the folks on the campus who own responsibility and stewardship for the University’s non-trivial investments in core networking technologies. It turns out that the technology that makes reliable and robust access and that which enables research and learning is complicated and requires a regime of predictable investment and management. Like most of my counterparts across the university landscape one of my jobs is to educate my colleagues in the leadership of the University of the need to develop sustainable models for feeding the infrastructure associated with this (and other) mission critical resources. Add to this part of our portfolio the growing set of security, privacy, and regulatory challenges and the Chief Information Officers at our universities could be fully consumed with these critical services and operational challenges. Indeed, many of us see our professional contribution as effectively being circumscribed by these services because we think that is what much of the campus views as at the heart of our job description.

For many years, technology leaders argued that our contribution to the leadership of the university was limited by the fact that we were the new players in the President’s cabinet. Well, as a profession, we’ve been at it for about 30 years. We appear to be rather routinely only one technology implementation away from a leadership role on the campus. First came the build out of our campus networks followed by the need to investment in the Y2K debacle. Somewhere in between or right after Y2K we found ourselves back at the table with our hands extended looking for millions for ERP implementations to modernize the university’s business operations. More recently security needs are the calling card for investments in IT operations. Every one of these major operational activities over the past 20-25 years was important activities. Being at the table to make the case for investments in these areas has been critical to what the university community as a whole has accomplished. Indeed, the quickest way to redefine CIO from Chief Information Officer to Career Is Over is to ignore the core responsibility we have to the University regarding the network. These are, in many ways, analogous to the core services that the Provost’s office provides to make sure that the basic curriculum is properly structured, learning goals and outcomes are associated with syllabi, that faculty receive predictable experiences associated with their promotion and tenure considerations, or the research office in providing infrastructure to support the research enterprise on the campus. As such, at least in my view, the network and some of its attenuated services are a necessary but insufficient condition for contributing to the University’s leadership efforts.

It is time to ask some important questions and try to chart a path to a different level of discourse on the campus. Once our campus networks and services on them like email were things you could only experience on the campus. As members of the campus community have come to experience a relatively robust and reliable consumer experience outside the University, the self-image of the IT leader providing special enterprise network services is no longer consistent with the experience of much of the campus and in most cases not the basis for a call to a leadership role at the University.

Here are four brief examples of new leadership opportunities that I think contribute to the overall portfolio of the CIO. These examples take the plumbing elements of the portfolio as a foundational activity but attempts to define innovation activities that help to distinguish the services and contribution of the CIO to the campus leadership team.

The future of science and discovery is intimately connected to computational research activities. High performance computing, analytical services and visualization tools are at the heart of the enterprise. Most universities can no longer afford a highly distributed set of redundant investments across the campus. We can and should support models of centralized services to support the research enterprise on the campus.
Second, most every campus needs a blueprint for greening the university. This is both an operational opportunity to integrate systems with facilities and IT in order to simplify the management of the physical plant of the campus and of course to realize important energy efficiencies and financial savings. In addition, many students see our green initiatives as being every bit as important as our network and course management services.
Third, many universities over the past decade and most likely for the next 25 years will be attempting to architect a strategy for international initiatives whether those are off-site campuses or hybrid offerings that join the main campus with a wide range of satellite and distributed campus and learning environments. The technology community can and should play a key role in the architecting of the blueprint moving forward.
Fourth, after all the investments made in ERPs, most campuses understand that their business culture and the way we do business represents the most important set of ‘next challenges’ beyond the implementation and updates of the software. CIOs and their technology colleagues have a real opportunity to partner with the business officers of our campuses to develop strategies for engaging the front line staff as well as key personnel across the campus in working together to realize some of the as yet untapped parts of our ERP systems.

Finally, I think we need to also find ways to provocatively lead the University. In my next blog entry I want to tackle the opportunity we have to extend our contribution to both our campus, the communities we live in, and the general challenges facing the human condition through open educational resources. IT leadership on campus is perhaps for now uniquely positioned to contribute to the campus leadership dialogue on this important emergent topic.

If we are indeed what we think you think we are, then we are overdue for demonstrating our ability to move with the campus to its next set of challenges so that you think we are valuable to the future of the campus in addition to our role as highway builders.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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February 18, 2009

Urban Universities and Connected Rural Communities

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an edited version of this blog below.

