GoPR Holds Readiness for Resiliency Workshop: Were They Paying Attention?
By Thomas King, President & Founding Director, Borincana Foundation
The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration hosted a Readiness for Resiliency Workshop at the San Juan Convention Center on December 4-5 and I was delighted to be invited to share my experience and perspective. The workshop was organized and run by the Smart Cities Council with support from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and NASEO.
Puerto Rico, a winner of a 2018 Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Humanitarian Grant, will spend tens of billions of dollars rebuilding its critical infrastructure systems and is determined to make it smart, sustainable and resilient from the start. To achieve this, Puerto Rico seeks a programmatic approach that educates leaders and stakeholders about using smart technology and processes for sustainable development with the goal of elevating its economic, social, and environmental outcomes.
The workshop had specific tracks focused on housing, energy, transportation, and telecommunications/IT. The working track format is particularly useful for cross fertilization between participants with different roles, responsibilities, and experiences.
Governor Rossello gave an entertaining and impassioned talk on the morning of the first day. I would swear that he has been reading my blogs and entries on the Fundacion website because he (and even Omar
Marrero of COR3 earlier) continuously returned to the themes we emphasize: Puerto Rico as a laboratory for the future, leap-frogging technological deployment, a model of 21st century distributed infrastructure, sandbox for new business models and practices, innovative financial structures, etc.
Jeff Hebert who was the deputy mayor of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina provided an incredible road map for recovery after a disaster. His insight was pure Platinum and needs to be heard by everyone in government (unfortunately by the time he was on stage on day two, few in the government were left in attendance – there is a lesson here). He gave key advice on steps to take and avoid, how to deal with the federal government bureaucracy, engaging broadly and consistently with all communities, and managing expectations through education, transparency, and maintaining momentum toward complex long-term goals with a series of deliverable short term wins.
I offer significant credit to Governor Rossello and in particular the PRFAA for spearheading this very useful relationship with Smart Cities Council and holding this workshop. I hope there will be more held regularly.
However, I also have to offer some constructive criticism.
1) The morning of the first day was mostly presentations and speeches with government ministers and staffs on hand. They claimed they would be engaged throughout the workshop – they were not. As soon as the Governor finished his speech midday on day one almost all disappeared and did not join the breakout sessions. This is institutional disrespect for the process and unfortunately further evidence of a government tendency to go through the motions - “listening” but not “hearing.” Such a wasted opportunity for knowledge and engagement!!
2) This workshop was invitation only and so curated toward a set of actionable outcomes based on the participation of skilled, experienced, and motivated leaders. This is sensible but puts great onus on selecting and ensuring the participation of all key and strategic groups. This did not happen. At least 3 key groups were absent: the nonprofit sector (and yes, Fundacion Borincana was present through me but we were the exception and there are many very worthy, engaged groups on the island), the University and research groups, and community level organizers were excluded. Puerto Rico will never be resilient or ready without these groups, and planning for the future will be incomplete without their knowledge and perspectives.
There will undoubtedly be more such workshops – the Fundacion might even sponsor one in the future and see if the government shows up to play. Let’s make sure we include all our strategic voices and both listen and hear.