Earlier this month, a discussion with Dr. Sylvie Albert at the Millennium Library’s Lunch and Learn event sparked my interest in ‘intelligent communities’ and what exactly that means.
Dr. Albert is the Dean of Business and Economics and Professional, Applied and Continuing Education at the University of Winnipeg, and Chair of the Organizing Committee of the Global Forum on Digitalization.
According to Intelligent Communities Forum, intelligent communities are those that are proactive in developing a digital economy such as broadband internet technology, access to the internet, up to date computers, and access for all sectors of the community to the latest research, technology, and developments.
Communities can be nominated by citizens, and are considered to be intelligent by the Intelligent Communities Forum advancement of broadband technology to improve life for citizens of the community.
According to Dr. Albert, it takes a concerted effort to be considered an intelligent community.
“What must then stand out is how pervasive our approach is, how many citizens and organizations are engaged into the effort, what innovative ways are we testing and using to solve problems,” Dr Albert said.
When Winnipeg made the list of the world’s Top 21 intelligent communities in 2016, Martin Cash from the Winnipeg Free Press, (Feb. 13, 2016) explained, “It’s the second time in three years Winnipeg has been included on the prestigious ranking and the fifth time it has been in the top 21 since 2011.”
Cash quoted Greg Dandewich, Senior Vice-President from Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW), who described how the city pursues economic growth by systematically connecting industry and education. The other is how the city’s Indigenous and cultural assets are leveraged.
“Winnipeg has a long standing spirit of entrepreneurship, people here have a history of developing their own solution and being very successful at growing their business regionally and internationally, manufacturers, artists, service providers, etc,” explained Dr. Albert.
Now, for the the first time since it started 25 years ago, the Global Forum on Digitalization will take place in Winnipeg on Oct. 2 and 3. This is where top policy makers around the world will meet to discuss digital economies.
“We are receiving some of the top thinkers from around the world in early October at The Global Forum/Shaping the Future on digitalization to exchange ideas and demonstrate best practices around the digitalization of our economy and how we use technology to create smarter cities,” Dr. Albert said.
Advocacy and engagement
Laura Schumann and Wolfgang G. Stock from the Department of Information Science, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany in “Acceptance and use of ubiquitous cities’ information services” quote Mark Weiser, that ubiquitous computing is “the idea of integrating computers seamlessly into the world.”
The authors explain further, this is where digital technology, the internet, information, resources, and communication can be accessed by all citizens.
This can be Wi-Fi at the Library, in schools, or in businesses; concepts supported by the Intelligent Communities Forum.
“The idea of smart or intelligent cities is not about how we do one thing right, but how we plan on solving some higher level problems such as global warming, poverty, food and water problems, etc.,” explained Albert.
“Advocacy and engagement,” described Albert, “are areas of continuous improvement. We can never be satisfied because the world is shifting, technologies are changing, and new generations have different ways of engaging. There are some pretty interesting applications from companies such as IBM that are making advocacy easier, more relevant, etc.”
Especially at the University of Winnipeg, Albert explains that accessibility and inclusion play a large role in how things are run, welcoming and engaging faculty and students from diverse backgrounds.
Options for persons with disabilities
Martin Beer, Richard Hill, Wei Huang, and Andrew Sixsmith wrote “An agent-based architecture for managing the provision of community care – the INCA (Intelligent Community Alarm) experience” from IOS Press.
These authors explain how citizens with disabilities are shifting towards community options to meet their needs. Often the movement is segmented and data sharing is an issue due to confidentiality. Often people have supporters from a variety of organizations.
On an individual level, different doctors have access to your health file. On a systemic level in Winnipeg, data sharing is done by coalitions such as Make Poverty History Manitoba, Right2Housing, or the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities (MLPD), projects that involve accessibility, made up of members from various backgrounds.
“Do we still have a lot of work to do; certainly,” said Albert. “However, there is an impressive list of ICT companies in Manitoba that are helping us get there.”
Collaboration, pooling resources are keys to success
Dr. Albert was the Director of Economic Development, working to attract distance learning and distance health, and to take advantage of the new opportunities in developing a call centre (back in the 1990’s) for more remote communities such as Timmins, Sudbury, and others in northern Ontario.
She was asked to do a proposal for a new program launched by the federal government where they provided $5 million for 10 demonstration projects across Canada.
Though this was not successful, she started advocating for the opportunity for community groups to pool resources to collaborate.
For example, pooling their telecommunication budget to co-build fibre optics and obtain improved pricing and speeds for schools and municipal offices. Or in sharing the cost of purchasing videoconferencing equipment between post-secondary institutions and hospitals so that they could afford to do eLearning and telehealth.
Dr. Albert was part of the Board of Directors of two large funding bodies in Ontario that provided funds for innovative projects to further develop Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and ICT-use to solve problems. These were the Telecommunication Access Partnership Funds ($50 million), and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation ($210 million).
IGI Global lists Dr. Albert’s numerous books on intelligent communities, her career, and accomplishments.
“She is a researcher and evaluater for selection of the top seven International Intelligent Community Awards, a member of the council of Ontario Universities, and a former director of two Ontario provincial boards on community development dealing with telecommunication innovation,” writes IGI Global.
“Albert has acted as project manager and adviser on many telecommunication networks across Canada and has been called upon to assist government in drawing policy and planning for regional telecommunication project development and evaluation.”