Feedback for purposeful navigation

Over the course of several posts I have been exploring, one by one, the 12 evolutionary intelligences for cities proposed by Marilyn Hamilton.  I have three left.  Today’s post is about navigating intelligence: whole-system feedback processes.

As I have been exploring the qualities of cities and what drives their evolution, there is one very clear pattern: feedback.  Feedback ensures that we are able to know and understand our world, and this is a very important factor when we consider that our world is always changing.  It is crucial that we understand the changes that are taking place, understand the adjustments that are needed, make those adjustments and confirm if the adjustments have the desired effect.  None of this is possible without feedback.

My view of how cities work (and evolve) looks like this:

Our work, our constant efforts to think, make and do new things, drives our economic life and is, in fact, the force that creates cities.  This takes place in the context of our physical habitat.  Cities start where they make sense, where there is water, shelter, food and a resource on which to build an economy.  As the settlement grows, our work also becomes the physical making of the city.  Our social habitat is the glue – it is where, and through which, feedback travels, telling us when times are changing and new methods of farming are needed, or that communication via computers is possible, etc.

Feedback loops are absolutely critical in the relationship between humans and our habitat.  The quality of our habitat depends on it.  The quality of our lives depends on it.  Our ability to thrive depends on it.

We are moving into a new era where the possibilities of having the means to monitor how are cities are doing is totally possible.  Cities I worked with several years ago slaved to have performance indicators to tell them how there were doing in relation to housing, water quality, education, etc.  But it was hard to get that data and confirm that it was accurate and politically defensible.  As data becomes more and more open, there will be more and more citizens and organizations examining the dynamics of their cities and pointing out what works and what does not.  A new era of noticing city dynamics is soon upon us.  A new era of feedback on how well our cities serve us is coming.

Here is  nifty 5 minute video on Analytics 101 you might find helpful.  As you listen, think about how the vast amount of digital data can help us create savvy cities.  For example, Daniel Haight, founder of Darkhorse Analytics, found that closing emergency service stations in cities results in better service.  There is insight in data, should we choose to look and ask questions.

There is insight in data, and we now have an abundance of data and abundant access to data.  The next question is what we hope to do with the data we have.  What questions should we ask?  What insight do we want and need?  Where do we want to go with our cities (ie purpose)?  What do we need more of to get there?

This whole business if feedback requires us to be prepared to ask questions and receive answers.  And also prepared to respond as needed. It requires bravery and courage.  It is a necessary skill to ensure that we are able to navigate our way to cities that serve citizens well.  The hard part will be articulating the purpose of our cities – our destination – and what success looks like.  Then we will be equipped to navigate our world and dynamically steer our cities into the future.

My next post will focus on living intelligence and the insight of life cycles in cities.


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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

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