For many of us who have spent our professional lives inside academe, there has always been a kind of genetic flaw between:

• the ideal-type of the university as a generative ecosystem that might be driven through its DNA to advance collective intelligence, and

• the lived realities of our personal and group experiences working and participating in one of the most enduring and amazing institutional organizational structures ever designed by humans.

Twenty-first century universities, located at the intersection of a globalized world undergirded by advanced communication technology challenged to advance knowledge and answers to incredibly difficult and complex challenges of our times, could gain much from framing their mission in terms of Engelbart’s Networked Improvement Communities.

Even in the highly structured and parsed engineering- speak of his 1962 bible known as “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework,” there is no mistaking Engelbart’s core personal value system. Engelbart believes in science and engineering serving as powerful and transformational agents in the service of the common good.

I have always felt that our common challenges are of a scale and complexity such that only an engaged set of university communities can marshal the problem-solving skills and innovation required to frame and begin to solve them in concert with other social forces connected to, and aligned with, the same set of values.

A prodigious generator of engineering and scientific knowledge, Doug never viewed the university as an organization with a sufficiently coherent social purpose. A new view would have universities as Networked Improvement Communities leveraging the pursuit of collective intelligence methodologies as a means to both reaffirm our relevance to cities and regions we live in, and to position ourselves for consequence in the key policy debates of the 21st century. This seems an entirely appropriate legacy and challenge that draws inspiration from Doug Engelbart.


Lev Gonick is the Vice President and CIO at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Among his local, national, and international activity to leverage technology to advance education and community capacity building is the pioneering work now known as OneCommunity. He blogs regularly at http://blog.case.edu/lev.gonick


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