Improving connectivity and generating data-driven internal management decisions may land Louisville, Ky., with training from experts and services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The city is one of nine finalists for the 2018 Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grants. Five city, county or state governments will be selected in March to receive a year of mentoring as well as workshop support.

Albuquerque, N.M.; Aurora, Ill.; Birmingham, Ala.; Cary, N.C.; Fairfax County, Va.; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; and the state of Virginia are the other finalists. Also, Puerto Rico, which is recovering from devastation left by Hurricane Maria, will be awarded a separate Readiness Challenge Grant.

Louisville hopes to use the expertise that comes with receiving a Challenge Grant to grow some of the smart city efforts already on the drawing boards.

“We’ve got an internal rough draft or what we want to do, and kind of a playbook we’ve been operating with,” said Ed Blayney, Louisville's innovation project manager in the Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation. One key project the city is currently involved with is installing more than 100 miles of fiber-optic cable. 

“Right now, we’re really interested in building out our fiber infrastructure and kind of building the foundation for our smart cities,” he added. 

“We’d like to get more coming from the performance side of the house. As we get more sensors and data coming in, to really make sure we’re improving our services, and integrating our smart city work with the LouieStat program,” said Blayney, referring to the city’s data-driven management system, put in place to improve internal efficiencies.

Birmingham’s smart city efforts are focused on improving the city’s economic development competitiveness and growing social equity. Las Vegas is also exploring a citywide fiber network. Aurora wants to develop a stronger open data portal — a feature that can improve how the city interacts with its residents as well as improve departmental efficiencies. In addition to improving public engagement, the portal could also help to grow economic development, ovver added insight into public safety and city finances, said Adrienne Merced-Holloway, Chief Innovation Officer in Aurora.

“The open portal data concept really allows us to achieve all of those objectives,” she said. “But this expands beyond that. When we think of open data portals we actually are looking for the public and private sector to help us, in a  sense, identify ways we can achieve those goals."

The idea, said Merced-Holloway, is to put data out into the public realm to allow “people with different perspectives and different ideas, asking different questions about data, and be able to respond from that perspective and deliver, either solutions that are beneficial to our decision-making, or solutions that are going to be instrumental in engaging our citizenry.”

“So it really becomes this kind of informal partnership,” she added. 

Roughly 150 jurisdictions turned in applications for the Readiness Challenge, with 21 selected as semi-finalists, said Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council.

“We seek cities that will use our programs as a jump start towards better livability, workability and sustainability that will build off our work,” said Berst.

The finalists’ proposals stood out in several key areas, said Berst. Namely, those that worked to broaden integration among different public departments, by possibly sharing costs, data and infrastructure.

In 2012 Louisville launched its LouieStat program as a way to review the performance of some 26 different city departments to gather use data and then use this information to make decisions “about what gaps we want to close,” said Daro Mott, chief of performance improvement in Louisville. 

“The goal is to measure what matters, identify where we have gaps and then take action to improve those gaps, and then learn what happens over time,” said Mott.

Also, the Smart Cities Council looked for proposals with impact. “We’re looking for things that genuinely provide benefits to a wide swath of citizens and that help the city become more globally competitive,” said Berst. “We’re much less interested in pilots or experiments.”

Another criteria is inclusiveness. “We want cities to design programs that also help those less fortunate, including low-income, underserved neighborhoods, homeless, handicapped, elderly, etc.,” said Berst.

Last year, Austin, Texas; Indianapolis, Ind.; Miami; Newport News, Va.; Orlando, Fla.; and Philadelphia were selected to participate in the Readiness Challenge Grant program