Framework for Localization-an Overview

The simple dictum is: successful localization of a business ecosystem demands widespread participation by community members. Easy to say. It’s another thing for community members to know what that means and what to do about it. This is where another kind of map — a “framework for localization” — comes in handy to help community members define their business ecosystem, understand its dynamics, and assess to what degree it is already localized.

During the course of my work on the USDA-SCRI and FFEF grants, I had the opportunity to develop such a framework. I documented it in two presentations available for view and download on Slideshare. The first, Framework4Localization – Overview, provides a graphic representation of a typical business ecosystem. It is the subject of this posting. The second, Framework4Localization – in Action, offers steps community members can consider as they develop a strategy for localizing their business ecosystem. It will be the topic of the second posting in this series. Together, these set the stage for community members to build a “portfolio” of business cases that attracts widespread participation and drives the localization process. The nature of this portfolio and how community members invest in it will be the theme of a third posting.

Let’s begin this overview with a general description of a business ecosystem. Like a natural ecosystem, the business version functions due to material and data flows from source points to use points. Again, as with its natural counterpart, sustainability depends on a continuous flow from sources to points of use.

As sources become scarce, costs go up and the search is on for a suitable alternative. For instance, businesses that require inputs that are unavailable locally at competitive prices, import needed materials from source points further away. And if suitable sources cannot be found, those businesses in the ecosystem that depend on them cease to operate because they cannot secure what they need.

The challenge for sustainability of business operations in their ecosystem is to draw upon their sources at rates that allow them to recharge, or slow their use so as to not exhaust them, or provide a window of time large enough to find suitable substitutes.

In the context of a community whose members have basic needs that must be fulfilled daily, the availability of water, food, housing, etc. becomes significant in terms of THEIR sustainability. The sustainability challenge is similar to what businesses must confront only with the caveat that the distance between life-giving sources and community members who depend on their delivery imposes another level of dependence and urgency. Localization, then, closes this distance gap and reduces dependence and anxiety levels.

With the general explanation of terms in mind, the purpose of this overview is to help community members “see” the various elements of their business ecosystem in relationship to one another as a first step in taking action to localize.

Slide 1 lays out the basics for a localization framework that, in effect, ties source points on the left to downstream use points and markets on the right.

Slide 1

Slide 2 outlines value-added (see USDA definition in italics below) functions that are central to the business ecosystem. This includes stages of production, processing, and preparation, installation, construction as well as the flows of energy necessary to make the conversions in each stage, and the waste management flows that seek to recharge sources with what is not used, repurposed, and recovered during conversions and consumption.

Agricultural product that has undergone a change in physical state or was produced, marketed, or segregated (e.g., identity-preserved, eco-labeling, etc.) in a manner that enhances its value or expands the customer base of the product is considered a value-added product.1

Slide 2

Slide 3 highlights a distribution and logistics system that manages the shipping and storage of material as inputs and outputs on their way to various markets. These functions are non-value-added given the USDA definition of “value-added” (see definition in previous slide).

Slide 3

Slide 4 targets those data-driven services that provide a virtual representation of the material side of the business ecosystem. Asset maps utilize a graphical user interface to capture all relevant data about participants in a business ecosystem so they are easy to see; ecosystem models readily demonstrate the dynamics among business ecosystem participants and generate likely scenarios about how to improve the efficiency, performance, and sustainability of the business ecosystem; information flows deliver real-time, continuous, detailed overlays and insights into the behaviors of preferred ecosystem models upon their adoption; and decision support provides an information-enriched knowledge commons for business ecosystem participants to access and apply in their decisions.

Slide 4

Slide five identifies the three main service areas that influence the larger context in which the business ecosystem functions. These three hold significant implications on the cost to adopt a different business ecosystem model, such as one dedicated to localization of the food system. The current globalized food system is held in place by entrenched legal, capital, and education institutions. To localize requires changes in all three. This means confronting major inertia.

