Over the past two decades, the concept of the smart city and Intelligent Community has evolved. ICF’s core ideas quickly went beyond the concept of primarily promoting broadband and related smart infrastructure and evolved an holistic approach reflecting people’s use and application of this infrastructure for economic, social and cultural gain; reflecting societal needs and aspirations; and encouraging innovation, advocacy and sustainability. These concepts became improved over the years, explained and reinforced, but their core values have been around for a long time.Read more
The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) is the original smart cities organization formed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s – initially as the Canadian Smart Cities Institute (CSCI), which worked with the World Teleport Association to organize SMART95, the first smart city conference, held in Toronto in September 1995. The CSCI evolved into the Intelligent Community Forum as a global, but New York City-based non-profit think tank, when it moved from Canada to NYC in the late 1990’s. So, yes, we have been around for a considerable time.Read more
It is a natural tendency to resist change. Human beings like what they know and feel comforted by it. Change involves a plunge into the unknown, which brings discomfort, anxiety and even real fear.
The American author Mark Twain got it right when he wrote: "I'm all for progress - it's change I can't stand."
It is all too common for a community's leaders or groups of citizens to set themselves against changes that would ultimately benefit the community. The willingness to embrace change and the determination to help shape it, however, are core competencies of the Intelligent Community.
Few places naturally possess those competencies. They must be cultivated, often over years, through advocacy.
Advocacy is the ability to engage those leaders and citizens, as well as businesses and institutions, in understanding the challenge, identifying opportunities for positive change and ultimately becoming champions of that change. As stakeholders in the community, they learn to work together to build a unifying vision of the future, which expresses their best hopes and ideals.
Advocacy is the energy that powers every other element of the Intelligent Community. It is in some ways the most complex and challenging aspects of community development, but it is essential. In a representative government, if people do not understand the challenges they face and the need to adapt to those challenges, they will stand in the way of action. But if they embrace a vision of positive change, nothing can stop them.
Successful advocacy provides the foundation for the community's public identity in its outreach to the world. It energizes economic development, investment attraction and business generation, because the community has built a unique vision of its character and its future. In their own eyes, its people are no longer just living in one community among hundreds of thousands like it. They are in the best place to live, work, start a business, raise a family and pass their heritage to the next generation.
In 2015, ICF added a sixth criteria to its list of the Intelligent Community Indicators. It is a focus on environmental sustainability.
Improving current living standards, while maintaining the ability of future generations to do the same, is at the core of sustainability. Throughout human history, economic growth has always involved the consumption of more resources and the production of more waste. As humanity begins to push up against the limits of the ecosystem to provide resources and absorb waste, we need to find ways to continue growth – with all of its positive impacts on the community – while reducing the environmental impact of that growth.
Why Sustainability Matters
When Intelligent Communities commit their economies to a sustainable future, they seek to improve local quality of life, from cleaner air and water to improved public transportation and greater livability.
Communities that use fewer resources to create products and provide services are also more efficient and productive, which is key to continued improvements in their standard of living. As the world turns its attention to reining in human impact on the planet that supports us, sustainablity will generate substantial new opportunities for technology advance, business growth and employment in green industries.
Communities that make environmental sustainability a shared goal typically engage organizations, community groups and neighborhoods in advocating sustainability programs and activities. These contribute to civic pride, local identity and shared goals.
For all these reasons, a commitment to environmental sustainability protects the Intelligent Community's future, expands their economic opportunities, and helps create a culture of innovative collaboration that powers success.
Digital equality is a simple principle: that everyone in the community deserves access to broadband technologies and the skills to use them. Like most principles, it is easier to understand than it is to live.
The explosive advance of the broadband economy has worsened the exclusion of people who already play a peripheral role in the economy and society, whether due to poverty, lack of education, prejudice, age, disability, or simply where they live. It has disrupted industries from manufacturing to retail services, enlarging the number of people for whom the digital revolution is a burden rather than a blessing.
Intelligent Communities promote digital equity because it is the moral thing to do. They also do it for eminently practical reasons. People who are excluded from the economy and society cost enormous amounts of money for social services, criminal justice and acute healthcare. Like equality itself, digital equality is an ideal that will never be reached. But every should be interested in policies and programs that make the excluded population as small as humanly possible.
Promoting Digital Equality
In surveys, the digitally excluded cite cost as their most common reason for being offline, and the lack of anything relevant as their second. Intelligent Communities work to reduce cost barriers and acquaint residents with the knowledge, opportunity and entertainment available online.
