Markham is a metro area of 212 sq km approximately 30km northeast of Toronto. It has a population of over 350,000, making it one of the largest municipalities in Canada. Markham has a bustling tech sector, home to hundreds of corporate head offices and over 1,000 high tech and life science companies. Markham is a leader in digital initiatives, from community support and digital training, to partnerships with high tech industry to next-generation upgrades to municipal services. Markham's role as a digital pioneer has had great results for their community and Markham has shared wisdom gained from these steps with other Canadian municipalities at several national municipal conferences and forums.
Digital Markham Strategy
Markham is home to leading and innovative technology companies in all phases of maturity – from startup to global presence. The city’s population has access to the latest technology and uses it actively, boasting more than 80% PC and device penetration. Markham’s initial digital offerings (including portal, social media and mobile apps) are widely accepted and used. The city is moving forward to become a more digitally enabled and connected city.
The City of Markham Digital Strategy lays out a digital roadmap with explicit steps for the city to follow moving forward, based on collaboration and input from city staff and councilors, residents, businesses, service groups, academics, industry thought leaders and technology experts. Using ideas and feedback from the community, the Strategy identified 4 key areas of focus, each containing a number of significant digital initiatives designed to achieve the vision for Markham’s digital future.
The first key goal in the Digital Markham Strategy is: Engaging and Serving the Community. To meet this goal, the city has developed initiatives to expand and enhance online and mobile service offerings, promote collaboration through digital tools, build centers of excellence for digital literacy and further develop digital democracy. The second goal is: Being the Digital Differentiator for Business, which has led to initiatives that facilitate digital innovation, agility and economic development as well as engaging strategic partners in achieving the Digital Markham vision. The third goal is: Establishing a Digital Workplace. To meet this goal, the city developed initiatives to establish a digital culture and digital operating model at the City, enable business process integration across business units and create the capacity to leverage data as an asset for decision making. With this goal, Markham also aims to create a local climate that will attract and retain young talent. The final goal: Enabling the City as a Platform for Innovation, consists of initiatives to create “living labs” and innovation hubs to demonstrate and facilitate Markham’s new digital character, to implement an open data platform and governance model and to communicate and promote Markham’s identity as a digital destination.
Markham’s capacity for engagement with community members has grown significantly through the recent launch of Your Voice Markham, the city’s online engagement site that seeks ideas and feedback on important city matters. The goal is to empower residents, partners and businesses to be more active in shaping the community and Markham’s future.
Markham Municipal Election - Online Voting Initiative
Markham has exceptional broadband availability and more than 95% adoption of broadband. This allows Markham to be a trailblazer in digital democracy initiatives. A major portion of the city's municipal government services are available online, but the most notable project to take advantage of Markham's broadband availability is Markham's Municipal Election - Online Voting initiative.
The City’s innovative 2018 election model was shaped by Markham’s digital strategy, academic research, rigorous testing and extensive post-vote feedback from voters in previous elections which indicated that accessibility, lack of convenience and time constraints were major reasons people did not vote in the past. The online voting initiative provided increased accessibility and convenience to voters with more hours to vote than ever before. By leveraging broadband access, voters in Markham were able to cast their ballot online anywhere, anytime during the entire voting period using a desktop, tablet or mobile device.
More than 60% of Markham’s diverse population speaks a first language other than English. The online voting initiative allowed key voter information to be provided in the top 6 languages spoken in Markham, effectively reaching eligible voters regardless of their ethnicity. The online voting initiative also provided a fully accessible voting channel to allow persons with disabilities the opportunity to cast a ballot independently online. The Markham Public Library (MPL) conducted lunch and learn sessions for seniors and digital literacy seminars about online voting. The online voting initiative served to promote the extended use of broadband for the significant and important purpose of executing the right to vote and it provided the encouragement and opportunity for more people than ever before to exercise their right to vote at the municipal level and play their part in shaping Markham’s future.
Markham Public Library Digital Inclusion Program
The Markham Public Library (MPL) Digital Inclusion Strategy seeks to provide access to broadband connectivity, digital equipment and tools, as well as learning opportunities necessary to allow citizens to fully use and benefit from digital technologies. All Markham Library branches currently provide public Wi-Fi access that is freely available to visitors. As well, the majority of branches provide multiple public access computers (PACs) that can be reserved for use by all patrons at no charge. This extends the availability and benefits of digital tools to those residents who might not otherwise have access to them. Digital media labs in each branch of the MPL also provide further access to technology. Markham implemented the first digital media lab and makerspace under this strategy at the Aaniin Library, which includes four industry-standard computers set up for graphic design, sound and vision editing, animation and other digital media services. The makerspace features a textile lab, 3D printers and scanners and a commercial-grade laser cutter. Staff provides assistance to patrons in learning this technology, group instruction on premise and in partnership with local schools, and through workshops designed to focus on digital literacy development.
