Why should city leaders apply for a Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) grant? Why, in the midst of dealing with all of the issues cities face – jobs and economic development, transportation, education, environmental sustainability, public safety – should civic leaders invest time in a proposal for outside assistance?
The simple answer is that cities are the most important places on the planet. More than 50 percent of us live in cities, so it is essential that they operate smarter. The more complex answer is that all organizations and entities – especially cities – now face challenges that cannot be overcome alone. Working together with a Smarter Cities Challenge team, civic and community leaders have access to a diverse (often global) group of experts who bring perspectives from a variety of industries. Their job is to listen to you – the people who know your city best – and then collaborate with you on a solution that “cracks the code” for your issue.
After working on two Smarter Cities engagements in the U.S. – in Providence, Rhode Island and in my home city of Boston, Massachusetts – I’ve noticed that the following qualities and characteristics generally lead to successful outcomes:
Challenge – In the face of daunting challenges with limited resources, it is city leaders who nevertheless possess the intimate knowledge of their residents’ needs. Working with experts who bring fresh perspectives from around the world can help local leaders contextualize their cities’ issues and set benchmarks for success.
Catalyst – Often, stakeholders with common interests or complementary resources and expertise connect for the first time during a Smarter Cities Challenge engagement. The cumulative effect of their brain power – combined with the intense focus of a short-term project – is profound. Perspectives are shared, synergies are identified, problems are solved, and changes take place.
Curiosity – We’ve all had the experience of being so close to a problem for so long that we could no longer analyze it objectively. Cities have the same issue, and almost always can benefit from an outside perspective. Answering new questions can lead to the creation of new approaches to solving stubborn problems.
Champions – A follow-on benefit of Smarter Cities Challenge participation is the creation of champions who will evangelize your city. Smarter Cities team members come from all over the world, and when they return home they take with them the fond memories of your city’s people and culture, along with working knowledge of your initiatives. By working with a global Smarter Cities team, you create a group of influencers who know why your city is now a better place to live and do business.
Commitment – The famous cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” When you identify the right challenge and address it with a potent mix of committed people, relevant skills, and intense focus, you have everything you need to affect positive change.
If you are willing to commit to overcoming one of your city’s toughest challenges, then a Smarter Cities Challenge engagement could be right for you.
Cathleen Finn is IBM’s Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager for New England.