The 2020 Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge

Wed, 2020-01-15 11:21 -- Jon DeKeles

THANK YOU for your interest in the 2020 Smart Cities Readiness Challenge.

Sign-up now using this contact us form.

Applications for 2020 will open January 22! 

Application deadline  for the Spring Round of Winners is March 16, 2020 (there will be a second round of applications with Winners announced in October, 2020 (‘Fall Round.’)

The Smart Cities Council's purpose for producing the Readiness Challenge is to: 

  • Accelerate cities becoming livable, workable and sustainable
  • Design a challenge that cities win just by participating.
  • Share actionable knowledge

Our Philosophy - 

  • Need for urgency. Stop talking and start acting with urgency.
  • We are in this together. We all cross over the finish-line together. One city being smart is not relevant unless that attribute can be replicated and scaled. 
  • Smart cities need to help all other cities. Stop focusing on your most current ranking and instead reach out to cities globally and help them (and not with more talk or paper.)  

Relevant KPI - 

Reduce the time and cost of cities planning, financing, procuring and implementing projects. In the developed world, this KPI is about four (4) years. In the developing world, > ten (10) years. Part of this process is getting to ‘no’ quickly.

All applicants can -

  • Innovate to meet your city needs confidentially at no cost
  • Engage stakeholders quickly
  • Accelerate results
  • Share knowledge
  • Repeat

Challenge Guidance and Key Terms

Previous finalist and winners of the Readiness Challange are elligble to apply. 

Applicants are cities in North American (Canada, Mexico, US) local, state or provincial government or regional authority that represents local resident interests. Includes special districts focused on improving local conditions. Examples would include innovation districts or transportation districts, academic campuses, military bases, ports, harbors and airports. Cities are encouraged to expand their applicant group to include as many local stakeholders as they can, such as nonprofits, academia and commercial interests. Past winners have included states (Virginia) and regional coalitions (Cleantech San Diego.)

Cities Outside North America - Yes, the Council will consider nominating a non-North American city as a Finalist and Winner if the project plans are unique and useful to the rest of the world and logistics for travel and a Readiness Workshop are reasonable. We want everyone to win ...and that means we need to find best practices and share them!

All applicants, regardless of location will receive all the benefits of applying, which include, at no cost to your city:

Joining a global community of cities using the online collaborative portal - Smart Cities Activator.

Incubating ideas and concepts into plans.

Seek assistance from other cities throughout the world in order to answer questions that can only be answered by cities that have undertaken similar projects.

Collaborating with other cities in joint planning

Understand key city project trends based on what other cities are reporting in Smart Cities Activator Exchange.

Receive data about best practices

Accelerate your project planning process in over 150 languages with free access to Smart Cities Activator Plan

Learn about key smart city enablers such as governance and technology.

Language - While Smart Cities Activator allows both applications and project plans to be created in multiple languages, including French and Spanish (and applications in these languages will be accepted,) English will be the official language of the challenge and Finalists will be expected to present their projects in English at Smart Cities Week. If workshops need to be conducted in a language other than English, the Winning city will be expected to provide translation services at its own cost.

Each year, the Smart Cities Council provides expert coaching, workshops, products, services, access to grants and other financing opportunities to five (5) communities in North America (Canada, Mexico and US.) Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand (‘SCC ANZ’) has produced a similar program in Australia and New Zealand. In 2020, SCC ANZ will also produce a Smart Urban Challenge in ASEAN.

In 2020, all applicants will have free access to Smart Cities Activator, an online collaboration portal that allows cities to plan their own projects confidentiality and collaborate with other cities globally in meeting common needs.

In 2020, there will be two opportunities to become a Winner, a Spring Round culminating at Smart Cities Week San Diego on April 22 and a Fall Round culminating at Smart Cities Week Washington DC in October.

Sign-up now to participate! You can do that now using this contact us form

Upon signing up, you will then receive an email message with credentials for a private account allowing you to complete the application beginning January 20 with a deadline of March 16, 2020.

Two-step process –

You can start your application as of January 22, 2020. You will provide information about your city and upcoming projects. These project plans are a significant component of the application. If your plans are nominated, you can further prepare your project plan for final review to become a Finalist and then a Winner.

Finalists for the Spring Round announced on March 24, 2020. Spring Round of Winners announced at Smart Cities Week San Diego on April 22, 2020.

Fall Round of application dates announced at Smart Cities Week San Diego (April 22). Fall Round of Winners announced at Smart Cities Week Washington DC in October, 2020.