Slide 5

Slide six posits governance as the backdrop for change in the system. Governance is the process by which laws, codes, rules, regulations, and curricula change. And that changes the legal, capital, and education institutions. And that expedites the localization of a business ecosystem. Governance provides fair and impartial incentives for community members to participate in localization by playing a diverse array of roles and exercising certain responsibilities, delivering value, and building on their reputations.

Slide 6

Slide seven illustrates the complete localization framework as a “map” that can be tailored to the specific circumstances of a community and its business ecosystem.

Slide 7

And that sets up the second posting in this series which shows how community members can use this framework to guide their localization strategies. Stay tuned…

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, August 18, 2012

  1. Community Food Systems-Other USDA Grant Opportunities

How to Have a Successful Start-up before Launch

As the title of my previous posting, “Want to Localize? Participation is Required!”, suggests, if community members truly want to strengthen their local economy and become more self-reliant, the majority must be actively involved in making it happen. The posting goes on to mention five areas of social, economic, and political activity in which community members can choose to participate in support of their local businesses. Savvy, local entrepreneurs and business owners within a particular business ecosystem know that community involvement is critical, not only for the success or failure of their businesses, but for the overall localization underway. As a result, they make it easy for community members to choose how they will participate in these five areas. In effect, they demonstrate how community member participation supports local businesses, strengthens the local economy, and contributes to their collective commitment to localization.

Such an engagement strategy does not come by happenstance, but by deliberate planning. In 2010, Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger value received a one-year Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) to develop product, marketing, and business plans for their budding community-based enterprise, Shagbark Seed & Mill.

Michelle and Brandon convened and led the grant team for the project that included Leslie Schaller, one of the co-founders of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) and co-author of “The 25% Shift – The Benefits of Food Localization for Northeast Ohio Local & How to Realize Them”; and June Holley, a network weaver par excellent, co-author on “Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving” and author of the Network Weaver Handbook; and myself as members.

One of the outcomes of our effort was a market network plan that outlined ways to increase participation by the community in starting, scaling, and sustaining the business. While the financial details of this plan pertained exclusively to Shagbark Seed & Mill operations, I extracted the main process points to form a market network planning template below that can be applied to local agriculture-based businesses in other communities.

This template applies to any food product, product line, or suite of products a local business seeks to put into the market. The primary purpose of the template is to inform marketing strategies that gain community member participation in support of a business venture (for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it Local Foods) because of the value it brings to the community through its operations and products.

The template begins with the basic assumption that Local Foods is a community-based business regardless of how many communities in which it may do business. In other words, Local Foods strives to localize the value chain within the market area served by any one of its operations and products. The goal is to “know the local market” and “reach the local market” rather than identify and pursue customers wherever they are located. Just like it takes a village to support its members, it takes a healthy, localizing business ecosystem to support start-ups and scale-ups like Local Foods.

The template presents two views: Knowing the Market and Reaching the Market, based, in part, on one of my earlier postings entitled “Participation in Local Food Systems”. The Knowing the Market table below identifies five prompts for market participation in the left-hand column followed by three columns listing specific ways community members can participate according to those prompts. The levels signify a continuum ranging from the more individual-based at the first level to the more community-based at the third level. The more cells covered by the strategy, the more effective it will be in terms of impact.

The Reaching the Market table below identifies ways to connect with the market in support of the Knowing the Market process. The organizational structure of this table parallels that of the first table: five interface areas in the left-hand column followed by three columns of ways to connect with the more familiar at the first level to the more contemporary at the third level. As with Knowing the Market, the more cells put into play, the more connectivity throughout the market, the more informed the marketing strategies, and the more participation by entrepreneurs and business owners in the business ecosystem as it localizes.

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In summary, this template works best in a community where its members at least express a willingness to localize their business ecosystems, strengthen their local economy, and become more self-reliant. After that, it is a matter of how and to what degree they exercise that willingness through active participation. A sound market network plan provides awareness and rationale that invites participation as well as structured incentives that acknowledge community members for their participation. The better the execution of a sound plan, the greater the chances a business, like Local Foods, can successfully start, scale, and sustain.

