ARMONK, N.Y. — IBM announced that it has opened the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant program to new applications for 2012. Smarter Cities Challenge is a three-year, 100-city, $50 million grant program in which IBM’s top technical experts and consultants provide actionable advice to urban centers.
The grant program provides select applicant cities with access to teams of elite IBM employees with expertise on a variety of urban-related matters, such as finance, sustainability, public safety, and citizen services. They devote weeks of their time analyzing unique opportunities and challenges facing municipalities, particularly within the context of today’s challenging economic climate. After conferring with officials, citizens, businesses, academics and community leaders, the IBM teams recommend actions to make the delivery of services to citizens more efficient and innovative. Issues addressed include jobs, health, public safety, transportation, social services, recreation, education, energy, and sustainability.
As in 2011, selected applicants must demonstrate a commitment to using all publicly available urban data to help identify local problems and solutions. To that end, IBM will provide special assistance to each winning city on the use of City Forward (www.cityforward.org), a free online tool it developed with public policy experts that explores trends and statistics in a visual way, and which can be adapted for the study of any number of issues across cities. Looking at these issues in a more scientific, systematic fashion provides insight that can help shape public policy solutions to pressing municipal problems.
Issues that IBM’s consultants addressed this past year were diverse, ranging from transportation and public safety, to economic development and budgeting. Following are just a few examples of the impact that recommendations funded by IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grants have already made in the past year:
• Mecklenburg County, N.C., cities and towns have agreed to create a common capital budget planning process and to coordinate even more closely with one another when creating and adopting budgets. They have also agreed to jointly identify development goals and put them into place; share neighborhood data; and measure performance.
• Edmonton, Alberta, which had grappled with a high rate of traffic fatalities, created and published a plan to improve traffic and pedestrian safety and efficiency. To support the effort, Edmonton is now actively analyzing and acting on a variety of data; partnering with organizations to research and monitor trends; and measuring outcomes in a rigorous manner.
• St. Louis, previously saddled with a high crime rate, has undertaken significant leadership and day-to-day operational changes to improve public safety. Measures include more formal and rigorous collaboration among the courts, police department, mayor’s office, prosecutors, and corrections officials. The goal is to use data to make more informed and nuanced criminal justice decisions.
• Milwaukee leaders, the city’s private sector, and local urban agriculture organizations are establishing an Urban Agriculture and Aquaponics Council to advance the aquaponics industry, an eco-friendly approach to agriculture that recycles water from fish farms to nourish crops without the use of soil. Participants want to collaborate more effectively to make food healthier and more profitable, available, and affordable — and in the process, create opportunity and local jobs.
Key factors for a successful grant application include strong city leadership, willingness to collaborate with many stakeholders, and the desire to make their cities smarter and more efficient. Cities will also need to champion actionable and measurable efforts that have the potential to make a real impact on the lives of its citizens. In addition, winning applicants will identify areas that are closely connected with a city’s top priorities, and involve a range of disciplines and departments.
"Last year, we were gratified to receive literally hundreds of Smarter Cities Challenge grant applications worldwide. In 2012, we expect the demand for Smarter Cities Challenge grants to significantly increase," said Stanley S. Litow, IBM vice president of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, and president of IBM’s International Foundation. "The success in year-one ought to increase demand this year and next. We look forward to reviewing the proposals of the many creative, forward thinking city leaders who are striving for excellence."
The need to capitalize on the use of new technologies and approaches to address long-standing civic challenges has never been greater. In 2008, according to the United Nations, more than half the world’s population began living in cities for the first time in the world’s history. These population centers are more economically powerful, politically influential, and technologically advanced than at any time in human history. But while they represent so much promise for realizing the dreams and aspirations of so many, cities also struggle with significant budgetary and operational challenges.
To find out more, or to apply for a Smarter Cities Challenge grant, each of which has an equivalent value of approximately $400,000 in talent and technology, visit http://smartercitieschallenge.org. This website also provides case studies that describe IBM’s recommendations to 2011 grant recipients. Videos documenting some of the 2011 Smarter Cities Challenge engagements can also be found at www.youtube.com/user/citizenIBM.
The deadline for 2012 grant applications is December 16.