Voices of Digital Communities

From Awards to Community Transformation

We are glad to pinpoint potential and salute achievement, but that's not the point. Our aim is transformation.

by / September 29, 2010

Did we really just close nominations for the Intelligent Community Awards?  It doesn't seem possible.  We only named Suwon, South Korea as the 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year three months ago.  And it will be another nine months until we name its 2011 successor.  But a great deal goes on during those nine months – which you can learn more about on the Awards Overview page.  Next up is the announcement of the Smart21 Communities of the Year, which will take place October 21 in a ceremony in Suwon as well as online.  

The communities that go through our awards program tell us two things about it.  First, that completing the Smart21 nomination form, and the more detailed Top Seven nomination form, is a lot of work.  And in the next breath, they tell us that it was a powerful positive experience for the community.  

It is a lot of work because they cannot answer the questions from within one of the "silos" that make up local government, whether it is information technology, economic development or finance.  They cannot even answer the questions from within the four walls of local government itself.  Instead, they need a horizontal view that covers communications carriers, local business, nonprofits, higher education and the interface to county, state, regional and national government bodies.  They need to understand how the interaction among innovation, knowledge work, digital inclusion and advocacy, powered by broadband, is remaking their economy for the better.

That's what makes the nomination process laborious.  It is also what makes it valuable.  Intelligent Communities take the opportunity provided by our program to bring together people who seldom think about their shared mission.  Everyone is busy, everyone has objectives to pursue.  It is ridiculously easy to become so intent on doing that we lose track of why we are doing it and miss opportunities to step up our efforts through collaboration. In community after community, it is collaboration among the stakeholders in the community that powers real progress.   

As I said, it's a lot of work.  More perhaps than a mere award program should ask.  

But then, the Intelligent Community Awards are not really an award program.  We are glad to pinpoint potential and salute achievement, but that's not the point.  Our aim is transformation.  We want to create international models that communities everywhere can learn from.  We want to document and share the particular strategies that have made these communities successful.  So we could put out a bunch of reports, but we find that presenting awards puts places like Bristol, Issy-les-Moulineaux and Suwon in a much-deserved spotlight, so that other communities start paying attention to what they have done.     

Can we make the process easier?  We hope so.  We are going to try developing a pre-qualification questionnaire made up of simple yes/no and multiple-choice questions.  Our goal is to have communities fill it out, then report back with scores that indicate whether they have a meaningful chance at success in the awards program.  That may help the community decide whether it is worthwhile to put in the work required to nominate themselves.  In any case, it will bring in more information, which will help us research communities deserving of recognition as well as adding to our data set.    

If you have ideas on how to continue expanding and improving the awards process, I would love to hear from you.  Comment on this post and I will reply with thanks. 

To all those communities who nominated themselves or have shared research information with us, best of luck in the coming race to the Smart21!

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.