This is a guest blog by Mike Burns, PE, PgMP, DBIA
Last month, we took a broad look at infrastructure from a policy and enabler perspective, acknowledging the inherent complexity associated with delivering sustainable infrastructure and encouraging us to take risks, expose challenges, empathetically listen, and celebrate incremental success as we find win-win scenarios. This month, we are pivoting from macro to micro, hoping to inform our perspective as we progress community solutions. Unfortunately, the topic of community has led to a case of writer’s block.
This writer’s block started with a policy challenge from my Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Implementing Public Policy course. As I am learning in this course, an action-learning environment starts by defining points of entry. So my first action is to acknowledge that community is a term I’ve struggled with in recent years. Community as a point of entry exposes a polarity in my life. While my strong parents, warm community, and loving wife and children allowed me, with reasonable human errors, to successfully navigate the first three steps of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiologic, safety, love and belonging, the last 10 years have not been spent mindfully addressing esteem and self-actualization.
The last 10 years have been a series of tests: The Great Recession, The Arab Spring, corporate integrated delivery failures, and now COVID19. Supported by my family and benefiting from a commitment to education, we have weathered these continuous storms. Acknowledging this privilege, empathizing with so many who have and are truly suffering, I have no regrets. Yet, I often find myself dwelling on incremental loss of connectivity with my community, my roots.
I yearn for the ease of a childhood where familiar faces at every turn created a sense of belonging. I yearn for the camaraderie of a team, suffering together through the ups and downs of a season. I yearn for the dynamic pressures of my early career, where every day wins and losses affected our development and profitability. I yearn for my expat days, where utter uncertainty created a deeply meaningful network of need for our clients and teams.
At the core of these feelings of longing are communities lost. As an avid reader, I respect that destructive growth is inherently part of the human experience. As school teachers, my parents fought for broad inclusive literature experiences, expanding one’s capacity to navigate our melting pot and the world beyond. Steinbeck, Uris, Wouk, Bellow, Follett, and so many others took me to historic places where courage, luck, and loss shaped individuals, tested families, and evolved communities. Rand’s “Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” inspired my youthful confidence, and her “We the Living” led me to further explore and question the tenuous balance between individual strength and communal benefits.
In recent years, I have continued to use books (often listening these days) to test my inherent biases. While Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” Buck’s “The Good Earth,” and Durst-Benning’s “While the World is Still Asleep” provided commanding examples of avoidable human conflict, we were more inclined to listen to and support those who aspire to be heard as they establish an equal footing. A footing that allows people to compete—far from a handout, which could undermine their desires for future generations to thrive.
I appreciate your patience, as this thought process allows me to work past my writer’s block. Inspired by my early college desires to major in philosophy (and thankful that my parents’ patiently coaxed me to explore civil engineering), I’ll attempt to use a Socratic-like approach to “structure a cooperative argumentative” to shape my perspective on community, allowing me to refine my policy challenge.
What Is Community?
Community: A unified body of individuals, such as the people with common interests living in a particular area
Diversity: The inclusion of different types of people in a group or organization
Inclusion: The act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded
Equitable: dealing fairly and equally with all concerned
Conclusion: Community is a unified body that includes and accommodates different types of people fairly and equally.
How Do Infrastructure Delivery Value Statements From Previous Blog Posts Relate to Community?
Engage your network to explore your intentions, create balance, reduce stress, and inspire objectives.
Identify key influencers, and concurrently leverage a coalition to message your maturing vision as a basis for support.
Nimble risk-intelligent teams provide balance as trusted voices, responding to today’s needs, and creating confidence as we pursue tomorrow’s wants.
Mitigating strategic risks requires organizations whose culture promotes proactive engagement with internal and external stakeholders.
Make it a priority on your teams, irrespective of your role, to engage holistically, seek diversity, and empower individuals, as their voice matters.
Organizations that thrive entrust a dynamic culture, allowing belonging cues to ripple through clusters of communicators.
Conclusion: Delivering sustainable infrastructure requires a proactive network that sustains a coalition of trusted voices, engaging holistically through clusters of communicators.
Integrating these concepts, a strong definition of community and my emerging perspective on delivery sustainable infrastructure, I choose to conclude that: Sustainable communities, accommodating different types of people fairly and equally, require a proactive network of trusted voices, engaging holistically through clusters of communicators. This is not an ah-ha moment. This perspective on community does not overcome the incredible challenges we face, as public-private partnerships (P3) for regenerative community projects face serious headwinds, including fiscal limitations, funding constraints, public procurement inefficiencies, and organizational biases.
Yet, your patience as I worked through my writer’s block, coupled with ongoing discussions with colleagues, has allowed me to refresh my policy challenge: Public funding, private profit models, and service industry capabilities are inherently segmented to solve aspects of the housing, healthcare, education, and justice demands for at-risk communities. How do we refine constraining public procurement models to efficiently capture iterative challenges and scale emerging solutions aligned to varied community needs?
Next month we will evaluate this challenge from the perspective of our clients whom we serve, attempting to find additional points of entry—points of entry that allow us to scale infrastructure delivery improvements that provide a stable platform for regenerative community investments. Thank you for being part of my community, deepening our professional roots in a community that thrives on complex challenges!
About the Author Mike Burns PE, PgMP, DBIA
Mike’s 27-year career has included planning, design, construction, and finance roles across a broad set of public and private development projects. His empathetic leadership style and program management experiences honed his understanding of complex governance and economic models, deepening his enthusiasm for leading teams delivering sustainable infrastructure in our communities.You can learn more about Mike here.
“Broadly explore human perspectives to strengthen our roots.”
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about how you are getting involved with your community.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success