Introducing the National Smart Coalitions Partnership

I was excited to learn of the recent launch of the National Smart Coalitions Partnership, representing a collaborative effort among seven organizations that are leading locally-based efforts to develop and advance smart and connected communities. In this post, I put-forth the reasons why I believe the recently formed Smart Coalitions Partnership is noteworthy and represents a meaningful development that will help advance the adoption of smart and connected community initiatives.

From 2015 to 2019, I had the pleasure of leading a dozen or more Smart City 101 workshops in locations including Denver, New Orleans, Schenectady, Tampa and Washington DC. Workshop participants included a wide array of stakeholders. As a general matter, participants seemed most interested in gaining a better understanding of the buzz surrounding the Smart City moniker and how they might leverage the buzz to grow their business, expand their organization’s impact and/or enhance their communities. The goal of the workshops was to provide an interactive snapshot of efforts and activities that leading cities across the globe were undertaking to make their communities smarter, more connected, more inclusive, and generally more livable.

To develop the presentations and group exercises for the workshops, I would draw on my experience working with municipal leaders and their community and technology partners as part of US ignite and/or Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) initiatives. From this experience, I observed first-hand the challenges local government leaders had initiating and managing smart community partnerships with outside organizations. Accepting contributions of expertise or equipment from entities outside of the local government and/or associating the local government with unproven approaches to addressing problems — these were hurdles that many local government leaders faced as they considered how they could become champions for smart community initiatives. In communities where there existed an organization focused on innovation and partnership it was markedly easier to launch and sustain smart community pilots. Indeed, one of the key best practices I presented at the Smart City 101 workshops was as follows:

In most cases, the communities leading the way on Smart and Connected Community initiatives have a locally-based organization that works hand-in-glove with local government leaders — but is not a part of the local government.

These locally-based organizations have a diverse array of mission statements and go by many names. In St. Petersburg, Florida, the St. Pete Innovation District plays a key role developing and supporting innovative public-private partnerships such as the collaboration between the University of South Florida (USF) College of Marine Science, cable operator Spectrum and local Boys and Girls Clubs in St. Petersburg. In the region surrounding Dallas, the North Texas innovation Alliance (NTXIA) works closely with local government leaders to drive smart community objectives and spearhead efforts to coordinate regional efforts in North Texas. When it comes to realizing their goals to be smart and connected, the communities that have engaged, effective and locally-based organizations like the St Pete Innovation District and NTXIA have a significant advantage.

According to the press release that accompanied the launch of the National Smart Coalitions Partnership (NSCP), the NSCP “will leverage a national cross-sector network to accelerate more sustainable and resilient cities through the use of new technology tools and partnerships.” With unprecedented levels of Federal funding for broadband and other infrastructure, the time is right to seed and support regional and multi-state “smart community” initiatives. It is critical that these once-in-a-generation funds are spent effectively and have maximum impact. Having worked with several of the NSCP-members organizations, I can attest that these organizations build the kind of effective partnerships that design, deploy and support successful projects with enduring impact.

NSCP launched with seven founding members: The Colorado Smart Cities Alliance (CSCA), North Texas Innovation Alliance (NTXIA), The Connective, Illinois Smart City & Region Association (ISCRA), KC Digital Drive (KCDD), The Southern Arizona Smart Region, led by the Regional Partnering Center (RPC), and Smart North Florida.

I interviewed Aaron Deacon, Managing Director of KC Digital Drive and Tyler Svitak of the Colorado Smart City Alliance, two of the founding members of NSCP about the new organization. To Aaron, it is notable that the new organization came together around a grass-roots effort.

“For years, there has been an informal network of organizations that make up the National Smart Coalitions Partnership. We have shared best practices and lessons learned and most of us — I would expect — can very easily point to the positive impact of such collaborations. NCSP came together around a shared appreciation that a more structured connection would encourage and accelerate collaborations between NCSP members — and that this would benefit the communities in which our organizations work.”

To Tyler, it is important to recognize that most effective smart and connected community initiatives have smart community champions behind them.

“People are the key to smart cities — people who are willing to champion change, collaborate with each other, and take risks in the search of solutions to critical civic issues. NSCP unites a national network of those people, and together we can accomplish things no person, city, or region could do on their own.”

In this blog, we often consider how best to move the smart and connected community sector from pilots to scale. To me, the creation of the NCSP represents a significant step in this regard. Amplifying the impact of the organizations that make-up NCSP’s membership will do much to help more and more communities deploy smart and connected initiatives at the scale required to have a transformative impact on the lives of community residents. Congratulations to all who have helped launch the new organization.

About this Medium Site

On this Medium site, I explore an array of topics related to the transformative power of smart and connected communities. A central question for this observer of the so-called smart community movement: how will municipalities, real estate developers, universities and other leading organizations develop, deploy and support smart and connected community projects at scale?

I welcome feedback and comments from readers.

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Bill Maguire

A recovering policy wonk, Bill is passionate about the transformative power of advanced networks, open data, machine learning & the Internet of Things (IoT).