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Government agencies build stronger foundations for sharing information

The WIRED program is strongly geared toward developing worker skills that match up with an area’s intended direction. For example, in Michigan’s regions, expanding into alternatives to automobile manufacturing is a strategic goal; in Montana, moving away from certain agricultural products and toward biodiesels is an area that holds promise. Because the WIRED program is a new and innovative approach to integrating work force development, economic development and education, it was important to use a communication infrastructure that was equally flexible. Near-Time is being used within several of the regions and to support broader communities of practice across multiple regions.

Establishing open collaboration networks requires sophistication and simplicity, a combination that can be difficult to achieve.

"A wide range of individuals will be using these virtual workspaces," says Ed Morrison of the Purdue Center for Regional Development (pcrd), a WIRED partner. "Some older individuals who have a lot of the knowledge we need are not comfortable with Web 2.0 technology, so the environment had to be easy to work in." The ease of use of Near-Time’s software—both in terms of deploying and utilizing it—has been a benefit in establishing the networks.

The value of leveraging expertise is particularly evident in education, where support resources are becoming scarcer. "We have only one guidance counselor for every 400 students, on average," Morrison notes. "About half the jobs coming up are in the middle skill area, needing more training than high school but less than four years of college. Career guidance for these areas is very limited, so developing strong partnerships with industry is particularly important."

"We can create open networks where kids interested in being a utility lineman can go," he says. "They can discover careers that they didn’t know even existed, but that will be in strong demand."

The notion that government lags in technology adoption is often heard, but is not always true. "The fastest growing networking models we see are in government," says Reid Conrad, CEO of Near-Time. "They revolve around economic work force and entrepreneurial development." According to Conrad, the evolution using Near-Time is for a diverse group to first identify an affinity or interest area, and then to spin off into a tighter group based on a common activity or goal.

As the pressure for innovation mounts, the need for open communication becomes more evident. "We see increasing recognition of the importance of interagency interaction and knowledge development," Conrad says. "Consumer use of blogs and wikis is accelerating their adoption in the work environment. Users are finding that they work in professional environments too. Once a network is in place, the knowledgebase evolves naturally." 

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