Keynote speaker urges local officials to embrace change

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Mike Walsh, the keynote speaker at the MMA Annual Meeting on Jan. 23, urged local officials to adapt to and benefit from the rapid pace of social and technological change.
“If you take anything away from this,” he said, “I hope you will take away a sense of disquiet but also a sense of the opportunities.”
He suggested that the youngest generation – which he defined as those born after 2007, the year Apple introduced the iPhone – is experiencing a radically different childhood than those who came before them, due to the ubiquity of information technology.
“The next generation’s minds have been neurologically remapped,” he said, “from the perspective of a device that not only manages their entertainment, their interactions, their transactions, but actually became a window into the way they perceive reality in the world.”
As this generation grows up, he said, their habits and preferences will reshape the economy. He suggested, for example, that this demographic will contribute to the decline of car ownership in favor of less expensive alternatives such as Zipcar and Uber.
He also noted that many startups these days are bypassing regulation entirely. The travel site Airbnb “didn’t go before cities and councils to ask whether they could do it; they just did it.
“This is an era of permission-less innovation, where people will do things and then try to get the permission later on,” he said. “So whatever may have made us successful until now may be exactly what will kill us tomorrow if we are unable to embrace that change.”
Walsh related a story about SeeClickFix, a website created by a 28-year-old resident of New Haven, Conn.
“He was dissatisfied by the graffiti he was seeing in his neighborhood,” Walsh said. “He rang up the authorities and they didn’t do anything about it. Being a next-generation tech whiz, he inundated local officials with emails.”
Over time, the website has become an essential site for people active in New Haven’s civic life, Walsh said.
Data-driven decision-making is nothing new, of course. As Walsh pointed out, it dates back to Florence Nightingale, who created a diagram showing how to improve care for wounded British soldiers in the Crimean War. The study, according to Walsh, advocated for less money for bullets and other weaponry in favor of sanitation and hospitals.
“You can almost see a 21st century version of this that allows an ordinary person to see the transparency,” he said.
In encouraging local officials to rely more on data-driven decision-making, Walsh suggested several questions, such as “If you had to write a business plan pitch [for your city or town] what would be your approach?” and “Can you identify the entrepreneurial forces in your own community?
“Challenge your teams,” he advised. “Take them out of their comfort zone.”
A PDF summary of Walsh’s Annual Meeting presentation may be downloaded at