Like a number of urban university technology leaders, I remain hopeful that as the final details of the Stimulus package come together that infrastructure funds for inner city connectivity and for community networks serving urban community priorities remain part of the vision of 21st century America. In my last blog, I outlined the opportunity for a new urbanism which I called the emergent smart city. I think dynamics are such that at the same time we may well be witness to the emergence of a new form of economy and human habitat, what I would call the “connected village”. What we do as Universities to support and attend to real human needs in our cities is matched only by our ability to render our research and learning experiences relevant to what happens once ultra broadband connects the very edge of the network in rural towns and villages, just beyond the bright lights of our cities.

What has become clear is that as much as $2.5 billion dollars in stimulus will be made available to support our generation’s rural electrification program. When markets failed to deliver the electrical grid to rural America, New Deal legislation in 1935 provided the investment to light up the rural regions of the country. Following earlier legislation passed some 20 years earlier (1914), Universities followed the priorities of elected officials during the New Deal and the needs of the rural community and extended a model of agricultural extension programs that served as an integrated program supporting the technology, learning, research, and new economic opportunities for as much as 25 percent of the population that lived in rural America.

Today, less than 5% of America lives in the rural communities of our country. The industrial age beckoned and seduced the rural population to the vibrancy and opportunity of steel, auto, and a manufacturing economy based in our cities. In an era of relative scarcity, those seeking opportunities to educate themselves and their children saw the city and its universities as a destination. In contrast, uurs is an era of relative abundance. The massive stimulus investment in rural internet access might well do a whole lot more than just connect the remaining red barn houses dotting the rural landscape. Once connected to the global network, many services and experiences once only available in the city will be readily accessible from anywhere. These include, of course, the once location-specific and relatively hard to get to education experiences once only available in our cities at our universities. The future of the economy and the jobs of the 21st century need no longer be delimited or thought of as being centered on a 20th century urban/suburban model. In much of the world, economic crises and structural adjustments in the economy lead to severe dislocation and in many cases an increase in population movements out of the city. A quilt of connected outer ring rural villages may represent part of a model that might help to reduce the negative impact of the likely dislocation that faces much of the population in this country over the next 10 years. Smaller intentional communities stitched together with ultra broadband connectivity could be one part of a new sustainable habitat strategy. Following evidence of similar activities in Asia and Nordic countries of Europe, public libraries, public broadcasting, museums, and universities in this country may be afforded an opportunity to help re-invent what it might mean to service the needs of quilt of connected villages.

The Internet has made possible connecting classrooms in far flung corners of the world. Research is conducted by collaborators whose physical distance is less impactful than ever before as labs are connected through the Net. As rural connectivity is realized, health care education and direct health care delivery will be more readily available through new models of delivery. The back offices of our service economy can be connected over a fully connected grid in which customer service or other operations can be fulfilled most anywhere. The return of a ‘small is beautiful’ life style combined with many of the important attributes of once exclusively urban experience are now possible. This need not be a mythical or romantic return to pre-modern time. Bringing some of the best of yesteryear forward to the world of ultra broadband may lead to a renaissance of village and small community life, reconnecting to sustainable economies, healthy life styles while remaining connected to the educational, entertainment, healthcare, and many of the other amenities of the ‘city.

Will Universities be as agile and adaptive in the 21st century in creating an engagement strategy for connected villages as earlier generations of leaders were in establishing our rural extension program? The ground is fertile for those prepared to experiment and innovate.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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February 16, 2009

Smart Cities and the University

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education posted this edited version of the blog entry below. As always, thanks in advance for the feedback.


As much as the Internet has changed everything about our lives it is about to change everything about the cities we live in. I think America’s great universities need to embrace a new research and learning agenda that focuses on the engineering, sociology, health, and economy of the ‘smart city’.

The number of people living in urban areas is projected to grow from 3 billion today to 5 billion by 2030. For the first time in our collective experience as humans, more people are living in cities than in rural settings. Urbanization is a global trend impacting citizens, governments, and industries. For most American research universities the topic of urbanization and its future is an externalized condition to be studied as something happening out there. Many of our great research universities are situated in cities that are themselves shrinking. To be sure, there is much active research on the impact of urbanization on critical considerations like the environment. For example, the world's 20 most populous cities alone are responsible for 75 percent of the planet's energy consumption. But not unlike research in the 1950s and 60s on population control and the green revolution, most of the research on the future of the city is directed on the big challenges facing the human condition reflected in the megalopolises of South Asia and the oceans of slums teaming with humanity in “messy” places like India and “dark” places like Nigeria. There is plenty of debate as to whether global technologies based on the Internet will homogenize the human experience across the globe or whether they may indeed exacerbate the divides. A second, perhaps in the long term more impactful trend is beginning to emerge as the Internet matures and expands from being a technology based on connecting computers and mobile devices towards a technology that connect everything, including the rise of ‘smart cities’.

