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Loudoun organization seeks big solutions from unlikely sources

Ken Spedden, founder of the Innovative Solutions Consortium, believes a technology partnership can address complex problems. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
A Loudoun-based national solutions think-tank of sorts gears up for a new year of collecting ideas worldwide to solve problems on all levels, and this time they’re bringing students into the mix.

The Innovative Solutions Consortium is a grassroots organization that became a nonprofit in 2011 after its birth not soon before, essentially operating from found and CEO Ken Spedden's basement in an effort to change the way government and intelligence agencies talk about and solve problems.

The process is often slow, and ideas created that aren’t used often disappear. By collecting these ideas and prototypes and presenting them to a wider business and government community, the work is more likely to go somewhere.

The group consults with national, state and local governments and entities to assess the problems of that area, big or small. Then, ISC collects the thinkers and inventors of the world to find those solutions, which are then presented in an annual symposium.

Ideally, government and private institutions see the ideas and partner with the companies or individuals responsible for the prototype and presentation.

Last year, the symposium's focus rested on transportation, public safety and first response.

One solution, offered by Command & Control Systems and Homeland Security Solutions, to assuage congestion, an issue both nationally and in Loudoun, suggested using traffic cameras to gauge traffic, feed that information through a system which then works to reroute the traffic patterns.
ISC often uses of Loudoun as a synecdoche to assess what the national issues are by looking local. The solutions, however, come from all over.

“This is a community initiative,” Spedden said. “When you think about causing positive impact in any initiative, if you have a collective of individuals moving in the same direction with the same shared vision, part of the impossible becomes something you can achieve … It’s our hope and feeling that what we can accomplish as a community here in Loudoun COunty to improve the safety and educational experience for both faculty and children could really be the blueprint for how other counties can come together and improve their own way of living.”

Based largely on conversations with county officials and local schools, this year’s symposium in October focuses specifically on Loudoun schools in safety and security, administrative decision support systems, developing a 21st century classroom and technology to support education solutions.

The students themselves are helping find those solutions in the symposium ISC is calling the Loudoun County Public Schools Challenge.

“The actual challenge itself is designed to bring students together, their talents and skills and work with each other in collaborative ways to work for solutions,” said Michelle Chance, director of operations with IAC and the woman in charge of orchestrating this year’s event. “That’s exactly what we’re doing in the business world … We’re actually saying ‘you’re talking about this theoretical topic with this challenge in the schools itself to put into practice today.’”

Students from eight or nine local high schools showed up at Microsoft’s offices in Reston at the end of June as a kickoff for the student collaboration in the challenge.

While Chance and Spedden have actually reached out to specific schools in Loudoun, the consortium is open to students in grades 6-12 and businesses all over the world.

Students and businesses alike have a chance of working with entities who might want to implement their solution, and Spedden wants to ensure students’ intellectual property is protected.

The idea of bringing the schools into the mix of solution-solving is two years old, but Spedden and the rest of ISC didn’t start talking about students getting involved until September.

By introducing students into the mix, the pool and diversity of ideas grows, making more opportunity for problem-solving.

“You never know where the next greatest idea will come from,” Chance said. “It could be a 13-year-old kid. You don’t know. We all look through the world with our own eyes … Those different perspectives allow us to solve problems in unique ways.”

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