Next Era Series
Intelligent Community Forum
David Rauch, Business Analyst for the City of Edmonton, Alberta, CA, Next Era Member
4 May 2017
It is not often I am able to call dozens of City partners and start a conversation with “Congratulations. Because of your contributions, Edmonton has been recognized as a world-class city.” It’s pretty nice. That is what I have been doing for the last week or so on account of Edmonton being named a Top7 Intelligent Community in the world by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York City-based think-tank. ICF has been ranking cities by six criteria for more than 15 years, and Edmonton has been applying for recognition on behalf of the community and its partners for three years. In case you are worried this article is just about tooting our own horn, it is not. Making it into the Intelligent Community Forum Top7 (and now planning for the two-day site visit) has provided us a chance to critically look at how cities partner and how we tell our story.
The City of Edmonton applied on behalf of the broader community for the competition, so when the news came that we made the Top7, that recognition was shared equally with our partners. As you can imagine, this starts the phone call on a good note. But then comes “the ask.” This recognition comes with a task: All Top7 cities have to host an ICF co-founder for a two-day site visit, and that site visit has to cover all the major points of the application. Critically, the site visitor does not just want to meet with directors and elected officials; he wants to meet residents who are using and benefiting from our innovative services, companies benefitting from access to high-speed internet, and researchers who are partnering with the City to create new solutions.
This prompted heady conversations, all of them good. “We have two days with this visit, we cannot do everything we included in the application. What do we choose and how?” “What are we going to include that will help us compete with other Top7 cities like Moscow, Russia and Melbourne, Australia?” along with vital questions like, “Where are we going to eat?” These conversations made us focus on what makes Edmonton “Edmonton-y.” For some inspiration, we discussed the site visit with Todd Babiak, founding creative director for Make Something Edmonton, a placemaking initiative out of our Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. Make Something Edmonton is premised on the idea that what makes Edmonton Edmonton-y is the grassroots-iness of our residents and the interconnectedness of the community which allows us to get things done. As we prepared our site visit itinerary, we grew to further appreciate the connections between each aspect of the submission. Our startups partner with the University to incorporate cutting-edge data science into their business, partially funded by government innovation grants. The original research for our waste-to biofuels facility was undertaken by a local professor, and the development of the facility is partially funded by the City and our Provincial partners. Our Library partners with the City, school boards, social service organizations, and just about everybody in the city to promote digital literacy, which leads to better education and economic outcomes. The list goes on.
So this site visit is an opportunity to demonstrate that the brand (Edmonton as a connected community of makers and doers) is not just something written on a glossy document, but it is represented in living breathing people. We have two days to meet with as many people within the integrated ecosystem of innovation in our community. This sounds like the perfect plan for the Mayor’s social media staffer to tag along and document the ride, telling the story to nearly 20,000 Instagram followers in real time. I feel that this is a great example of how cities can better tell their story: with the faces of people who are creating change and being impacted by that change.
Our branding team has been engaged deeply in this site visit work, as they see this as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that people perceive “Edmonton” as more than just what the City Administration does. Instead, we are defined by the work of everyone in the Edmonton-area ecosystem. This broadens our narrative and more importantly broadens our minds to think about how to optimize this network going forward to achieve our collective goals. Our intent all along ha been to use this Top7 placement (or top placement) as the springboard for a more strategic engagement with our partners and the community. The work that got us into the Top7 is not finished, and now we have an opportunity to talk strategically about how to coordinate our efforts to achieve even greater things.
Government does not often tell its story. It even more rarely connects initiatives and outcomes to the faces of those doing the work or being impacted by it. We rarely sit down with our partners and congratulate each other on a job well done or strategically discuss how we can do things better. So I have been enjoying the opportunity to do all of these things lately and encourage you to do likewise, with a recognition in hand (it helps) or not.
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