Jim Kent:

"Human change initiatives must work at social, economic, and ecological levels if they are to succeed."

Archive for August, 2009

China and Alternative Energy

Posted by Jim on August 26, 2009

Chinese solar pv cornering the world market.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/business/energy-environment/25solar.html?_r=1&

This article from the New York Times was forwarded to me for comment based on my years of work with the informal cultural networks of South China.  I am responding from my understanding of Opportunity Structuring (my term) where a centralized political system and a decentralized economic delivery system provide for almost overnight corrections in meeting their goals of dominating the alternative energy futures.

From my years in China I learned that the Chinese understand diversification (informal geographic based systems) and how to activate them from a central governing structure (formal systems).  Our government and private enterprise companies should be all over China making partnerships and collaborative agreements so that we (our US companies) get a position on production and distribution. There has been trade with the European West for over 500 years.  There has been great accomodation to the ways of our financial systems and how their systems work on “old friend” networks. 

South China as an entry point gives U.S. companies great advantage given this 500 year history of trade and interaction.  I helped US West gain an understanding of how to proceed in  China with their wireless company (New Vector) in 1986 just when the cell phone was becoming available. I started in the Pearl River Delta networking into the area through informal systems out of Hong Kong and Singapore.  The Pearl River Delta is anchored on the north by Guangzou an east/west trade center for centuries. 

The cell phone changed everything for China. For one thing they did not have to go through the wrenching telecommunication centralization process that other advanced industrial countries did i.e. wooden phone polls and copper wire.  There was not enough wood or copper to string all of China.  The cell phone allowed them to jump that whole industrial era of centralized system development and enter the new era without the painful decentralization (Judge Green decision to break up AT&T in the 1970s) process our telecommunications and society had to go through.  This took great time and energy on our part that China did not have to spend.
Even with concerns about our energy future, we get caught in yes/no scenarios i.e. coal is better than-oil, gas, wind, etc.  or alternative energy is better than coal, oil, etc.  We grind ourselves down arguing about myths and half truths with our energy dissipated over who is “righter” while China moves to capture the market.  The action is to do what China is doing and move out as  quickly as possible with a bet on alternative energy trusting, as they do, that the market and social/cultural change will bear them out.  They see production of alternative energy equipment as a 80% bet on success even though their system is fueled by coal, but not for long.  They also see that the decentralization of the energy sector world wide, like cell phones did for telecommunications, is not very far into the future.  Therefore they are taking action to be a economic  and political leader in the decentralization of energy production and use.  Rather than “debating” what is going to happen, they are “creating” what is going to happen.  We must do the same if we are to become a player in this major paradigm shift of our last centralized system–energy distribution.
Jim Kent


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Jim’s writting a New Social Ecology Column about the Science of Community

Posted by Jim on August 12, 2009

I am excited to be writing a new column for the International Right of Way Associations Magazine (IRWA) under the newly formed department called “Social Ecology–Leveraging the Science of Community.”  To my knowledge this is the first time in history that an international engineering association has offered a column on the use of social ecology.  The following is a release on why the IRWA decided to have a column that brings a very different approach to how companies operate in relation to communities.  This was written for IRWA members.

” Barbara Billitzer, publisher and editor of International Right of Way Magazine, has invited James A. Kent, President of the JKA Group, to contribute a bi-monthly column on a vital and increasingly important concept: the importance of working effectively with informal networks in a community when proposed site and corridor projects impact them.  Barbara described it well:  

“Attaining early community participation on newly planned infrastructure projects is no longer a luxury proposition. When local residents are embraced during the introductory stages, miraculous results follow. From faster approval to accelerated project schedules, the strategy of managing community issues works.”

When I met many of the IRWA members after my talk at the annual conference in June, I was not surprised by the number of people who had never considered “informal networks” and how they operate.   Informal networks are horizontal in nature, unlike formal systems that are vertical.  The networks have eight community archetypes that  manage the heart and soulof everyday life in a community.  For more than 40 years, my colleagues and I have been involved with these networks in successfully delivering projects that potentially create disruptive issues in the community.

Through these columns, I will provide you with insight into new ways of doing business in communities–ways that are often more effective and rewarding than most current practices.   We call our approach social ecology, the science of community.  We know that if we take certain steps to identify, listen to and involve the community on the front end of a project, then provide strategic follow through, we get good results.  The predictability in community work that we have developed can be passed on to you – opening the door for a better community and better society through successful projects that address issues at the site and corridor specific level.

Identifying and connecting with the informal networks in communities are key to a successful engagement process.   Most of us understand the value of networking as a verb.  However, the idea of a “network” as a noun, that is, as a thing to be described and mobilized, is foreign to the experience of many.  Frankly, if the issues of informal networks and their implications are not well understood in a project-development approval process, you and your project team will be sitting ducks when you walk into a formal meeting where “group-think” prevails.

With a traditional approach dominated by a formal process, the real issues in the community that can make or break the project are often missed entirely.  In a formal approach, as many as 90 percent of the people being affected are often not engaged and do not show up at the public meetings and hearings.   Exclusive reliance on the formal approach carries with it the dynamics to create “government by ambush” which stops projects at both the site and corridor level.

In the coming months, I will tell stories that show how informal networks operate in a community setting and how they influence project approval.  When these horizontal systems are understood and engaged, opportunity is created for new projects to optimize social, economic and ecological benefits in a local area building a community’s heart and soul.  Citizens become your partners and collaborators because you are addressing their issues of survival and attachment to place.”

Jim Kent, James Kent Associates, Post Office 1267, Basalt, Colorado, 81621 USA 1-970-927-4424,  international@jkagroup.comJim Kent is a global social ecologist with extensive experience in successfully implementing economic redesign by crafting empowered partnerships between corporations, communities and governments.

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