- Access. Without a computer, laptop or tablet, access is impossible. Intelligent Communities work on access by refurbishing used computers and providing them to households in need, as well as providing free computers and broadband access at public facilities like libraries, schools and government offices.
- Affordability. For households with their own computers, the cost of broadband can represent a challenge in many parts of the world. Intelligent Communities introduce subsidy programs for digital equipment and broadband connections to ease adoption.
- Skills. A computer and broadband connection are useless without the right skills, ranging from basic literacy to keyboarding, PC literacy and facility with the Web. Communities respond to a skills gap with training programs for every age group in schools, libraries, community centers and special purpose facilities.
Challenges to Digital Equality
Every community that has addressed digital equality promotes the same set of achievements. So many public-access computers installed at libraries, municipal buildings, community centers and convenience stores. New classes on technology in primary and secondary schools. But successful Intelligent Communities go deeper. In crafting digital equality programs, they go beyond the basics to focus on fundamental change in the dynamics of digital exclusion:
- Literacy and Numeracy. The tools of the digital age require reasonable literacy and numeracy, or workarounds that allow illiterate segments of the population to access online services. In industrialized nations, illiterate adults typically deny their inability for fear of humiliation and often develop elaborate strategies to avoid exposure. Digital inclusion programs must make literacy and numeracy training readily available in ways that preserve the dignity of users. Web sites designed to provide essential information to citizens can also be written on a low reading level and make use of colors and images to guide users. In developing nations where literacy rates are far lower, communities have developed interesting workarounds to help reach the excluded.
- Relevance. Not surprisingly, people who have never used a computer or accessed the Web may think they have nothing of value to offer. (Older adults are more likely than young people to feel this way.) Fortunately, local government and institutions are in a perfect position to change their minds. Community Web sites can offer information and services on schools, careers, taxes, recreation, transit, health, and other topics important to people in their daily lives. Where segments of a community have strong religious, ethnic or cultural identity, government can work with institutions from houses of worship to social clubs to bring them online.
- Capacity-Building. The long-term solution to digital exclusion is to have members of offline groups – whether the working poor, the homeless, the elderly, an ethnic minority or caste – involved in providing access, delivering content and developing services. Because they are members of the group, they understand the group's needs and interests better than any outsider can. They also, it is to be hoped, have a deeper and more long-lasting commitment to moving their group from the digital periphery to the center.
The broadband economy is an innovation-driven economy. Economist Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize in 1987 for proving that 80% of all economic growth comes from the development and use of technology. The spread of global and local connectivity has had a fundamental impact on the necessity for innovation, its speed and its economic value. Why?
- The first requirement for innovation is knowledge: of what customers want, of what other innovators are doing, and of what level of opportunity the market offers. Broadband has become the knowledge pipeline of the planet, making it possible for innovators to learn more faster than ever before.
- Another critical requirement for innovation is access to talent. Broadband has allowed both multinational companies and small business to efficiently tap the world's best and brightest.
- Innovation also requires access to markets. Broadband has made it far cheaper and easier to run a network of remote facilities or sales offices, to enforce standards of operation, branding and all the other factors in a successful marketing effort. And for innovators whose product can be marketed or delivered digitally, broadband opens the door to a global market.
Innovation is essential to the interconnected economy of the 21st Century. Intelligent Communities pursue innovation through a relationship between business, government and such institutions as universities and hospitals. The Innovation Triangle or “Triple Helix” helps keep the economic benefits of innovation local, and creates an innovation ecosystem that engages the entire community in positive change. Investments in innovative technology by government contribute to that culture and improve service to citizens while reducing operating costs.
Building Innovation Capacity
Creating, attracting and retaining knowledge workers are the most important steps a community can take to raise its innovation rate. Unlike traditional business as most of us conceive it, an innovative business is all about people.
In addition to building a knowledge workforce, Intelligent Communities focus on building the local capacity to innovate rather than achieving a few "big wins" in the business attraction game. Sustainable economic growth is no longer built on attracting the manufacturing facilities, R&D labs or distribution hubs of the world's biggest companies. Why? Because the world's biggest companies are not net creators of jobs. They have been shrinking in terms of total employment for decade.