When history is written a hundred years from now, I think the next 10 years, until 2020 will turn out to be pivotal. The new global urbane experience will be undergirded by emergent technologies that are coming out of our labs and new technology ventures which together will make up the DNA of the smart city. Smart transportation systems and buildings that breathe and report their health are only the beginning. Sensors that both intelligently capture data on the quality of the air we breathe and simultaneously becomes the live lab for school children and post docs alike. Healthcare education and much of our health care can become proactive in the smart city as both consumers and providers are able to customize their experience with better intelligence related to the population’s general and specific health needs. The smart city will include not only access to a more transparent government but also enable citizens to participate more actively and directly than ever before.

Smart cities are coming. Whether we turn them into the locus of our future research and learning program is our choice. The integrated and rosy colored vision of the smart city that supports intentional community building and the rise of a new urbanism is contested terrain. As the stimulus package coming out of Washington tries to re-catalyze economic growth, job creation, and new skills for the nation’s future, the University is the recipient of much scarce public investment and the source of much of our country’s collective hope. Before our elected officials demand more accountability on how we spent the public purse associated with the stimulus package of 2009, the time is ripe to commit, among other critical research and learning agendas, to embrace the commitment to re-imagine, re-invent, and re-stimulate the urban experience as one based on a smart city created in the image of the mission of our universities, as a place that attracts the bright, the curious, those seeking inspiration and those committed to changing the world. There may be no better place to launch this university-centered smart city project than in the shrinking cities of America and Europe, home to some of our best universities who greatness was itself the product of a time to define knowledge centers as the cornerstone of the building of the industrial age.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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February 10, 2009

From Digital Campus to Connected Community to Digital Nation

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted an edited version of this blog below. Given the continuing high wire act in Washington around the stimulus package, those interested in a national broadband policy should be looking at alternatives (to stimulus). Here's one nascent idea...

It may be too late.

After the elections in November, I wrote a small group of colleagues suggesting that those of us interested in education and broadband had a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to shape a national broadband platform for education and global competitiveness.

The candidate’s election platform was well informed. As President-elect, a genuinely distinguished group of technology leaders were engaged in transition activity. As the stimulus land grab unfolded, broadband remained in the mix. America was seemingly focused on re-gaining its once pre-eminent status as a global leader in broadband as an enabler of a globally competitive, new high technology economy composed of knowledge workers and members of an expanding creative class.

And then the predicable happened. In contrast to the policy development of broadband most everywhere else in the OECD, America’s broadband policy will be ‘policy’ in basically name only. It has always been clear that the States would receive the lion share of stimulus funding. Governors have their long list of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects that are ‘shovel-ready.’ In most cases State CIOs and other public sector interests told their Governors that the most important broadband stimulus investments could be made to support connecting State agencies (including public schools and Universities) and helping those organizations with ‘next generation’ technology. Telcos and other ‘trusted’ vendor partners offered engineering and cost modeling for the sizing requirements demanded by the Governors. Architects of the DSL nation (incumbent carriers) while fighting some of the public interest policy wonk language in the stimulus package are basically satisfied that they will be able to help States (and Counties and Cities) build ‘next generation’ technology for the narrowly defined public sector and maintain a virtual monopoly on the consumer’s broadband experience. If the Feds, through the NTIA, are prepared to subsidize the build-out to the hitherto economically ‘challenging’ areas, like rural America and/or inner city America, then so much the better. Of course this is not the whole story nor does the current FCC headed up by Michael Copps nor the next FCC have to settle for this framework going forward.