Look for more examples and guidelines in subsequent posts on how to increase participation, buy-in, and support for business ecosystem localization using some version of this template!

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Monday, August 13, 2012

Want to Localize? Participation Is Required!

In a globalized business ecosystem, the market can be anywhere in the world and the customer is merely a transaction entry in a database. However, as a business ecosystem localizes, the market becomes the community and the customers are the people who live there. They have faces and names. They are known for who they are to one another: relatives, friends, associates, acquaintances, neighbors, and community members. And if self-reliance is their motivation to localize, they have a vested interest in applying their resources to relieve their dependence on the globalized ecosystem for their basic needs. In other words, they are prompted to participate.

Participation by community members is the key determinant in how fast and to what degree a business ecosystem localizes. To accelerate localization and impact the local economy requires that community members do as many of the following as they choose:

  • Buy local whether they think it’s a good deal, financially, or not–it may very well not be!
  • Believe in the principles and values associated with self-reliance as the motivator
  • Advocate on behalf of localization within the community as a way to achieve self-reliance
  • Influence legislation regarding taxes, regulations, and subsidies to favor localization
  • Invest in local businesses as entrepreneurs, resource providers, and stakeholders of all kinds

As you can see, there are many ways community members can choose to participate in localizing their business ecosystem. In fact, there’s really no reason why a community can’t expect 100% participation by all of its members in that each one makes a CONSCIOUS, INFORMED DECISION whether and in what ways to participate.

The presentation, Achieving 100% Participation in Local Agriculture Systems (click on link in title to view / download from Slideshare) I delivered during the grant projects encapsulates this concept. As an example, slide 15 defines “100% participation” in more detail:

In addition, my posting, How Do You Participate in YOUR Local Economy?, introduces the “100% Participation in Local Economies” diagrams and further explores the five ways in which community members can participate as initially outlined above. An example of the first diagram is embedded below:

Because of the direct association between participation and successful localization, a market network strategy that engages and encourages community members to take action is both necessary and quite different than one that attempts to tap into a global market. This will be the topic for my next posting. Meanwhile, have fun ramping up your participation!

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, August 11, 2012

Business Model Development within a Local Economy

A business model illustrates how an organization or combination of interdependent organizations sustains itself based on certain output metrics.

Furthermore, a business model addresses the basic question of concern by anyone starting or expanding an organization: Is the amount people will pay for the perceived value of the products and services delivered by this organization sufficient to cover its operational expenses and sustain it?

Consideration of this question begins with the posting, Business Models for a Local Economy, which outlined five key characteristics of business models for a local economy. In summary, these are as follows:

  • Universal participation by community members
  • Initial focus on meeting the needs of community members without fail
  • Integration across all value-added steps from the point of consumption back to the points of production
  • Utilization of community assets and resources without reliance on outside funding
  • Application of performance metrics that deepen the resolve to establish a fully functioning local economy, spur creativity and innovation to find business solutions, increase the rate and degree of adaptiveness, and significantly improve the odds of long-term sustainability

The first two have links to previous postings that offer more detail. This post focuses on the two in bolded italics.

The previous posting, “Does Your Community Meet the Needs of Its Members?,” stressed the importance of community members knowing the following:

  • Are any community members hungry; homeless; living in unhealthy and unsafe conditions; or are they confronted with no paid work; illness; limited healthcare, and inadequate life skills to influence their circumstances?
  • How do you and your community keep score on needs met?
  • What are you and other community members doing to impact the scorecard?

The results of this survey assist community members to focus their creative energy on conditions and circumstances that warrant their collective attention. Such an overview enables them to quickly define those opportunity spaces wherein the community has the most to gain. This quickly leads to the development of robust and dynamic business models that undergird the development of business cases for clusters of interdependent businesses and community-based organizations. Those clusters have the potential for significant impact according to the scorecard metrics of the community. Furthermore, when loaded into a portfolio they offer opportunities for members to reinvest in their community and manage the launch and expansion of clusters.