Focus is on projects that promote sustainability and resiliency – how do your projects provide for a sustainable future and are they resilient considering the constant pressures your city faces from man-made (I.e., cybersecurity) and natural disasters.

Continuous – you can apply at any time of the year and be a Finalist, attending Smart Cities Week San Diego in April or Smart Cities Week Washington DC in October, 2020. Thus, you have more chances to plan, learn, collaborate and win.

Smart Cities Activator- all applicants will have free access to Smart Cities Activator, an online collaboration portal that allows cities to plan their own projects confidentiality and collaborate with other cities globally in meeting common needs.

Less time – it took about 100 hours to complete the 2019 application (120 started and 36 finished.) For 2020 it won’t take more than a total of ten (10) hours - two (2) hours to complete the initial application and then if your city is nominated, probably another three (3) hours to work on your project plan and then if you are chosen as a Finalist, another five (5) hours to further work on your project plan (all based on advice you receive.) 

New and improved benefits – along with workshops, travel scholarships, publicity and mentoring, the Council will be adding in-kind benefits and grants throughout the year.

At no cost to your city, join a global community of cities planning smart projects with Smart Cities Activator. Benefits include:

  • Incubate ideas and concepts into plans at no cost – invite your city’s personnel to test concepts and ideas at no cost or risk and confidentially. Give them the freedom to innovate in cross-department collaboration. See if any other cities have similar concepts or ideas and talk to them. See Confidentiality Protections in Key Terms below.
  • ‘Cities helping cities’– Using Activator Exchange, seek assistance from other cities throughout the world in order to answer questions that can only be answered by cities that have undertaken similar projects. You communicate with other cities through your own protected email system, thus assuring candor, one on one contact and security.
  • Use Roadmaps to accelerate projects –this is not about awards or case studies ...and it is certainly not about more talk!
    • This is about joining a global community of cities helping each other with active/usable roadmaps and collaboration. The 2020 Readiness Challenge provides online collaborative tools that actually deliver a plan that you can use! After you open your account -
      • Interested in Digital Twins? Join an existing cohort of cities from Australia and New Zealand collaboratively reviewing the benefits of Digital Twin technology. After you open your account, apply for inclusion.
      • Interested in Climate Resilience? Use the Resiliency Roadmap for Climate Resilience developed by the Council using the toolkits and data from US Climate Resilience
      • From a rural or smaller community? Use the Community Heart & Soul guidelines developed by the Orton Family Foundation and converted to a Community Heart & Soul Roadmap by the Council. Community Heart & Soul is a proven resident-driven approach that mends fences, restores trust, and reconnects communities in ways that create a ripple effect throughout towns, moving them forward with a renewed sense of purpose and place.
  • Collaborate with other cities that have similar projects in the planning phase. Form a cohort of other cities planning similar projects and learn from each other. Share project plans (goals, drivers, stakeholders, risks, requirements, along with 27 other planning modules.) Mutually develop a project plan with other cities and then download and customize to your requirements. See Confidentiality Protections in Key Terms below.
  • Understand key city project trends – review Activator Exchange and learn what other cities are planning globally based on what other Cities are reporting. For example - how many other cities are planning smart street light projects? How many other cities in your region are interested in climate mitigation strategies or energy efficiency or public safety?
  • Receive data about best practices – as Smart Cities Activator aggregates more anonymous information from cities, we will publish reports on trends and best practices, thus further enabling your project planning.
  • Accelerate your project planning process in over 150 languages with free access to Smart Cities Activator Plan
  • Learn about key smart city enablers such as governance and technology from world-class knowledge resources such as the Readiness Guide.

Travel scholarship to Smart Cities Week San Diego in April 2020 and/or Smart Cities Week Washington DC in October 2020 to present your smart city project plans and possibly become a Winner.

You will have the option of attending the San Diego Readiness Workshop on April 20, at which 18 cities, the port and airport of San Diego all meet to accelerate regional planning

The Council works with the Winner and takes into account where it is on its journey and then co-creates with the Winner an appropriate capacity development process with desired outcomes. Examples could include a custom designed on-site Readiness Workshop, a collaborative Readiness Workshop where multiple cities work together on a solution or funded participation at a conference or event where the Winner can present its winning project plan to other cities and learn from other cities and experts.

In-kind benefits and grants as they become available. The Council is negotiating grants for development of feasibility studies and business cases for Winners to accelerate project implementation.

Publicity about your city’s ‘Readiness’ to be a smart city, delivering livability, workability and sustainability to your residents.