The regulatory environment needs an overall. This is the realm of public policy. I have proposed that we model America’s broadband future on the standards and expectations currently managed and operated at many of our Universities and Colleges across the country. Most University CIOs would suffer significant indigestion at the suggestion that our interests in defining, planning, and operating our networks and services be built on the managed service model of the architects of the DSL nation. We enjoy, and we are truly fortunate, to have a completely different technology architecture, business and service model. America’s pursuit of a world leading broadband network policy framework should be an extension of the huge and robust gigabit networks developed at our world-leading universities and colleges. I do not mean just a blueprint. I mean a real physical extension of the university-campus network backbone. Connecting public sector institutions into a converged and layered network focused on local community contexts and priorities enables collaboration and shared services with health care, libraries, governments, museums, p-12 education, and public broadcasting to mention just a few. In the first instance, and certainly from an technical architecture perspective, community networks, as we might call this model, are a more evolved and intelligent design than the way most of our public sector and commercial/consumer networks are designed. Community networks are designed as tightly bounded geographic hub and spoke (or star) configurations around local points of presence. Most traditional networks are designed to be ‘home runs’ between the building somewhere on the carrier’s network and the central point of presence, close to a drain to the Internet. Leveraging geographic proximity to facilitate true an authentic collaboration is reflective of a new stage of maturity and community-readiness for technology enabled and delivered services. Layering public access over top of community networks with both a portfolio of wireless and fiber to the premise activities is a relatively trivial technical design requirement. These community assets can connect back to their city/community campus and then to the Internet. Communities connected in this manner become a large extended ‘campus’. A national broadband policy based on replicated fractals of community networks across the country is a major step in the right directions. What connects community networks to each other are regional optical networks and national backbone infrastructures that connects the regional networking activities. Who might have that kind of infrastructure to advance the public interest? Universities for the past 20 years have, with significant public investment, built a quilt of regional optical networks and two national backbones.

It’s never too late for good policy. If we’re going to assist the new administration in developing a true national broadband policy in the public interest, the enormous talents of your university technologists and faculty research community need to be summoned to work with each other, Mayors, Governors and Federal agencies along with thought leaders and leading providers in the private sector, to architect a 21st century blueprint for a broadband nation.

Lev Gonick is CIO of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and Chair Emeritus of OneCommunity, a regional community network connecting 22 counties, 1500 facilities, including more than 1000 schools, cities, counties, health care systems, universities, libraries, museums and public broadcasting authorities.

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February 06, 2009

University Leadership -- Wiki Way Part II

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus published a slightly edited version of the the entry below on University Leadership.


I’ve enjoyed much of the email exchange and blog feedback on the Wiki-Way and University leadership posted on Wired Campus. While next week I want to focus on the connection between the digital campus and broadband nation, I thought I would offer some additional insights for reader’s consideration.

Wiki-way leadership is a powerful new dynamic challenging, if not yet changing, the nature and quality of decision-making and management-styles in organizations across the world, including university leadership. That was the ‘bottom line’ of the last blog entry. Leadership and much other human behavior both inform and are informed by the broader cultural, political, and technological context. From my vantage point, the distributed nature of the Net and the emergence of bottom-up collaboration tools on top of the Internet has helped to privilege a new type of leadership quality that aligns and leverages the Net and the bottom-up impulse. The Net does not respect borders, hierarchies, command and control organizational structures or traditional forms of power, including the power of centralized knowledge. Strong leadership, even charismatic leadership looks and works differently in the wiki-way era. Barak Obama’s leadership style and engagement strategy, one might argue, epitomizes this wiki-way of leadership.

The study of leadership whether it is psychological, socio-political, military, religious, or a top 10 read from one of America’s corporate leaders has always been framed by what 19th century historian and social commentator Thomas Carlyle called hero and hero worship. From sports heroes to American idols, from charismatic and powerful political leaders to Hollywood stars, ours has been a culture that creates its powerful myths of unity, cohesion and bonding through the well rehearsed story of triumph of the handsome and rugged ad copy- created Marlboro man.

Theories of organizational leadership and management follow, and actually help to reinforce the myths. The most dominant form of leadership style as any freshmen in an intro economics, business, or sociology course knows is the autocratic leader. They come with a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude. They’re long on order-giving and short on listening, great at micro-managing and poor at motivation, great at caring for the company or organization’s results and poor at promoting the welfare of the people who must achieve those results. Through the 1980s and 1990s the autocrat ruled the American boardroom and most organizations.

