Why do people go to conferences, summits, seminars and roundtables? Why don’t we just sit in the comfort of our homes, sit back and turn on our Skype, WebEX or GoToMeeting online meeting services and do it all from there? Well, it’s clear that we no longer need to be at every meeting or every event. Skype, WebEX and any other media that provides an Online Webinar and meeting service will do just fine in most cases. And when they work, we praise technology from saving us from yet another trip.
But there is still that human factor – the sensory elements; the sounds, smells and images all around us; the happenstance of bumping into someone with a great idea or partnership in mind and the excitement of the crowds, especially those in a like-minded environment where conversation is easy, fun and invigorating. However not all conferences, seminars and similar gatherings are like that. Those are the ones you want to make sure you get on your Skype Horse and ride off into the sunset with it!
These gatherings should be important for the opportunities to connect, to be introduced, learn new things, become inspired and leave ready to take on the world. I recall a mayor at one of the previous ICF Summits in New York saying to his staff after viewing the presentations by another city of similar size, “heck, we can do that!” Then they went off and actually did do what they said they thought they could do and came back a couple of years later to be rewarded with Smart21 and Top 7 recognition. They might have never proceeded had they not been inspired by another community that they got to know well enough to be able to decide that they too would be able to do as well. And not all of it needs to be just inspirational… maybe a bit of competition can sneak in there too!
I also know of several communities that met each other at an ICF Summit many years ago and forged close ties with one another as a result. Through several years of developing friendships at the Summits, the mayors, staff, educational institutions and even companies began to visit each other, find out how close they were in similar attitudes, goals and opportunities , despite being separated by the great oceans and maybe even by languages and cultures. Another set of ICF Intelligent Communities formed formal Sister City ties as a result of getting to know each other through the Summit. And private sector firms are known to make an investment in communities that they have become familiar with through the ICF Summit. Those relationships are much harder to form simply through online meetings.
When the Crystal Palace opened on May 1, 1851 in London’s Hyde Park, it started a movement to exhibit, experiment and demonstrate what was possible today and in the near future – from the first fax machine, first publicly available photographic process and even the first publicly available privy. It made it possible for people around the world to become inspired and opened up dialogue around new things and ideas that were possible. In 1995, SMART95, the world’s first Smart City Conference, held in Toronto, emulated these concepts – to show, dialogue and inspire. It was an opportunity to be in the first public experiment of bridging music over satellite and fiber-optic cables from great distances. This was an inspiration to those who attended, especially many Japanese delegates, who later demonstrated it as part of the opening of the 1998 Nagoya Olympics. It was also the first time that thought leaders came together to discuss the idea of mega-regions that could link the economies of the Rochester and Buffalo regions with Toronto via the Golden Horseshoe. Ideas such as smart buildings, smart people and even smart cities were discussed and the latest ideas of video-conferencing and digital education were introduced at this 1995 event.
Many critics of these sorts of events and gatherings focus on the waste of money and time in traveling great lengths to participate in them. But it’s really all about people, in 3D and in flesh and blood - something that you just cannot get from communicating over Skype, at least not yet. But perhaps it could be argued that it’s also a waste of our time and money every day that we travel to city centers to be able to be part of the mad morning and end of day rush hours so that we can gather in shiny towers close to one another. People gather in city centers to be able to take advantage of proximity to other people; the greater the critical mass the better in some cases. Look at New York City, Tokyo and Paris. You could go on a travelogue and explore them over your laptop or you can actually go there and be part of it, bump into people, be introduced, become inspired by listening to someone you just met through happenstance and so on…
OK, so I think I made my point. Everything has its time and place. Skype, WebEX and other online meeting services are great; we use them daily. But they will not be able to replace the excitement, inspiration and opportunity to bump into someone you need to bump into. I don’t think that Waterloo and Eindhoven would have advanced in their relationship without getting to know each other through the ICF Summits; Allied Fiber recently opened up a carrier-neutral core network interconnection facility called a Fibre Centre in Moncton, a connection that was made through relationships built through ICF’s annual Summits; and so on. Relationships – that is at the core of economic development and all that is related to it.
If you are pressed for time, here is a snapshot of the critical days you will want to attend:
June 8: Tours of Waterloo Region and Toronto (Pre-conference site visits)
June 9: (ICF Summit Day 1): Toronto Tour (Morning only); Match-making Session and Borderless Community
June 10: (ICF Summit Day 2): ICF Urban and Rural Master Classes and Top 7 Reception
June 11: (ICF Summit Day 3): Top 7 Plenary Session and ICF Awards Dinner
June 12: IDEAS Day – (Post ICF Summit) - a new annual feature in Toronto presented by ICF Canada, Waterfront Toronto and partner private sector innovators!
So here are the key reasons why people should attend the 2015 edition of the ICF Summit in Toronto:
- Education – learn about Intelligent Communities in a few short days through intensive site visits, master classes, seminar sessions and networking;
- Business and Investment opportunities – meet companies, institutions and important contacts and intermediaries at the match-making session on June 9 and through networking every day at the Summit;
- Learn how to apply to become recognized as an Intelligent Community – speak directly to those who have been through the process and network with communities and discuss the benefits of the ICF Intelligent Community recognition; and
- Networking – did I mention networking? Yes, lots of networking and great lasting contacts. Very much a like-minded community of people and organizations that is keen to share and help each other in the spirit of collaboration.
Hope to see you there! Check out the evolving program, speakers and opportunities at www.icfsummit2015.com