Readiness - Cities must show a path to ‘readiness’ – the ability to respond to changing circumstances with agile governance and a goal to implement technology enablers that allow data collection and analysis.

Projects – for this challenge, showing that a city is planning projects that meet these criteria is a clear indictor of being ‘ready.’ Applicants can upload multiple projects and the number of quality projects will be a consideration.

Inclusivity - This willingness extends to inclusive stakeholder engagement. Are you listening to all the voices in your City? This not just about being equitable, it is also being smart.

Commitment – has the City shown a true commitment to these projects?

Key Performance Indicators that show purpose - does the project have key performance indicators such as reduction of greenhouse gases, energy efficiency, reduction in traffic congestion, reduction in homelessness, etc... You choose those indicators based on your City’s needs. In other words, can we measure success and is that success tied to making the city livable, workable and sustainable.

Integrated data –is the project considering data inputs from multiple sources (such as both public safety and transport). Does the project have a plan to maximize interoperability and best practices as published in standards or applicable guides? 

Agile –can the project grow in an agile fashion based on customer feedback and iterating features?

  • Registration opens on January 15, 2020. You can do that now using this contact us form.
  • Apply - applications open on January 22, 2020. We estimate no more than two (2) hours to complete.
  • Nomination - between January 22, 2020 and March 16, 2020 applications will be reviewed and projects nominated for further work in Smart Cities Activator Plan. We estimate that it will take about three (3) hours to collate information and insert into Activator Plan.
  • Webinars – on January 28, 2020 at 11 am ET the Council will conduct a webinar to help applicants. The webinar will be recorded and made available to all interested parties. Sign up for the webinar here.
  • Close Date for Spring Round of Applications is March 16, 2020
  • Finalists - will be announced on March 24, 2020. Number of Finalists will depend upon the quality of applications and submitted project plans.
  • Additional work on projects - between the announcement of Finalists and Smart Cities Week San Diego on April 21-23, 2020, Finalists will be able to continue working on their projects and this work will include securing a letter of endorsement from a senior City official that the City is planning to move forward with the projects presented.
  • Presentations at Smart Cities Week San Diego - Finalists will be provided travel scholarships to attend Smart Cities Week San Diego and Finalists will present their projects on April 21, 2020.
  • More Winners at Smart Cities Week Washington DC. Applicants to include Finalists will have another opportunity to have their applications considered for Smart Cities Week Washington DC in October, 2020.

Previous finalist and winners of the Readiness Challange are elligble to apply. 

Applicants are cities in North American (Canada, Mexico, US) local, state or provincial government or regional authority that represents local resident interests. Includes special districts focused on improving local conditions. Examples would include innovation districts or transportation districts, academic campuses, military bases, ports, harbors and airports. Cities are encouraged to expand their applicant group to include as many local stakeholders as they can, such as nonprofits, academia and commercial interests. Past winners have included states (Virginia) and regional coalitions (Cleantech San Diego.)

Cities Outside North America - Yes, the Council will consider nominating a non-North American city as a Finalist and Winner if the project plans are unique and useful to the rest of the world and logistics for travel and a Readiness Workshop are reasonable. We want everyone to win ...and that means we need to find best practices and share them!

All applicants, regardless of location will receive all the benefits of applying, which include, at no cost to your city:

      • Joining a global community of cities using the online collaborative portal - Smart Cities Activator.
      • Incubating ideas and concepts into plans
      • Seek assistance from other cities throughout the world in order to answer questions that can only be answered by cities that have undertaken similar projects.
      • Collaborating with other cities in joint planning
      • Understand key city project trends based on what other cities are reporting in Smart Cities Activator Exchange.
      • Receive data about best practices
      • Accelerate your project planning process in over 150 languages with free access to Smart Cities Activator Plan
      • Learn about key smart city enablers such as governance and technology.

Language - While Smart Cities Activator allows both applications and project plans to be created in multiple languages, including French and Spanish (and applications in these languages will be accepted,) English will be the official language of the challenge and Finalists will be expected to present their projects in English at Smart Cities Week. If workshops need to be conducted in a language other than English, the Winning city will be expected to provide translation services at its own cost.

Prior to a travel scholarship being provided, a city will provide a written endorsement of the city’s efforts to become ‘smart’ and the specific projects presented by the city by a senior city official; and,

By attending, cities agree that its project plan can be published to audience at Smart Cities Week and thereafter after the plan is anonymized and templatized, published to Smart Cities Activator - all so other cities globally can use the project plan to start their own projects. Our goal is that everyone wins!

Finalists agree to participate in publicity efforts and provide key officials for interviews.