A second tradition, which has roots that date back to the late 19th and early decades of the 20th century is generally known as the laissez faire approach to leadership. As complex, modern organizations are formed and reproduced, rational planning is supported by various forms of meritocracies, plutocracies, and technocrats. As the theory goes, in these “new” organizations defined by competent deputies, the leader’s passive, hands-off role leads to a “sink or swim” world, where more times than not, the leader is her or himself a career technocrat who has “made it.” Throughout the world, and especially in Asia and Europe, laissez faire leadership is an extension of management rules and behaviors.

In a more thoughtful and well crafted review, I think it would be possible to make a compelling case that both autocratic and laissez faire forms of leadership are themselves products of the deeply embedded technologies and communication patterns associated the industrial era. Efforts at crafting a sustained democratic form of leadership with shared decision making, employee centered goals, personal actualization, participation and team building are all constrained by the rules of the game and the nature of the market.

So, it’s time for new leadership rules to fully align to the realities of the networked economy. The combination of world-spanning fiber optical networking carrying transactions, services, and information at more than a billion bytes per second, globalization and new, differently-manageable generations of university students coming into the workforce is creating the need for new kinds of leadership. Leadership is no longer like piloting an ocean liner but more like white water rafting that calls for flattened organizations that can change rapidly and accurately, decentralized decision-making, motivated employees, and inspiring relationships. Ours is the proverbial period of transition. Organizational behavior, including the role of leaders is only now beginning to come together in a coherent manner. Wiki-way leadership is hardly a foregone conclusion. This is distinctly contested terrain. Incumbent leadership is likely to resist to the decentralizing of power that accompanies wiki-way leadership.

The single largest leadership challenge in the wiki-way model is building a new consensus. Power in organizations and in politics has usually been defined as power over other people, some agency, or some other set of players. The nature of wiki way leadership— informed by a distributed architecture that encourages distributed communications—means that power will consist of leveraging individual power to work together. Much more than semantics, power in the digital (in contrast to the industrial) city portends a new, inverse form of Robert Michel’s iron law of oligarchy, which asserts that rule by a few is unavoidable in a large, complex organization. Where we see wiki-way leadership at work, we see the leveraging of technology and the redefinition of models to meet the needs of the community.

It strikes me that the complex organization best situated to model wiki-way leadership are our universities.


Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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February 04, 2009

The Wiki-Way and University Leadership

From today's Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus entry. Here is the original, unabridged version.

Universities are complex organizations. We are also inherently conservative organizations. In 1982, after twenty years of campus upheaval, Clark Kerr, the then Chancellor at Berkeley wrote about the deeply structured tendencies towards stasis embedded in the culture of the University.

About eighty-five institutions in the Western world established by 1500 still exist in recognizable forms, with similar functions and unbroken histories, including the Catholic church, the Parliaments of the Isle of Man, of Iceland, and of Great Britain, several Swiss cantons, and seventy universities. Kings that rule, feudal lords with vassals, and guilds with monopolies are all gone. These seventy universities, however, are still in the same locations with some of the same buildings, with professors and students doing much the same things, and with governance carried on in much the same ways... Looked at from within, universities have changed enormously in the emphases on their several functions and in their guiding spirits, but looked at from without and comparatively, they are among the least changed of institutions. (The Uses of the University, 5th edition, 2001, p. 115)
A decade later, the commercial Internet was borne and a specter began to haunt the hallowed ivory halls of the University campus (and much else around the globe). Among its core attributes, the DNA of the Internet respected no boundaries, had little use for hierarchy, and flaunted the communication paradigm in which every message needed to have a messenger. The tyranny of the masses, or what James Surowiecki has coined the “Wisdom of Crowds” is the emergent social reality that flows from the DNA of the Internet seemingly differential to the notions of collective intelligence and hostile to the notion that authority should be vested to just a select few.

The academy, the historic incubator of revolutionary ideas in science and society, was also, as much as any force in our society, the catalyst for seeding the idea that information technology in the late 20th century would be the agent of transformation binding distant geographies and engendering radical new scientific capabilities and modes of human and machine communication. In the gold rush that followed the birth of modern computing and the land grab of the first epoch of proprietary software offerings, it was the university, among a very small set of institutions, which served as a kind of counter-hegemonic force, calling for and investing in standards-based technologies and open-source solutions. The latest emergent eco-system of bottom-up social networking collaboration technologies, including Wikis, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and SecondLife have found favorable and fertile ground in both the formal and informal education environment across our Universities.

