US Ignite, a nonprofit smart city advocacy group, is launching a series of forums that will function as small, intimate workshops where government, private-sector and other stakeholders in smart city projects can discuss specific topics related to their project deployments.

The US Ignite Forums will provide an inside view into how neighboring communities plan and develop smart city projects, providing stakeholders a venue to share ideas.

“These are small curated workshops that bring about 50 people together to talk about a very specific topic in detail,” Bill Maguire, project director for US Ignite, told attendees to the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in Kansas City, Mo., in March. The idea behind the forum gatherings is to facilitate cities in their efforts to scale projects from pilot to something larger. 

“This is a chance to kind of open up the hood and see how municipalities and their partners actually got a project done,” said Maguire. For example, participants can learn how to actually write an RFP and get it out the door, and how to convince stakeholders that the new project will have a great impact for residents and the community at large.

US Ignite held its first of six forums this year in Chicago in February where officials discussed the challenges and opportunities related to wireless deployments. The series next heads to Las Vegas. The nonprofit held its first forum meeting in San Diego in December, where the discussion centered around the city’s efforts to deploy 3,200 smart streetlights, which are expected to save the city $2.8 million a year while serving as data collection and communication nodes related public safety, transportation and more. 

“It was valuable to the cities because they could really kick the tires on what we did in San Diego,” said David Graham, deputy city chief operating officer in San Diego. “We got into procurement methods, business case and potential to replicate what we did in San Diego in other places.

“We also had cities in a few stages, so we were able to talk about a variety of options,” he added. “Additionally, we talked about how cities can join forces to help the vendors understand our real needs.”

The forums allow for the sorts of casual conversations that spark collaboration and creativity, said Graham, bringing together like minds and indeed creating a few converts along the way.

“Finally, it helped deepen the community and made connections between cities that now feel comfortable to just pick up the phone to solve problems rather than wait for the next convening,” he said.

The forums are part of new initiatives US Ignite is taking on, as smart city programs and projects have matured and become a regular part of city operations.

“We’re very encouraged that foundations are starting to look at our space, not as a science experiment, or as an IT project, but as a lever that can really transform communities,” said Maguire, adding, US Ignite will begin to more aggressively explore funding opportunities from government, nonprofit or philanthropic sources. “We need to help them recognize that these types of projects are going to help them advance their mission,” he said.

A third approach will be to develop “playbooks,” which will gather experiences from various cities as they develop and deploy more smart city projects.

“It’s not enough to just bring people together and have a productive conversation,” said Maguire. “We’re also developing documents that summarize those conversations” in the preparation of “best practices.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the next event in the series would be held in Las Vegas.