Winners – selected based on combination of judge scoring on Applications and audience scores at Smart Cities Week on Project Plans. Number of Winners will depend upon the quality of applications and submitted project plans.

Readiness Workshop – held within ninety (90) days of being selected as a Winner

Winning cities agree that its project plan can be published to Smart Cities Activator after the plan is anonymized and templatized so other cities globally can use the project plan to start their own projects. Our goal is that everyone wins!

Winners agree to participate in publicity efforts and provide key officials for interviews.

Read the Smart Cities Activator Privacy Policy

Read the Smart Cities Activator End User License

Applications - All city applications are reviewed by the Council, some Council members and other experts acting as judges. Data from applications are anonymized and aggregated to provide all cities with useful data that is published in dashboards available to all applicants. This anonymized, aggregated data is also use for education and publicity at the Council’s discretion.

Project Plans- A city can make the following choices about the confidentiality of its projects, including what and how it shares project plans or who it talks to -

  • Top-line project data - A city is encouraged to share top-line metadata about projects in the planning stage. This is what builds ‘community.’ Information such as Project Name, Focus Area, Types of Technology to be considered, Funding Source. In all – thirteen (13) types of top-line data can be shared. A city can choose NOT to share this top-line data.
  • Email inquiries - A city may receive blind email inquiries (the sender does not know who is receiving the email in your city) from other cities, the Council and its members. There is no obligation to respond and if you do, you can conduct any discussions off-line.
  • Share ‘read-only’ versions of plans - An authorized user from a city can send any person anywhere a ‘read-only’ version of its project plans. This is often used to educate other city officials or the public.
  • Invite others to participate in planning - An authorized user from a city can invite a third party to the Activator Plan project planning workspace by providing online access with email and password. This is often the process when a city wants to invite an expert or consultant or other departments in the city.
  • Download plans for other uses - An authorized user from a city can download a project plan into an Excel, Word or Adobe format.
  • Finalists and Winners will be required to share their project plans to help all other cities in the world accelerate their project planning. Plans can be anonymized and templatized before they are shared. A city is credited with developing a plan, such as <Your City Name> Smart Street Light Plan.

The 2020 North American Readiness Challenge is the result of many years of hard work including analysis of city needs, challenge design, outreach campaigns and over 45 workshops in North America alone.

In this process we learned that face to face interactions at workshops and conferences, while essential in the learning process, failed to accelerate actual project planning.

Given the need to act urgently, we experimented with integrating face to face and virtual interactions. We developed Smart Cities Activator and in 2019 experimented, iterating based on user feedback.

Now we are launching globally Smart Cities Activator to accelerate city project planning by integrating online and physical interactions a benefit that no other similar program offers.  

Below is a recap of the Readiness Challenge from 2017 through 2019. 

The Smart Cities Council 2017 Readiness Challenge was open to American cities with a population of at least 100,000, but neighboring cities could pool together to meet the threshold. Winners received customized Readiness Workshops from the Council, plus an assortment of supporting technologies and services from many of our partners.

More than 150 cities participated. After submitting a comprehensive online application, ten finalists underwent an extensive phone interview. Several stakeholders from each city participated and explored their three key areas of focus for smart initiatives. The top leadership of many of our finalist cities was heavily involved in the process, a strong criterion for success in any smart cities initiative.

Finalists – Winners in Bold

Austin, TX / Birmingham, AL / Chula Vista, CA / Indianaliolis, IN / Jersey City, NJ / Miami, FL / Newport News, VA / Orlando, FL / Philadelphia, PA / Providence, RI

“Winning the Smart Cities Council Challenge Grant puts us that much closer to creating a comprehensive and inclusive strategy to use technology in a way that benefits communities that are usually left behind.”

~ Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin

“A year ago, the city of Indianapolis was in a learning phase. ... Now, the city is in a planning phase, synthesizing available technologies with community needs to determine the most impactful steps forward.”

~ Katie Robinson, Director, Indianapolis Office of Sustainability

“Some of the folks I met with didn’t even realize the potential for what ‘Smart

cities’ means for their work. ... There is now a unifying vision.”

~ Ellen Hwang, Program Manager, Innovation Management, City of Philadelphia

Members of the Council also provided in-kind services to each of the winning cities including Ameresco, AT&T, Ch2M, Comptia, Qualcomm, DOW, IDC, Sensus, Telit, TM Forum, and Transdev.

The 2018 Readiness Challenge follows a successful 2017 competition. Eligibility was opened up to cities, counties, states, provinces and regional authorities in North America including Canada and Mexico.

