IBM Smarter Cities Challenge is back: Could your city use some pro bono problem solvers?

Wed, 2015-01-21 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Here’s something you don't see every day – a giant company doing pro bono consulting engagements (each valued at USD $500,000) to improve the lives of citizens in cities around the world. But Council Lead Partner IBM has been doing just that with its Smarter Cities Challenge for the past four years. So far it has supplied brain power to help 116 municipalities solve tough challenges. As you'll read below, IBM is continuing the grant program this year and is now accepting applications from local governments. That means some lucky cities are going to win the chance to have experts help them tackle a critical issue. Will yours be among them?


Could your city use a team of pro bono problem solvers? That's the idea behind IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge competitive grant program that has in the last four years helped 116 municipalities around the world solve critical local challenges. And the company just announced the program will continue for another year.

The challenge is open to local and regional, general purpose governing bodies, including cities, counties, prefectures, boroughs and districts. Online applications are being accepted through Feb. 6, 2015.

How it works
After intense preparation, six-person IBM pro bono consulting teams spend three weeks in the winning region analyzing all available data about a critical issue of the municipality's choosing – for example, transportation, public safety or economic development. Team members meet in person with dozens of members of the local government, citizen, business, and not-for-profit communities. In doing so, they gather diverse perspectives about the causes and potential solutions to the challenge at hand.

At the conclusion, IBM presents comprehensive recommendations for improving the delivery of services to citizens. This is followed by a more detailed, written implementation plan. Included in the plan are examples of how other, top level Smarter Cities Challenge winners have successfully addressed similar issues. 

Each Smarter Cities Challenge engagement is valued at USD $500,000.

Past winners have seen results
IBM notes that many of its past grant recipients have implemented their Smarter Cities Challenge recommendations and tangibly improved the lives of their citizens. Examples include:

  • Johannesburg, South Africa implemented a comprehensive technology solution to address public safety and emergency management.
  • Nanjing, China implemented a social media program that engaged more than two-million people for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
  • Porto Alegre, Brazil unveiled Digital PoA, an online platform that facilitates a digital dialogue among citizens, city officials, collectives and local organizations.
  • Syracuse, New York analyzes data to identify homes and neighborhoods that need revitalization. The effort has yielded a 69% increase in collection of delinquent property taxes and fees.
  • Birmingham, Alabama is deploying mobile food markets to bring healthy, affordable food to areas where its availability has been limited. 

A program that works
"We're extending IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge for one, simple reason: It works," said Jennifer Crozier, IBM’s vice president of Global Citizenship Initiatives. "City leaders from around the world have told us how IBM's advice has helped them re-imagine how they can use data and analytics to help them solve complex problems.  We're told that IBM Smarter Cities Challenge is that rare program that brings people together and gets long-term results -- and we're proud of that.  We invite mayors and regional leaders to apply with their toughest problems and let's see what we can do together."

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Liz Enbysk is the Council's Editorial Director. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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