In effect, community members take ownership for their sustainability. To do so entails the development and application of business models that increase community asset utilization while prioritizing the introduction of essential work modules.

The following diagram builds on a basic framework introduced in the previous posting. Both illustrate the flows of work functions and assets required to prepare infrastructure projects and business clusters for launch, provide the means to carry them out, and track results through a system of output metrics. However, the one below describes each flow in more detail and establishes the relationships between them.

In order to add value, an organization solves a problem or meets a need or frequently, does both. As mentioned at the outset, a business model shows how the organization does that and sustains itself.

The problem to solve in a local economy is how to conduct efficient, affordable distribution of needs to the points of consumption or use. The term “last mile” as a descriptor originated in the telecommunications industry during the 1990’s to describe a situation where, despite the relatively short distance (the “last mile”) between mainline fiber optic cables and subscriber homes and businesses, the installation costs prevented connections. In other words, the efficiency of the global economy did not reach into the communities, neighborhoods, and rural areas that lacked the infrastructure to make the connection given the prevailing state of technology. It required the development of another solution, wireless, for instance, to solve the last mile problem.

A similar “last mile” problem exists in the local economy whether it is the delivery of food, energy, housing, education, health care, etc. Organizations execute work modules in each of these that add value throughout the integrated steps of preparation, processing, waste recovery and reinvestment in year-round and cyclical production. But getting those products and services delivered to the point of consumption and assuring their utilization by the vast majority (80-90%) of community members is a challenge. The infrastructure of food carts, commercial kitchens, electric-drive vehicles, battery exchange stations, anaerobic digesters, modularized do-it-yourself (DIY home construction kits), experience-based learning, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for eldercare / healthcare, etc. is not in place. The local economy is in the same situation as many areas in the U.S. 10-15 years ago when looking for affordable ways to have high-speed Internet access. That last mile can be a killer!

An infrastructure of integrated work modules itemized above solves the last mile problem. It also inspires the development of a long list of potential business and non-profit organizations required to fill the gaps. This is where the assets and resources of the community are brought to bear on interdependent business and support organization clusters so they take shape and continue along their paths to successful start-up and build-up.

The development of a business model or number of interrelated business models guides the association of assets / resources to work modules as they deliver across the last mile to consumers. The purpose of the model is to show how to execute the work functions required to meet needs and keep the organization sustainable. The steps in business model development include the following:

  • Identifying where assets and resources are located in the community (Maps)
  • Aligning the assets and resources so they support the mission of the business cluster in the most efficient and least costly manner (Models)
  • Monitoring what happens during operations of the newly aligned cluster in order to anticipate issues and opportunities before they become crises or target them quickly if they surface unexpectedly (Information)
  • Applying practical experience, theories in practice, and action frameworks through human engagement and embedded intelligence to resolve problems, improve operations, and course correct if appropriate (Know-how)
  • Loading a cluster of interdependent businesses and support organizations required to meet needs, add value, generate revenue, manage costs, and assure sustainability of operations for all involved into a community investment instrument (Portfolio)

The bottom line is that for a business model within a local economy to be effective and sustainable the consumers’ needs must be met; businesses and support organizations must collaborate to contain costs; and the value-added steps from consumption to production must be integrated to conquer the last mile. And there’s one more… The final key characteristic, application of a common set of performance metrics to help community members keep their investments on track, will be addressed in an upcoming post.

More to come…

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, September 4, 2010

How Do You Participate in YOUR Local Economy?

The most important characteristic of business models in a local economy is universal participation by community members. In other words, all community members contribute to their local economy however they can. This may be counterintuitive if one thinks of business models from a typical global economy perspective. Let’s consider some of the main differences between the two economic views.

