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MetroLab Network Announces Civic Innovation Challenge

To further the partnership opportunities between cities and universities, the MetroLab Network and National Science Foundation have kicked off a national initiative to innovate complex community challenges.

DENVER — To further explore the areas where smart city collaboration and partnerships between cities and universities can happen, the MetroLab Network announced its Civic Innovation Challenge.

The initiative is an invitation for stakeholders to use science, data and technology to explore complex community challenges, while enhancing job growth and economic competitiveness, as well as addressing equity issues across communities.

The effort will partner with the National Science Foundation and the Smart City Lab to “leverage a national competition,” Ben Levine, executive director of the MetroLab Network, told attendees at the Denver Smart Cities Connect Conference April 2.

We’re at #scc19 where @Ben__Levine just shared information about the Civic Innovation Challenge, which will be a ‘collaborative effort that engages you - cities, communities, researchers - the whole civic ecosystem’ to advance smart and connected communities @NSF_CISE #NSFFunded — Civic Innovation Challenge (@NSFCIC) April 2, 2019
“Research teams will work across geographies on common challenges, will learn from each other's findings, and will share best practices and approaches,” said Levine. “This collaboration will enhance the technical rigor of the research, and also better prepare projects for impact and deployment in communities.

“Second, it will engage stakeholders from across sectors in the civic ecosystem, including funders who are supportive of civic innovation activities and see research as a way to advance that cause,” he added.

The challenge also aims to “bridge the gap between research interests and community priorities” by supporting faster timelines than traditional research efforts, Levine said.

The various concepts to be explored in the initiative will come from what MetroLab called its Ideas Competition, which asked teams from universities and their city partners to submit problem statements reflecting areas where partnerships could take shape. That process yielded some 100 submissions.

“We noticed a pattern emerge that reflected really strong interest in issues at the intersection of equity and mobility and resilience,” said Levine. The ideas wanted to explore areas like using real-time data to inform decisions around system performance, severe weather incidents or better shore up the economic resilience of vulnerable communities following a natural disaster or other hugely disruptive event.

Participants from the ideas competition are being called to attend an April workshop. “That workshop will focus on scoping and defining the topics for the Civic Innovation Challenge,” said Levine.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.