Innovate Oregon (IO) began when Oregon’s technology industry realized that the homegrown, tech-ready workforce needed for our growing technology-based industries and businesses was sorely lacking. The Technology Association of Oregon rallied the industry and created IO to:
- Develop an inclusive Innovation Culture in our communities
- Inspire new education models in our schools that use industry best practices in order to prepare a 21st century workforce
- Re-energize Oregonians’ can-do attitude and create a national model of partnership, that will transform economic development
From territory to state, Oregon succeeded because of the shared aspirations of its many populations. And as technology creates new, digital economies, people from our different communities are needed so that Oregon can grow a competent high-tech workforce. We believe that inclusiveness is critical because cultural, ethnic, and age diversity is a key source of creative, inventive, and passionate talent.
Like any high-tech startup, IO explored different approaches to upgrading our education practices. Not surprisingly, we failed fast, tried again, made progress, and iterated. We took an Agile approach to reinventing education practices.
In the summer of 2015, we decided to focus our R&D “laboratory” on a single county – Yamhill County. IO chose Yamhill County because of its diverse group of communities. Larger communities like Newberg and McMinnville have sizable assets and resources such as colleges and universities, and major manufacturing companies and businesses, which can be leveraged by the county at large. At the other end of the spectrum the county has many communities that struggle to prosper – like Willamina, a timber town in the West Valley.
Yamhill County is heavily agricultural with high value crops like filberts and its renowned wine industry. Its population is diverse, age-wise and culturally, including a strong Native American community and a sizable Hispanic population. Close to half of the county population lives in poverty. In short, Yamhill County is the perfect “laboratory” to develop different types of programs in communities that are large enough to engage in innovation, but not so establish as to be mired in traditional systems.
Instilling an Innovation Culture in Communities
A key lesson learned is that changing educational practices works best when everyone in the community is included. One way that we engage communities is to host make-a-thons where students, businesses, educators, and citizens come together to make and hack – and get introduced to Agile Learning. That paves the way for IO coaches to work with the community to identify local needs that result in projects that are student-led and that use Agile methods to get results fast.
Agile Learning combines the common methods and techniques that our best, technology-driven industries use in an intuitive approach that community members young and old can understand and adopt. Agile Learning includes:
- Iterative, fast and efficient product development methods such as Agile and Lean
- Proven creative and inventive techniques such as the Stanford d.school’s Design Thinking
- Process methods that acknowledge the importance of vision, strategy and planning, but accelerate it through methods like Purdue’s Strategic Doing
In the 2 years since the Innovate Yamhill County initiative began, we currently have Innovate programs underway in Amity, Dayton, Newberg, Willamina, and Yamhill-Carlton. Dayton is furthest along. Through a strategic partnership with a local Internet company, OnlineNW, a revenue-sharing agreement for a new 10 Gig fiber optic Internet network provides funding for an Innovation Fund to support projects launched in Dayton’s new i3 Center (Inspiration, Innovation and Invention). The entire school system, K-12, adopted Agile Learning in 2016, with teachers trained and programs in the classroom.
Willamina is underway as the second 10 Gig city in the county. With its new CTE Center, the school is incorporating Agile Learning into the classroom and undertaking a community-wide challenge to solve local food and housing problems. Yamhill-Carlton, with its Career Academy, was the catalyst for the first annual Willamette Valley Drone Challenge, which currently includes teams from 10 different school districts. Newberg’s student teams have been key contributors – from the first Innovate make-a-thon to the drone challenge, and in 2018, Newberg High School will launch a student-led design studio to tackle large community-betterment projects. Amity and Sheridan are just now spinning up.
The Innovation Power Curve
IO’s work is urgent because our technology-driven world is innovating at the rate of Moore’s Law – exponentially. Our goal is to develop and extract the best practices for instilling innovation cultures in the different communities in Yamhill County as quickly as we can. We anticipate that:
- Each community will standardize on certain practices such as Agile, and
- Each community will become an innovation node in its own way.
Within 2-3 years, IO intends to introduce these best practices to communities throughout Oregon, perfecting them in a fast, iterative fashion, while creating, building and maintaining connections among all of our Innovate nodes and regional hubs. The end-game is a diverse, inventive and innovative Oregon workforce with the talent to lead our technology-driven, digital economy in the best companies in the world – starting in Oregon.