In a local economy, members are both the market for and the means by which their needs are met. This is quite the opposite of what happens in the global economy where those who produce, process, prepare, and distribute are often separated from one another by considerable distance and even further removed from the end-user or customer. Because of this, the consequence of buying decisions on a particular community does not impact consumer choices within the global economy.

As a result, the purpose of a local economy is to assure sustainability of the community that defines it. The community is the central focus. Community members contribute in whatever ways they can to establish, manage, and maintain the requisite level of business activity within the community that meets their needs. The intent is to advance interdependence among many businesses in the interest of resilience, adaptability, and self-reliance.

In contrast, each business in the global economy strives to be first to market, remain alone in that market for as long as possible, and be deemed best in the market among any other competitors should they appear. The business is the center of attention. A wide array of stakeholders comprised of management, employers, suppliers, and investors promote the business in an effort to gain acceptable returns. The objective is to survive in an intensely competitive environment that challenges the right of each business to exist on a routine basis.

Given participation in a local economy is so important, what does it look like?

Essentially, community members participate in their local economy along five pathways of action:

  • They buy from local businesses
  • They believe that interdependent local businesses must be successful to assure community sustainability
  • They advocate on behalf of local businesses and the local economy
  • They administer to the rules of the local economy so that businesses within it have opportunities to function more effectively and efficiently
  • They invest in businesses

The following graphic recasts the five paths mentioned above as vectors positioned on a backdrop of concentric circles that represent level of participation as indicated by the teardrop scale at the bottom which begins with limited involvement at the status quo center and progresses through three levels to much wider participation in the outer ring.

The view below offers additional descriptors for each vector, level by level. Although this particular example relates to a local food system, the diagram applies to any product or service related to meeting the basic needs of a community.

But these details are not answers. They are merely placeholders to spur your thinking.

How do you participate in YOUR local economy?

What are the appropriate labels to indicate involvement by you and your community members?

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Boids, Integrated Structures, and Renewable Energy

About 20 years ago, Craig Reynolds, developed an artificial life program entitled, Boids, that simulates the flocking patterns of birds. One of the compelling features of Boids is that despite random starting points and infinite range of action enjoyed by each boid, through adherence to three simple rules a consistent behavior pattern among the boids is quickly established and maintained.

Boids exemplifies a principle in complex adaptive systems termed “emergence.” Emergence is a key concept in organization design. It has particular relevance when the issues of control, dependence, and autonomy in centralized and decentralized structures are recast into integrated structures such as networks, communities, and teams.

My previous posting, “Lessons from the Grid,” focuses on distribution of responsibility and authority to generate electricity, by whatever type of renewable energy source, to individual homeowners and business owners. Net metering connections to the grid enable owners to sell excess electricity generated to the utility company and draw from the grid as necessary during times of insufficient electricity generated locally. This is a win-win solution: an expanding network of home and business owners, representing multiple families, neighborhoods, and communities, are actively involved; participants meet their individual and local needs, first, then, sell their surplus to meet regional and global demand; and, the localization of electric power generation through “green energy” is more efficient and consumes less “brown energy.”

Distribution of electricity generation among the masses and the resulting win-win solution for the majority is an example of emergent behavior and the formation of integrated structures. Like “Boids,” this phenomenon is driven by three simple “rules” that define the social system in which emergence and integrated structures occur:

1) Universal participation.

The point of rapid development and deployment of information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities is to get everyone connected at a basic level. One need look no further than the geometric increase in the number of cell phones, Internet service providers, email addresses, blogs, videos, web-based services, etc. to see that the world is getting “wired!”

Every uptick in participation only heightens the number of advocates, providers, customers, buyers, and sellers available. Each has different experiences, perspectives, and ways of describing and meeting needs and wants. It is beyond the capability of highly centralized organizations to respond to the needs of so many independent agents. And it is beyond the capability of any one, “decentralized” individual to be both autonomous AND disconnected and expect to have needs and wants met while enjoying a respectable quality of life.

2) Meet individual and local needs, first; then, sell any surplus.