In 2018, the Challenge strove to provide communities even more help. Applicants were invited to participate in a workshop during Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC and to have solution experts provide advice and coaching to improve their applications.

The Council delivered customized, visual action plans to guide cities through their smart city journeys by bringing together world-class experts to each city for an on-sight Readiness Workshop to strategize each community’s needs and priorities including their elected officials, city staffers, civic leaders and community activists.

Finalists - Winners in Bold

Albuquerque, New Mexico / Aurora, Illinois / Birmingham, AL / Cary, NC / Fairfax County, Virginia / Las Vegas, NV / Los Angeles, California / Louisville/Jefferson County, KY / Commonwealth of Virginia

Puerto Rico - In 2018, the Challenge included a very special Readiness Challenge Award to help accelerate hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Their application was ‘smart from the start’. It included an integrated smart planning effort with internal and external stakeholders aligning goals and interests to ensure that replacement infrastructure would be smart.

“This grant is an invaluable opportunity for Puerto Rico to develop a roadmap for implementing smart technologies and solutions as we rebuild.”

~ Governor Ricardo Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico

“At Amazon Web Services, everything starts with the customer and we work backwards from there. The Smart Cities Readiness Challenge provides the opportunity to hear from city officials directly. Learning about their challenges at the earliest stages in planning allows us to work together to deliver citizen services that improve communities and help build a long-term roadmap for success.”

~ Hardik Bhatt, Leader for AWS Digital Government for the US State & Local Governments, Amazon Web Services

“Supporting and being part of the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge process has been extremely valuable to Battelle. Beginning with evaluation of City proposals, through to working with the winners and runners up, we have gained tremendous insight into where cities are in their planning and visioning processes, and in their specific targeted areas for deployment. This information is crucial to our Smart Cities strategy and program and has allowed us to ensure our offerings to the market and cities are in line with where those city leaders and industry partners are focused. We have also been able to showcase our thought leadership, by working with cities directly on their technology roadmaps.”

~ Domnine Garcia, Smart Cities Program Lead, Battelle

Winning Cites also received coaching, products and services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, all supplied free of charge by members of the Council: Sensus, Qualcomm, Comptia, Itron, EEI, Leidos, AT&T, AWS, Battelle, Bechtel, IBI Group, IES, Pennoni, Synexxus.

Our North American Readiness Challenge was opened to all levels of government in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, regardless of size. This spans the range from cities, counties, states and provinces to port authorities and regional associations. Utility-city and university-city collaborations were also eligible. Even innovation districts and smart developments had the opportunity to apply.

The Council developed a new application process in 2019 with its’ new online collaborative tool, Smart Cities Activator. This new application emphasized a more digital approach to collecting data from applicants and allowed each city to work collaboratively within their own departments. The tool enabled cities to build relationships and strategies across various departments to organize their priorities.

Using Activator cities began entering more than 200 project plans and ultimately 36 cities submitted Readiness Challenge Applications.

As in previous years, winners received a year of personalized coaching, an outcome- oriented Smart Cities Readiness Workshop and resulting Readiness Roadmap, project funding and financing connections, and the prestige of being among an elite group of Challenge Winners.

Another benefit to the winners in 2019 included free access to the Smart Cities Activator for one year, to help align stakeholders, refine plans and ultimately resulting in making projects in a better future position to be funded or financed.

Finalist – Winners in Bold

Baltimore, MD / Cleantech San Diego, CA / Dallas, TX / Edmonton, Alberta / Jersey City, NJ / Montgomery, Al / North Florida Smart Region, FL / Palm Coast, FL / Racine, WI / US-Mexico Smart Towns - regional

"The 2019 Readiness Challenge provided the City of Montgomery an opportunity for greater collaboration among our city stakeholders and partners. The Workshop provided a vehicle to share innovative ideas in 3 main focus areas including Digital City Services, Economic Development and Education and Workplace Development and we will continue to work toward moving our projects forward."

~ Savio Dias, IT Manager/Systems, City of Montgomery

But you don't have to wait until then to get help!

Readiness Workshops. You don't have to win a grant to get the benefit of a Readiness Workshop. The Council works directly with cities around the world on a cost-recovery basis. Often we can help you find philanthropic or private sector sponsors. More>>

Readiness GuideThe Smart Cities Readiness Guide is the leading handbook for urban transformation, with more than 200 case studies illustrating best practices from around the world. There is no charge for access (requires a free, one-time registration). More>>

Can we be of further help? Please don't hesitate to get in touch using this contact us form.