Where do you look instead for local income growth? To new companies. In the 20 years between 1980 and 2000, all of the net growth in American employment came from firms younger than five years old. The US offers one of the world's friendliest economies for start-ups, but the same trend is visible throughout the industrialized world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Most small companies are not fast-growing. But a percentage of small businesses are what MIT researcher David Birch termed "gazelles" – nimble, aggressive start-ups with big ambitions hungry for the resources needed to achieve them. Successful "gazelles" throughout the industrialized nations create the income growth on which the rest of the local economy feeds. To empower them, communities should work to:
- Reduce the bureaucratic load. If your nation, state or province makes it difficult to start a business – as so many of them do – find out what your community can do to make it easier. Provide potential entrepreneurs with advice, help them with paperwork, even represent them before the various licensing and regulatory agencies. Convince local universities and technical schools to help entrepreneurs license technology on straightforward terms and develop progressive intellectual property policies. A community that makes it easier and faster to start and grow a business than its neighbors will enjoy a serious competitive advantage.
- Create a pipeline for talent. Improving the educational assets of a community is a big job, which can take years or even decades to bear fruit. But it takes far less time and effort to create a more effective "pipeline" through which local business can find the talent it needs. The work starts with talking to the significant employers in your community to learn what skills they need. From that point, communities conduct multi-faceted efforts to attract and channel talent to their employers.
- Expand access to funding. While slow-growing "income replacement" companies can fund themselves from cash flow, fast-growing "gazelles" need investment capital to realize their ambitious dreams.
The Role of E-Government
Governments may not directly create the business innovation that powers economic growth. But local government can play a powerful supportive role. In addition to the steps described above, Intelligent Communities also invest in e-government programs that simultaneously reduce their costs while delivering services on the anywhere-anytime basis that digitally savvy citizens expect.
E-government has an impact at the local level that is both subtle and complex. Leading by example, e-government raises the public's "digital awareness" and helps to create a more innovative culture that attracts leading-edge individuals and businesses. Money spent locally on IT products, services and support increases local demand for them. Effective e-government also signals to businesses and citizens that the community is a good destination for the "digiterati." In short, properly executed, e-government can do more than save money and improve service delivery. It can also become a robust economic development tool.
Broadband is the next essential utility, as vital to economic growth as clean water and good roads.
Broadband is defined in different ways in different places. All agree that is an "always on" service, but minimum expectations for speed range from 2 megabits per second up to 10, 20 or 50 times that.
Whatever the speed, the power of broadband is simple enough to express. It connects your computer, laptop or mobile device to billions of devices and users around the world, creating a digital overlay to our physical world that is revolutionizing how we work, play, live, educate and entertain ourselves, govern our citizens and relate to the world. In the "broadband economy" created by this technology...
- The world's largest taxi company, Uber, owns no vehicles.
- The world's most popular media company, Facebook, creates no content.
- The world's largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no real estate.
- The world's most valuable retailer, Alibaba, has no inventory.
Why Communities Get Involved
Infrastructure is the foundation of economic competitiveness. Broadband may be one of the fastest growing technologies in history, but its availability, speed and reliability consistently lag behind user demand, particularly in low-density and low-income markets that do not offer the private sector attractive investment opportunities. That gives local government a strong incentive to involve itself in promoting access to high-quality broadband. The most successful have all begun with the same first step: establishing a clear vision and communicating why broadband access matters. If constituents believe that broadband is just about downloading music or playing online games, they will not provide political support when it is needed. But if they see broadband as a path to prosperity and greater citizen participation, it will be quite a different story.
Once communities know what they want to do and why, they take different paths to get there. The Intelligent Community Forum has identified five approaches taken by the communities we have studied.
- Development Policy. Remaining safely within the bounds of tradition, governments direct the usual tools of development policy at broadband deployment. They set broadband-friendly building codes. They conduct inventories of existing broadband networks and access points. They offer tax credits and craft rights-of-way policies to support network development.
- Networks for Government. Local and regional governments are big users of communications, and they are generally as free as any business to build private networks for their own use. To reduce costs and gain new capabilities, they construct a fiber or coaxial network linking all government offices, schools, libraries hospitals and other public facilities. By making these investments in networks and services, governments become a vital anchor tenant for broadband and stimulate demand for broadband services.
- Public-Private Partnerships. In other cases, government sets its sights on building a public-access network from the start but chooses not to build, own or operate it. Public-private partnerships take many forms, limited only by the imagination and legal framework in which the municipality operates. Some communities issue municipal bonds to fund construction of a network, which they lease to private carriers, with the lease payments covering the debt service. Others create nonprofit organizations to develop networks in collaboration with private carriers or provide seed investment to jumpstart construction of networks that the private sector is unable to cost-justify on its own.