On its way to “human equivalence,” technology gets faster, smaller, stronger, more embedded, more integrated, and more intelligent with each turn in development. This has the effect of putting capabilities and capacities into the hands of the individual what was heretofore only available to the wealthiest or those with the largest assets to underwrite substantial ventures. The entirety of the Industrial Age is characterized by “managing” monopolistic interests dictating what was in vogue, what was available, and what was affordable. Now, with the Information (Digital) Age evolving into the Knowledge Economy and the “Relationship Age,” it is increasingly possible to dismantle the hulking centralized structures in the public and private sectors and distribute their power and authority to individuals and groups working in concert with one another at the grassroots. People at the local level can pull from vast global networks of “virtualized” information, knowledge, and resources and “materialize” them in local applications.

The result is people now have the means to meet their needs for fundamentals like food, energy, clothing, shelter, and safety without having to depend on others. It also creates the opportunity for them to produce MORE than they need so that the excess can be sold in further markets. This challenges the authority of comparative advantage when it comes to life-sustaining basics. Each day, advances in technology give more people the opportunity to produce sufficient renewable energy to feed, clothe, and house themselves – to meet their basic needs. And when people have their basic needs met, challenges to their security and safety are reduced; they can speculate, take risks, learn, and contribute their learning more broadly into global networks.

3) Consume what is produced locally, convert / process excess to standardized / higher value form, and ship to nearest point of use.

Unchecked globalization encourages people at local levels to compromise their buying power by sending raw or first-stage processed materials to worldwide destinations or further value-add processing. Because materials at this stage have their lowest value, the compensation for them is least. However, when finished products return from where further value is added their prices are out of reach. The net effect is the local economy is depleted of its resources and the people are unable to care for themselves. Of course, some corporations invest in facilities located closer to the raw or rough finished materials to take advantage of lower cost labor in subsequent value-add processes and stages. The finished goods are priced beyond the reach of employees and their compensation is insufficient to afford necessities. Once again, they are unable to care for themselves at a local level. Worse yet, the cost in use of fossil fuels to transport raw materials, work-in-process, and finished inventory from one part of the world to another only exacerbates the problems besetting local economies mentioned previously.

The “localization-to-globalization” model operates in reverse. It encourages people to consume what they produce rather than sending it elsewhere only to have to buy it back later. Also, it fosters the conversion of excess into standardized form of higher value in order to have a broader market which is easily accessed. Using renewable energy sources like solar, wind, biogas, etc, to generate electricity has more efficiency than the individual sources of energy because the energy is converted from a more difficult to use form to a standardized form. As an example, everyone can use electricity pulled from the power grid. Not everyone can use DC current from a photovoltaic array or a tank of biogas, although each can be used to generate electrical power for the grid.

These three “rules” drive the formation of many different integrated structures as localization takes root and globalization builds from it. How well these rules are followed in the development of business cases and plans is an indicator of the viability of the business under consideration.

For example, earlier this month, Biopact announced the headline, “Green giant Russia to produce 1 billion tons of biomass for exports.” That’s a lot of raw material! Now, will Russia process it into fuel or ship it elsewhere for processing? The article is unclear which direction this will go. However, it would seem that the environmental advantage of growing biomass material for fuel would be offset by the amount of fuel required to transport the raw material to a remote point for processing. In addition to the logistics issues, a business plan built on the comparative advantage Russia apparently has to grow biomass but not to process it into usable fuel is risky. Expecting another region or country to invest in the processing facilities yet not have control over the flow of raw material from considerable distance away is…well…dicey.

In contrast, Iowa grows more corn1 ethanol than any other state. It could ship corn to other states to process ethanol. However, the approach is to localize ethanol production from corn2 and keep the value in the hands of the producer while reducing transportation costs. Maybe there’s another lesson in here from the Iowan farmers?!

More business possibilities will be analyzed according to these three rules in subsequent postings…stay tuned!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Monday, February 12 2007

  1. Original link no longer available.
  2. Original link no longer available