Based on the success of this strategy to date, additional digital media labs are being expanded at MPL’s Angus Glen and Thornhill Community Centre branches. The next phase of this project includes expanding 3D printer access to all branches in the system. In 2020, the city plans to expand the digital literacy strategy further by creating two new labs at the Markham Village and Cornell libraries with specialized technologies, including a sound recording studio to compliment the library's musical instrument lending library and a KidsMakerSpace, featuring toys and tools to teach STEAM principles to preschool children.
STEAM Digital Skills Program
The Markham Public Library offers many STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts & Math) programs to local schools. Teachers book an appointment with the library to have a digital literacy or outreach specialist visit their classroom to lead educational activities while allowing students to use new and exciting technologies. As part of the program, students explore STEAM concepts including engineering, circuit building and coding in order to create a small town with stable structures, functional lighting, moving bridges and purposeful roadways. Through these activities, students develop collaborative and community-building abilities in addition to technical and academic skills. 95% of students who have taken a STEAM workshop with MPL report having more knowledge of the topic, and 88% report feeling more confident. In addition, 90% of students report applying what they learned outside the courses. Similar programs are also available in Library branches for adults and seniors.
In addition to STEAM workshops conducted in conjunction with schools, MPL offers the CoderDojo program. CoderDojo is a global network of free, volunteer-led, independent, community-based programming clubs for young people. During a club meeting, all in attendance learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs and games and to explore technology. The program targets children ages 8-13 who are interested in growing their digital literacy skills. It seeks to prepare children for a digital future, where coding and programming are part of their careers.
Hardware Catalyst Initiative
The Hardware Catalyst Initiative (HCI) is Canada’s first incubator to focus on hardware and silicon solutions, targeting small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in key sectors including digital media & ICT, advanced manufacturing, health and environment. Announced in June 2019, the HCI includes a $5 million investment over five years through FedDev Ontario’s Regional Innovation Ecosystem funding stream. This initiative is designed to help shorten development cycles and close gaps faced by SMEs. The HCI is driven by ventureLAB, the regional innovation center and technology incubator hub located in Markham and supported by the City. ventureLAB supports technology entrepreneurs through programs focused on capital, talent, technology and customers to advance Canada’s economy on a local, national and global scale.
Beginning in 2017, ventureLAB, together with industry and not-for-profit partners, explored the need and feasibility of a Hardware Catalyst Initiative in Ontario. A common challenge discovered was the lack of access to expensive tools, resources, and clean rooms for SMEs building hardware and silicon technologies in Canada, as well as a significant mentorship and talent gap. In late 2018, they began working on a proposal to establish the Hardware Catalyst Initiative, and in early 2019 submitted a proposal to the Government of Canada’s FedDev Ontario program under the Regional Innovation Ecosystem funding stream. The proposal was accepted and the commitment of a $5 million investment over 5 year for the HCI was announced in June of 2019. As well, ventureLAB is in the process of finalizing collaboration agreements with industry partners for additional funding.
Access to expensive tools, equipment and resources is the top challenge hardware companies face in growing and scaling in Canada. On average, a design license for a small startup team ranges from $50K to $75K per seat, per year, and is available through only two companies, one of whom is a partner in the HCI. The HCI would give SMEs building and leveraging hardware and silicon solutions access to the necessary equipment and industry expertise to accelerate time to market. This will significantly reduce costs, enabling them to become globally competitive Canadian businesses and redeploy valuable capital to hire local talent in Canada, creating a sustainable pipeline of technical and business talent.
Over the next five years, HCI is anticipated to support over 40 small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), create or license more than 30 new intellectual properties (IP), commercialize at least 15 new products or services, and create over 200 new jobs. It will bring focus to this important sector in Southern Ontario and will be a key driver in amplifying the regional economy, and serve as an attraction mechanism for retaining talent, new job creation, attracting R&D dollars, and creating homegrown intellectual property that can be scaled globally. This initiative and many others have positioned Markham as a city with the resources, community and training availability to meet the challenges of the modern world and only grow stronger in the process.