When is Teaching the Only Way to Learn?

Every year in July, we open the Intelligent Community Awards to new nominations. And every year, we find ourselves engaged in the same strange balancing act.

ICF is a global network of cities and regions with a think tank at its center. That think tank conducts research to learn how cities and regions use broadband and IT to create inclusive local prosperity, to address big social problems, and to enrich their quality of life.

NominationFormScreenshot.pngWhat’s our primary research tool? Our Awards program – because communities share valuable data with us for the chance to win a prestigious global award.

So, are we learning from Intelligent Communities, or are we teaching them what it means to be intelligent?

We are doing both, of course – learning while we do. It requires us to strike the right balance between having standards and learning what those standards should be.

We revamped our nomination questionnaire for the Smart21 this year, and had to work extra hard to maintain that balance. We turned what had been an essay-writing contest into a questionnaire full of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, with a few longer narrative questions that let nominees paint a fuller picture.

We did it because we wanted the nomination to be shorter and easier to complete and analyze. We did it to reduce the unintended advantage the old form provided to native English speakers – particularly those clever enough to have marketing people do their writing.

Most important, we did it to be more transparent about what we think an Intelligent Community is. We have turned a lot of the knowledge and expertise formerly locked in the heads of our analysts into boxes and blanks on a questionnaire.

It has been no small challenge, and I hope we got it right. Take a look and let me know what you think: rbell@intelligentcommunity.org or @rbellicf.

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research, analysis and content development activities.
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