Interoperability

Princeton CS professor Ed Felten has an interesting post up about the origins of the World Wide Web. The idea is that there were so many different computing platforms floating around CERN, the research institute where the Web was "born," that a common communications protocol was both a necessity, and all but inevitable.

I wonder about the metaphorical implications of the story. I'm sketching a post about an old topic: Does Pittsburgh have too many economic development organizations, or too few? Is the problem, instead, that the organizations that we have don't speak a common language?

Comments

4 Responses to "Interoperability"

Harold D. Miller said... 4/06/2006 5:14 PM

Almost 13 years ago, then-President of Carnegie Mellon Robert Mehrabian was asked to look at all of the economic development agencies in the region and determine whether there were too many and whether they should be consolidated.

He found more than 200 separate agencies and organizations had been created over the previous 50 years to deal with specific aspects of economic development. As he said in his White Paper on the topic, "This complexity has resulted from our tendency to solve new problems by creating new organizatinons, rather than reprogramming existing organizations. The result is a 'layer cake' structure, with functionally specialized and relatively autonomous organizations that have overlapping and sometimes conflicting missions."

Mehrabian surprised many people at the time by saying that he didn't think that the problem was that there were too many agencies, but that they weren't following a common strategy, each doing their own part, but working jointly to make the whole greater than the sum of those parts.

The 1994 "Working Together to Compete Globally" report was intended to provide that strategy, and the Working Together Consortium was intended to provide the mechanism for coordination, but despite considerable effort, most agencies preferred to independently follow their own plans rather than jointly follow a common one.

HELP said... 4/06/2006 7:32 PM

Recently Mark Nordenberg and Jared Cohen suggested that it was time to fold all the development/entrepreneurial organizations into a single management structure. You would have thought they suggested sacrificing children the way many of the "leaders" of these organizations screamed out in anger.

HELP is working to foster cooperation and collaboration between all the parties. However, entrenched bureaucracies are difficult to root out. There are a lot of people around town pulling down BIG salaries in various development organizations. It would be interesting to see how much government and foundation money is going for salaries and administrative expenses, versus the amount making it out to foster development.

C. Briem said... 4/06/2006 8:24 PM

seems there should be a mention in there of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance's history which was created with at least a stated goal of bringing together many of the economic development organizations in the region under one umbrella organization... probably some lessons there as well if this attempted again.

but just to get a feel for how many 'voices' there were then and still are in
terms of regional economic development in the region.. some time
ago my colleague Sabina and Jim Deangelis put together a fairly
comprehensive Regional Economic Database and Bibliography along with its accompanying annotated bibliography.

Mark Rauterkus said... 4/08/2006 12:20 AM

The problem with too many cooks that spoil the layer cake is that each layer is a source of power.

Case in point: Mayor Murphy used to either hi-jack old groups or create organizations in neighborhoods so as to give away money and garner their 'alliances.'

This has many bad outcomes. Too many groups is just one artifact. It entrentches the king and king's men concept. It costs a lot of money. It dampens new groups that should spring to life for other valid concerns. It dilutes human capacity for any specific group. It makes groups-speak rule in time of interesting issues so as to offer a void of nothingness on rather big-deal discussions that should occur.

Then the grand-daddy of ills -- these groups put turds into our shared well that is often called the marketplace (both marketplace of ideas and marketplace of commerce).

The solution -- starve them all. Follow the money. Rendell is dishing out money now he is up for re-election. The flow of soft-money needs to end.

Perhaps there is a way to make a grant to "shut down" various organizations.

The second solution -- inventory (for real) the nonprofit sector. Then insist upon a shrinking physical space footprint of non-taxable land, year by year.

That's the area where the true consensus needs to occur.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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