Voices of Digital Communities

The Season of Bright Ideas

Listen to the podcast Here in the northeast corner of the United States, we are enjoying a beautiful start to autumn, with bright warm days ...

by / October 1, 2009

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Here in the northeast corner of the United States, we are enjoying a beautiful start to autumn, with bright warm days and cool nights.  It's too bad the sun is setting earlier each evening, but otherwise it is my favorite time of the year. 

ICF is also deep into another of my favorite seasons.  I call it the Season of Bright Ideas. We just closed nominations for our Intelligent Community Awards.  Now I and my fellow founders are reading nomination forms.  A lot of nomination forms.  We are looking for the 21 most powerful models of economic and social progress based on information and communications technology.  We will announce the Smart21 Communities of the Year on October 16.  We do it at a reception hosted on behalf of Stockholm, the current Intelligent Community of the Year, by the Swedish Consulate in New York.  For those unable to attend - and that is most of our friends and colleagues around the world - we will be streaming it from our Web site.

I call it the Season of Bright Ideas because the pages (and pages and pages) of these nomination forms contain so many great ones.  Here's just a small sample:

One nomination comes from a city that is already a successful high-tech manufacturing center.  They are taking the Great Recession of 2009 as an opportunity to raise their game.  That game is all about talent: fostering it, attracting it and keeping it.  One program produces a wide range of activities for kids age 4 to 20, which all aim to interest them in technology careers.  How?  By having fun interacting with high-tech games and contests - and they have statistics showing that the program boosts the percentage of university students choosing technology majors.  The community's latest innovation is a Web site that gives foreigners information and services making it easier to relocate into the region.  They know that their future also depends on being a place that attracts and retains talent from around the globe.    

Several communities are putting their fiber and wireless broadband networks to use providing remote healthcare.  One community equips the elderly and chronically ill with devices at home for monitoring their vital signs, and advanced mobile phones that let healthcare workers find and connect with them wherever they are.  In another community, the network connects clinics in remote, low-income areas with the city hospital.  One successful program offers remote ultrasound examinations of pregnant women.  It has reduced the waiting time for an obstetrical exam from 4 months to 34 days, and women are now four times less likely to miss a scheduled appointment, because the appointment takes place close to home.  Intervening like this at the earliest stage of life can make a powerful difference in the decades to come. 

The broadband in both of these communities, by the way, is free.  They were unable to persuade the incumbent to invest, so the cities built their own networks.  Those networks saved the governments a lot of money they had been spending with the incumbent - so they decided to open the networks up to the public, as basic infrastructure.  And here we thought that business always moves fast, and governments always move slowly.   

In this year's award cycle, our theme is "The Education Last Mile: Closing the Gap Between School and Work."  One community has taken this idea remarkably far.  University students in the community receive an Employment Services Card.  It records their participation in programs offered in partnership by schools and government: career guidance, quality evaluation and job internships.  It also qualifies them for entrepreneurship training and business subsidies and subsidized loans for start-ups.  The training isn't just theoretical: 1,000 local business people personally train 3,000 university students each year.  Local universities and colleges also have active campus recruiting networks with online matching of employers and students.  And if that weren't enough, the government pays 60% of minimum wage for up to 12 months to subsidize the hiring of young people by local companies.  

Each of these bright ideas is a local solution to a local problem.  Each is shaped by the community's unique history, politics and culture.  Some of these ideas you may not want to try at home.  But some of them may be the inspiration for your own unique local solution to a local problem.  That's the reason we founded the Intelligent Community Forum: so that Season of Bright Ideas can be celebrated in communities all around the world.
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.