- Dark Fiber and Open Access Networks. Yet another variation on deployment strategy leverages the municipality's control of its roads and rights of way to encourage the private sector to invest. In these communities, government stops issuing permits to carriers to lay cable or fiber and instead builds its own system of conduits and lays "dark fiber" throughout the network. It then leases access to the fiber to carriers. By digging up the streets once and then closing them to further construction, local governments protect their citizens from the disruption of repeated road work. The municipalities price the leases to cover their construction and maintenance costs as well as providing a positive return on investment. In some cases, the municipalities go a step further by creating an "open network" management platform that permits carriers to provision services almost instantly, which encourages competition and innovation.
- Direct Competition. The most aggressive posture a community can take is to invest public funds in setting up a broadband carrier, building a network and delivering service to outside customers. Local government typically takes this path after repeated attempts to interest incumbent carriers in upgrading networks have failed because the carriers could not make a business case for investment. Since municipalities need to earn a return sufficient only to pay capital and operating costs, they can frequently make such a case themselves – particularly if they already own and operate water, gas or electric utilities, as many small rural communities do.
Mention municipal broadband, and most people think you are talking about direct competition with the private sector. But direct competition is just one of many strategies and by no means the most common. Intelligent Communities everywhere want the same thing: to get their citizens the broadband utility they need at a price they can afford.
The term "knowledge work" was coined by management consultant Peter Drucker, who forecast in 1973 that, within two decades, it would become impossible to maintain a middle class lifestyle by working with one’s hands. Drucker’s prescient comment signaled that the world we knew was changing. He called the new work that would be required to enter the middle class "knowledge work" and the people who performed it "knowledge workers."
In the last decade of the 20th Century and first decade of the 21st, we have seen Drucker's prediction come true. Today, all desirable jobs in industrialized economies – and increasingly in developing economies as well – require a higher component of knowledge than they did in the past. It is by applying knowledge and specialized skills that employees add enough value to what they do to justify the cost of employing them. In the future, any employee whose "value-added" does not exceed his or her salary cost can expect to be replaced, sooner or later, by software or hardware. A continuous improvement in an evolving range of skills is the only route to personal prosperity.
What Communities Can Do
Intelligent Communities exhibit the determination and demonstrated ability to develop a workforce qualified to perform knowledge work from the factory floor to the research lab, and from the construction site to the call center or corporate headquarters.
What are the tools available to a community to do this work?
It is generally accepted that the opportunity to create healthy and productive citizens begins in infancy and continues throughout our lives, ranging from pre-school programs to secondary school, technical colleges to graduate schools.
Local governments control only some of these assets, so it must seek opportunities to collaborate with many levels of government, business and institutions. It may have to work with partners outside the region as well and provide them with motivation to bring educational assets - from enrichment programs to satellite campuses - into the community.
The final piece of the puzzle is the "last mile" from graduation into employment. In Intelligent Communities, local government works closely with schools and employers to give students first-hand experience of career opportunities and develop specialized courses to prepare students for careers in the community's leading and emerging industries. The more that educational institutions extend their ambitions into employers - and that employers open themselves up to educators - the more prosperous the community will be.
Creating a Culture for Knowledge Work
Growing your own knowledge workers is one part of the task. Keeping them and attracting more is another. In general, knowledge workers seek a good quality of life and believe they should be able to afford it. Because they have skills, they are also willing to move in search of it. Intelligent Communities invest in physical and digital (e.g. e-government) assets that enhance their quality of life and provide ease and convenience to citizens and businesses in their dealings with government. Wise investment and smart deployment of these programs can make even small and remote communities highly competitive in the global battle for talent.
Intelligent Community Forum opens nominations for the 2016 Intelligent Community of the Year Awards Program
The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) today announced the opening of nominations for the 2016 Intelligent Community of the Year Awards Program. The 2016 Awards Program run by the New York-based think tank will name the 18th Intelligent Community of the Year in June of that year, a community that is a leader in creating inclusive economic prosperity, solving social problems and enriching quality of life using information and communications technology (ICT). The 2015 recipient was Columbus, Ohio, USA.Read more
On January 22, ICF narrows its 2015 list of 21 really smart communities to a short-list of 7 intelligent ones. Those two words – smart and intelligent – are often confused or often used to mean the same thing. But I think they describe very different realities.
Every Intelligent Community we have seen is a Smart City. That is, it invests in information and communications technology (ICT) to deliver services, monitor operations and rejigger failing systems. That is good news for taxpayers, businesses and institutions.Read more