Evaluating Top7 Intelligent Communities

One of the elements of the year-long process of bringing forward an annual list of Intelligent Communities is the physical evaluation of each of the Top7 Intelligent Communities. This is an important part of the selection of the Intelligent Community of the Year and is taken very seriously by the evaluators, the Jury and the communities being evaluated. It is important to physically validate each community’s application, make eye to eye contact with the authors of the submission and better understand what they believe makes their city and community work in terms of an Intelligent Community.

Since each site visit is in a different part of the world, they may be culturally very different and in a language that could be very different from their counterparts. Some site visits dig deep into each element of their smart physical systems while others focus on meetings and roundtables, ensuring that all of the aspects of their community activities are understood by the evaluator visiting their community. Others include celebrations of their Top7 recognition and bring the community together to better understand what the value of their recognition really is all about. Gaining local support and ensuring extensive public participation is a key factor in continuing the Intelligent Community movement into future years. Just as the recognition of the Intelligent Community is not an overnight activity centered around a simple application and instead takes a year long process to complete, so should the importance of constant improvement and continual commitment be pursued, resulting in a community that lives and breathes what we describe as the Intelligent Community movement. These are key elements that the evaluator is looking for. How disparate and separated are the activities described in a community application versus how collaborative, well thought-out and budgeted for continuity are they? Is it a “project” or is it part of the true fabric of the community? Does it have legs and lives and breathes as part of what makes the whole community intelligent, or is it an activity or someone’s special project that could end tomorrow with the person’s changing situation or the end of special funding?

Of course, the site visits will help to validate each of the applicant’s capital investments, community elements and collaborative initiatives in context with the criteria that the Intelligent Community Forum has established over the years. We will be looking for smart infrastructure and how it is being deployed and how it benefits the community at large; how they have planned their community and implemented smart and innovative technologies to be part of the ever-changing landscape and make-up of their Intelligent Community; we will be looking at the way in which the knowledge workforce is created, attracted and most importantly utilized and retained in a community; we will be looking at the innovation and creativity that takes place and leveraged in these communities, taking advantage of the smart infrastructure and smart people in the community; and we will be looking at the ways in which a community deals with public advocacy from citizen involvement to public policies that reinforce the criteria and help to create the collaborative innovation ecosystem that makes intelligent communities unique. In addition, we will be looking at how they market their community to attract talent and investment, especially foreign direct investment and locally-generated funds to support home-grown businesses. We will also be looking for examples of digital inclusion providing for all members of society including the young and the old, the disenfranchised and those with special needs. We will be looking for leadership patterns; evidence of collaboration and citizen participation; special ways in which the environmental footprint is being dealt with and managed; opportunities for the community to attract risk capital; how they plan for cyber-security; and how they deal with issues today that result from changing circumstances, such as the creative destruction of jobs to global impacts of politics, environments and the economy. This is a site visit to a Top7 Intelligent Community that in a short 48 hours the evaluator will have to validate nearly every aspect of what makes this Top7 selected community a rated Intelligent Community. However, it is not a perfect science. First impressions count. The community, the people and the responses are all important in the evaluation. Evaluators will follow the itinerary of the hosts but they will also seek the comments and opinions of others along the way, even off the tailored pathways, looking for a true cross section of the communities’ hopes, desires and opinions. As these are special and unique communities with competitive advantages that excel among the best in the world, it will be very difficult for our evaluators to be neutral in their descriptive reports, notwithstanding that is their goal. Sometimes it is hard to curtail their excitement and enthusiasm in their reports. Naturally, it is exciting to be in these special and unique Intelligent Communities looking at their initiatives, the newly created jobs that evolved from the forces that shaped the community having gone through a community crisis such as the creative destruction of previous jobs to new ones as a result of changing local circumstances; opportunities created for education and retraining; or reviewing the exciting investments made by public, private and institutional sources in each community. That excitement is often reflected in the evaluation, ranging from glee - being in such an environment- to a “eureka moment”- suggesting that every community should be doing what this community is doing. But as evaluators we do have standards that are set out by the Intelligent Community Jury, members from around the world that have established what the evaluators are to look for and how they are to report so that each of the seven Intelligent Communities are given fair treatment in these evaluations. And, as evaluators, we do work hard to meet these standards and are evaluated ourselves annually by the Jury with metrics to ensure constant improvement in the reporting process. These site visit reports are added to the actual applications that the jury evaluates and rank as well as other inputs such as qualified analyst’s reports.

Being recognized as a Smart21 community is the first step. Every city, town or region is eligible to make an application. ICF provides samples of previous winning applications and makes it as easy as possible to make a submission, including not charging for a submission. The completed applications are due in September of every year and the Smart 21 communities are announced in October every year following analyst’s review of the submissions to create the short list of the first level of smart communities. ICF continues to work with each of these 21 smart communities to pick the best seven from among them to be qualified as a Top7 Intelligent Communities, announced in January of every year. These are the communities that will come to the annual Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum, this year to be held in Toronto from June 8-12, www.icfsummit2015.com. They will be the stars of the Summit. They will be celebrated but they also come to openly share best practices among the other Top7 communities and with the audience attending the Summit. Members of the Smart 21, Top7 and previously ranked communities will be in attendance and openly share with the audience stories and information about their communities. A Business-to-Business and Business-to –Government Matchmaking Exchange on June 9 will help to not only break the ice and provides speed-dating opportunities to share business cards, but also introduces one another to the business and investment opportunities in each of these Smart21 and Top7 Intelligent Communities. An in-depth interview with each of the communities’ top leaders will be the highlight of the June 11 Plenary Session on the Top7 Intelligent Communities. They will also be celebrated at a reception focused on the Top7 where they will also receive their own awards on June 10 and finally at a dinner on June 11, the world’s most Intelligent Community of the Year will be announced. This year the current Intelligent Community of the Year is Toronto. Site visits are planned for delegates to the Summit for Toronto on June 8 as well as a unique bus tour to the Intelligent Community of the Year (2007) in Waterloo, Ontario, an hour west of Toronto. See the Intelligent Communities and meet the people who made it happen and ask them directly what it took for them to be recognized and what the benefits have been.

The evaluators undertaking the site visits are the Co-Founders of the Intelligent Community movement and will be visiting Columbus, Mitchell and Arlington in the USA; Surrey, BC in Canada; Rio in Brazil; New Taipei City in Taiwan and Ipswich in Queensland, Australia. I will be heading to New Taipei City and Ipswich while the other Co-Founders will be heading to the other five Top7 Intelligent Communities over the next month. We will interview the Top7 Intelligent Communities again on June 11. Join us there to find out what happens next.

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Co-Founder/Chair ICF; ICF Canada, formerly CTT/ GTMA/CEDA/Board CUI, Urban Planner & Designer, Author & Speaker on Econ Devel/ Smart & Intelligent Cities
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