Framework for Localization-in Action

In my previous posting, Framework for Localization – an Overview, I introduced a set of slides that illustrated the interrelationships among key participants in a business ecosystem (see Framework4Localization Overview posted on SlideShare).

The final slide below, “Complete Localization Framework,” summarizes all of the key elements in one view:

It provides the starting point for this posting which outlines steps one can take to use the framework as a tool to help localize a community’s business ecosystem.

The slides shown in this posting are part of a presentation, Framework4Localization – in Action, which you may view or download from SlideShare by clicking the link in the title.

Purpose of Localization

The purpose of localization is to increase a community’s self-reliance and improve its chances for long-term sustainability. Localization done well results in more businesses that start-up and scale-up in response to demand from community members and do so profitably so they, too, are sustainable. But in order for that to happen within a local context, the metrics of success must be clear and the processes for business development must be well-managed.

Slide 1 below recommends that community members establish portfolio management practices and market metrics as a first step in their localization strategy. Given the emphasis on self-reliance and sustainability, the metrics that relate to basic needs, e.g., gallons of water, calories of food, kilowatts of electrical power, square feet of living space, etc., met by the local economy take precedence over others that are more readily available through the global economy.

Slide 1

Because all businesses within the community function within a business ecosystem, seeing them within a “community portfolio” is a useful construct. The dynamics of adding new, expanding some, and redirecting others to build the local economy invite wise use of community assets to do so, in other words, portfolio management. As pointed out in an earlier posting, participation by community members on many different levels which includes “investment” of community assets they own or control, is essential for localization to work. In effect, portfolio management practices provide the guidelines by which community members can effectively exercise their participation.

Bear in mind, this is not a social experiment. Even though businesses are in a community portfolio, that does not give them the latitude to be mismanaged and perform poorly. Profitability remains their primary goal since that is the only way businesses can stay in business and the only way the business ecosystem can sustainably localize.

Businesses listed in the community portfolio can be anywhere in their development cycle from an innovative idea, to a business case preparing for launch, to a business already underway and looking to expand, to a mainstay in the business ecosystem needing to modernize and redirect. In addition to where they are developmentally, they also have a spot on the localization framework.

Slide 2 below shows the distribution of business ideas and cases that surfaced during a series of stakeholder sessions conducted in Lorain County, Ohio during 2010 – 2011. While this does not capture all of them, it does show the variety of ideas and cases in each category.

Slide 2

Typical of our experiences in these forums, participants generated more ideas and cases in production than any other area. But knowing how ideas and cases fit into the framework is useful information because it offers insights into how to design the localization strategy going forward and where to bolster the localization inroads already made. For instance, strong output from local food production is certainly a plus in the overal drive to localize a community’s business ecosystem. However, a preponderance of local food production compared to downstream, value-added stages may relegate market access to a smattering of direct sales to community members in the local economy through farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions, or contracted sales to food aggregators / distributors or retail food chains in the global economy. The former lacks sufficient volume at marketable prices to cover the cost of operations whereas the latter runs counter to localization.

Value-added stages between production and consumption with insufficient businesses to create viable business-to-business connections and increase access to local markets become opportunity spaces for new or expanding businesses to fill. Slide 3 below outlines several value-added stages in a red border to designate them as opportunity spaces ripe for business growth in the Lorain County example.

Slide 3

As examples, among those opportunity spaces identified, “energy flows” and “waste flows” offer a considerable range of freedom for business development in composting, anaerobic digesters, and other waste-to-energy alternatives. Notice, too, the absence of established portfolio management practices. If left unaddressed, this deficiency leads to poor communication and coordination among community members about how to populate the community portfolio and how to invest community assets to advance those entries.

Sound portfolio management practices include the development of a strategy that localizes the business ecosystem as expeditiously as possible. With sustained profitability as the goal, preferred strategies increase the number of high-margin transactions closer to points of consumption. This both speeds those businesses directly involved toward profitability and increases the amount of revenue that can be distributed throughout the value chain. The result contributes to the profitability of the overall localized business ecosystem, which derives maximum benefit and return from invested assets.

Slide 4 below draws attention to those transactions that occur within the opportunity spaces closest to the points of consumption.

Slide 4

In the case of localizing the food system in Lorain County, that meant focus on food preparation for quick delivery of ready-to-eat calories to consumers. Potential venues include schools, health care facilities, food trucks / carts, farm-to-table dining experiences, take-home meals for employees, and home deliveries.

Those business ideas and cases that emerged through this kind of gap-filling / start-closest-to-the-points-of-consumption strategy provide ample opportunities for community members to participate. Slide 5 below points out those areas of participation that are oftentimes discounted or forgotten compared to their more notable value-added counterparts.

Slide 5

These data management services identify, record, and track utilization of community assets through tools and techniques that include mapping, modeling, information flows, decision support, and portfolio management. In actuality, the processes that account for community assets build a formidable knowledge commons and know-how value network. These can be combined with available land, facilities, equipment, etc., under the control of community members to create highly adaptive business models and develop innovative solutions to address roadblocks along the way to start-up, scale-up, and sustainability.

Accounting for assets is an important step in any localization strategy. Slide 6 refers to the set of templates and tools available on LocalFoodSystems.org (LFS) that enables entrepreneurs, business ecosystem participants, and community members to begin documenting their assets and developing their strategies to apply them.

Slide 6

Note that the categories and color-coding listed in the legend for the LFS site correspond to the Framework4Localization diagram.

Click Business Ecosystem Map (see screenshot below) and, as the previous slide suggests, get your business on the map…and into your business ecosystem.

Also, check the LFS site frequently for new features you might find useful as you further develop your business ideas and cases.

Epilogue:

Lorain County participants led one of the first initiatives in Northeast Ohio to load their business ideas and cases into a “Community Investment Portfolio” and use it to shape the rollout of their localization strategy. Today, this strategy is encapsulated in The Oberlin Project.

Look for future postings on this blog which explore the general concept of a community investment portfolio in more detail and note how it has evolved over the past two years to become an effective economic and business development tool.

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, August 25, 2012

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