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How to guarantee a win from the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge grants

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By Jesse Berst, Smart Cities Council

The Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grants have just opened for entries. I hope every American city will participate because I’m convinced every city will get a win just by entering. Let me explain, and then I’ll finish with an inside tip on how to impress the judges.

The grant competition is open to any American city that wishes to improve its livability, workability and sustainability. They must have an aggregate population of at least 100,000, but we encourage towns and cities to team up to hit that number.

The competition closes on December 31, 2016, after which the judges will select five winners. The Council will consult with each winning city to learn its particular needs and priorities. From there, the Council will bring its experts and members to each city for a custom-designed Readiness Workshop.

Winning cities not only receive a personalized Readiness Workshop, but also technology and services from Council member companies to help bring their smart cities vision to life. Examples include a free citywide network, a street lighting audit, a buildings audit and much more, as you can read on the Challenge Grant web page.

All told, each city will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in help, products and services. It’s a remarkable way to accelerate your smart city progress, whether you are already underway or just getting started. And because it does not require matching funds from your city, it’s entirely free.
 

A guaranteed win

But you don’t have to win the competition to win from your effort. Here’s why:

Competition brings out the best. How good would football players be if they practiced every day but never played a game? Humans have a competitive streak. You can tap that spirit to bring out the best, as long as you have something to focus your efforts — a game, a contest, a competition. It works for NFL teams. It works for cities, too.

It creates a “forcing function.” Cities have 60 days to complete the application. There’s nothing like a deadline to get people motivated and pulling together.

You’ll learn as you apply. The application is more than a fill-in-the-blanks form. Each section contains links to knowledge resources, including case studies and best practices from around the world. You’ll find this just-in-time-learning an efficient way to improve your smart city IQ.

You’ll activate your local ecosystem. The application process requires cities to consider all their stakeholders, including groups that don’t normally interact. Once they know each other and are talking about ways to help the city, amazing things can occur.
 

How to sway the judges

I promise you’ll see great benefits just from entering, as explained above. But the best outcome is to gain all of those advantages AND to the additional benefits that go to the winners.

Want to sway the judges? Work especially hard on the stakeholder section. After studying smart cities around the world, the Council has discovered that the biggest hurdles are not about technology. Or even about financing. The biggest challenges are around governance (how do you organize for success) and stakeholder engagement. Get those two things right and you can overcome any remaining obstacles.

For one thing, the judges want to know you’re planning an inclusive city, one that will improve prosperity for all. To build for all you must first plan with all. For another, they want to know that the decision makers will be talking to each other. Discovering synergies and cost efficiencies is often as simple as getting everyone in the room to talk about what they’d like to do. And then to look for ways to share infrastructure, share costs and share data.
 

Eight key stakeholder groups

As you put together your “dream team” — your list of the stakeholders you plan to include — please consider these eight groups at a minimum. In some cases, you can involve them directly. In other cases, you can work through proxies, such as a chamber of commerce, a tourism board, or an advocacy group.

  1. Residents/workers/tourists. All the people who spend a big part of their day in your city. What do they need? What do they want (not always the same)? And what are they concerned about (for instance, privacy)?
  2. All key city departments. Virtually every city function can be improved by smart technologies. And virtually every department can learn to share and work with the others. They all need to be in the room for planning.
  3. Utilities. You can’t be a smart, sustainable city without the involvement of your electric, gas and water utilities.
  4. Business. Done right, smart cities are a powerful tool for economic development. In some cities, the entire smart city effort is spearheaded by business interests (business improvement districts or chambers of commerce or public-private partnerships). And don’t forget the innovation community, especially high-tech entrepreneurs and investors.
  5. Universities. They need your city as a test bed for their research. You need their expertise and energy.
  6. Neighboring towns and cities. When you team up regionally, you can share solutions. You can also aggregate your purchases so you have more buying power with vendors.
  7. Federal and state. There are innumerable grants and programs that intersect with smart cities. We want you to tap into those benefits.
  8. The disadvantaged. What will you be doing to hear from and work with the disabled, the low-income, the homeless, the elderly, the under-served neighborhoods and others less fortunate?

The smart city movement is not just a trend — it’s a race. It’s a race to gain competitive advantage in the global economy. A race to attract jobs and talent. A race to become resilient against climate change and natural disasters. A race to reduce emissions and pollution and the problems they cause. A race to build ladders of opportunity for those less fortunate.

Entering the Smart Cities Council Challenge Grants is a great way for any city to get a head start.

 

Jesse Berst is the Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, publishers of the free Smart Cities Readiness Guide and administrators of the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grants.

 

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