The impact of these new mass collaboration tools has touched many of our faculty colleagues both in their own research activities and in their interaction with students in the learning process. Not yet fully articulated is the impact that the technology has had on the received wisdom of leadership, leadership style, and governance on the University campus. At the heart of new university leadership is the reframing of the leader (professor, department chair, dean, vice president, president) as less than perfect, without perfect knowledge, and in pursuit of persistent improvement. The collaborative, decentralized principles of the wiki-era brings with them commitments to openness, transparency, and participation. As we collectively navigate the current economic crisis, the challenges include leveraging these new principles to reaffirm commitments to shared governance between faculty, the administration and our Boards. In times of crisis, we have often sought out the hero, the ‘great man of history’ as a model of leadership. Perhaps this crisis will be managed with slightly different instruments of engagement. Acknowledging our common vulnerability and the need for giving away significant degrees of control in pursuit of shared 21st century digital barn-raising activity is not only an attribute of the wiki-way, it may be the most effective way of leading from behind. It goes without saying that the stakes are high and admittedly risky. The end result may be a very different kind of University in Kerr’s terms and maybe, just maybe, a more sustainable global economy and enduring global village.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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February 02, 2009

Lev Gonick: Blogging, University Culture, and the Leadership Challenge

This month, The Chronicle of Higher Education has asked me to be a guest blogger on their Wired Campus Blog. This is a re-posting from the first entry. In the next blog for Wired Campus I tackle the Wiki-Way and University Leadership.

I have been blogging since November 2004. At various professional meetings, like the CIO Executive Council and Educause gatherings, I have had the opportunity to share thoughts on the impact of blogging in the workspace. Sometimes the panel conversation is framed in terms of “whether” we, as CIOs, should support workplace blogging Alternatively, we’ve discussed the impact of blogging in the world of higher education. The framing and reframing of the topic of blogging can be, and should be, seen as a catalytic force for challenging received wisdom on the relevance of universities in the 21st century.

Over the past four years or so, I have tried to use my blog, Bytes From Lev, as a platform for three arcs of activities I see as key to my work as university CIO:

* Local Communication: I use the blog to raise issues and offer commentary to the professional technology community at Case Western. Almost every CIO in higher education will say that you can never communicate too much, especially to IT colleagues across the campus. IT organizations remain largely hierarchical, and it is often the case that communication does not flow as naturally as I might want across and down the organization. Using the blog is not a substitute for face-to-face exchanges, but I hope that the IT staff members at our university who care to read my blog will have a sense of the “big” issues that help frame my daily work, and that might have a derivative impact on the lives of other IT professionals. I think leading by example and using the blog as a communication device is an attempt to “lead from the front.” I have encouraged others to consider the same approach.

* Community Outreach: Our university has an important role in the life and aspirations of the broader community in Northeast Ohio. Through various activities, including the use of Bytes from Lev, I have attempted to reach out to the region to share in the development of a vision of a connected community. My underlying conviction has been that the long-term health and well-being of Case Western is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of Northeast Ohio. The future of the region is intimately connected to the process of reimaging, reinventing, and reinvigorating what we want to be in the 21st century. An intelligent, innovative, creative, connected, and educated community capable of charting its own future in the digital age is an important part of our future. I have used my blog as a platform for advancing insights and attempting to provoke dialog where I can on this portfolio of topics.

* A Handy Soap Box: Finally, I have long believed that an additional piece of advocacy and leadership that CIOs are professionally obligated to engage in is educating the public and our civic leaders. I have used the blog to comment, sometimes at length, on the importance of next-generation broadband connectivity and advanced technologies to any strategy for American competitiveness. I’ve also commented on the vital role of higher education in a wide range of public goods — from basic science to educating critically reflective citizens. CIOs have a tendency to bemoan the lack of knowledge and sophistication of members of the public and our civic leaders around technology and public investment in technological infrastructure. I’ve tried, in a very modest way, to use Bytes From Lev as a platform to invite readers to glean insights on issues that might inform their work in various settings. A week doesn’t go by in which a church committee, a civic organization, a staffer for an elected official, or a journalist or analyst doesn’t contact me about topics raised in the blog.

Blogging is one important tool in the professional repertoire of the CIO. Over the next several blog entries, I will link the blog to emerging and disruptive forces of change within the university and encourage engagement through Wired Campus.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH 44122

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