Smart Cities Challenge

Smart Cities Challenge Overview

The Smart Cities Challenge is a competition open to all municipalities, local or regional governments, and Indigenous communities (First Nations, Inuit, and Metis) across Canada.

The Challenge will inspire communities across the country to define their future with the help of their residents through the use of a smart cities approach.

Winning communities will be awarded with prize money to help implement their smart cities proposal.

The County's Smart Cities Challenge Submission Overview

All residents, businesses and community groups will be empowered to connect with their local government and feel that the issues that matter to them are heard and addressed accurately, consistently and in a timely fashion through any means of communication.

Areas within the scope of this project would include:

  • Rebuilding the County’s website to be more modern, responsive and intuitive to include cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence chat bot, create an intuitive and consistent environment to navigate and the creation of a “Dark Site”.
  • The implementation of an online platform for reporting and tracking issues and requests.
  • The creation of a knowledgebase to enable all staff to be able to quickly respond to questions when contacted by residents.
  • Revamping of the open data portal to further enhance accessibility and transparency.
  • The creation of a mobile app to make the most popular content on the existing website more easily accessible.
  • An enhanced job application portal will be created allowing for users to quickly access information on any position at the County.
  • The County’s mapping system will be enhanced with a voice-guided navigation system allowing individuals to easily and safely navigate throughout the County.

How our community residents have shaped our Challenge Statement. Our plans for continuing to engage and involve residents in our final proposal going forward.

Residents have already played a significant part of the visioning part of this project as their input collected through surveys over a number of years is leading the development of these projects.

The residents and business within the County have shaped our Challenge Statement through the collection of their input in the 2014 Residential Satisfaction Survey, the 2016 Communications Audit and most recently conducted 2018 Public Participation Survey where approximately 56% of residents indicated one of the top 5 ways to provide information to them is through the County website. *Please note this survey was completed at the time of this application and has not been fully compiled.

Should the County be awarded the Smart Cities grant, residents and businesses in the County will be engaged in the development and implementation processes through the use of online feedback tools.  Stakeholders will be further engaged through a series of workshop prior to implementation. The input gathered through these tactics will be integral to the success of the project.

Our preliminary proposal and its activities or projects.

Several projects and components of these projects will be employed to ensure the County of Grande Prairie achieves the goals set forth in their challenge statement The statement  will be implemented through all communication methods available to residents and other stakeholders, whether in person, over the phone or online.

Allowing 24/7 access to answers from the County makes data more accessible to a variety of audiences. 24/7 access will be implemented through a website information restructure with information presented in an intuitive manner for the user. Further website enhancements include the implementation of an artificial intelligence chat bot that would allow for users to ask questions on the website and receive an immediate response. Questions that are not so easily answerable will be sent to the appropriate department to be addressed. The website will also include a “Dark Site” feature allowing for direct and timely information in the event of a disaster that is immediately available to everyone.  As well, all County online interfaces will have the same standardized look to ensure the users’ intuitive and familiar experience is consistent throughout platforms and all devices. 

An enhanced job application portal will be created allowing for users to quickly access information on any position they have applied for at the County and they may also choose to leave their resume on file for future opportunities at the County allowing for even more ease of use and transparency online.

To further enhance the users online experience the County’s mapping system will be upgraded to allow for voice directions to enable for ease of use while driving to any location within the County. In rural areas throughout Canada, Northern Alberta includes, other readily available online mapping systems with the voice direction feature are found to be inaccurate and often lead users to the wrong location. The Open Data portal will be enhanced to allow for a wide variety of datasets to become easily integrated with other data sets available provincially, nationally and internationally.

The creation of a mobile app will be developed profiling the most popular content offered by the County for ease of use of the users who prefer to access information via apps on their devices.  Content will be qualified as most popular by data collect indicating most visited pages and applications, time of year, phone calls and chat questions.

The base technology proposed for use for the modernized website will be Drupal.  Utilizing the distribution of the open source software version led by the Government of Canada will support the County of Grande Prairie’s commitment to government transparency and openness. 

A knowledge database will ensure that staff, resident-facing and otherwise, will be empowered to provide consistent and accurate information to stakeholders in a timely manner.  The knowledgebase will include an internal tracking system that will ensure that the more detailed questions are received by the proper subject matter expert and are answered within an acceptable timeline. Regularly reporting will ensure that the system is effective and improving over time.

All of these components and projects create a system intended to decrease apathy created in part by lack of access or transparency within local government.  This project, focused on engagement and connection, is not only replicable and scalable but also feasible to be implemented at the County of Grande Prairie and accessible with  the use of platforms such as open source (Drupal) and open data. This project will empower residents and other stakeholders to be innovative in their approach by utilizing the open data that is made available through our municipality.

A significant component of meeting the challenge will include an educational campaign utilizing all mediums of communication to make users at all levels aware of the tools available to them.  This campaign will further enhance the intuitive and easy to use online tools available to the public.

How our preliminary proposal supports our community’s medium and long-term goals, strategies, and plans.

This project directly aligns with two of the County of Grande Prairie Council’s main themes identified in their recent strategic planning session of innovation and citizens first. Council Strategic Planning took place in March, 2018 and as such the finalized documents are in production, however, one of the major themes identified in the Strategic Priorities Chart is the review and reinvention of the Customer Service Strategy. All Business Units within the County and their business plans must have a customer service component, either drafted or already implemented, to support these themes. This aligns with the tools made available through the projects included in this Smart Cities Challenge.

As well, the enhanced job application portal aligns directly with the County’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy by allowing users to quickly access information on any position they have applied for at the County and the ability to leave their resume on file for future opportunities at the County. This element of the project supports a more accessible and transparent experience for stakeholders.

Our community’s readiness and ability to successfully implement our proposal.

The results of the 2016 Communications Audits indicate the community as a whole supports continued ongoing expansion, enhancement and refreshing of the County website with a focus on creating a user intuitive experience with quick access to forms and information that is most needed by residents and businesses. The audit also indicated that the website is the communication tool that is most accessible to stakeholders.

The County of Grande Prairie is a rural municipality, spanning a geographic area approximately the size of the Province of PEI. The average age of a County resident is 38, well above the Provincial average, the County website and other electronic tools remain the preferred communication tool for residents.

The County has extensive experience in the implementation of cutting-edge and complex projects.  The most recent example is the implementation of a Records Management System labelled internally as “The Hub”.  The Hub is an Electronic Documents and Records Management Solution (EDRMS) used to manage the creation, use, management, storage and disposal of physical and electronic documents and records, for the purposes of:

  • supporting the creation, revision and management of digital documents
  • improving an organization’s work-flow
  • providing evidence of business activities

These systems maintain appropriate information (metadata) and links between records to support their value as evidence. EDRMS are a subset of business information systems whose primary purpose is the capture and management of digital records. The Hub project is nearing completion and will affect all county departments and teams. 

Through the Hub project, and many other complex implementation projects envisioned and implemented at the County over the past ten year period, demonstrates that the County has the structures, processes and practices in place for managing and implementing complex projects that span multiple, if not all, functional units within the County. Previous project management experience has led to the County being considered a leader and an example of innovativeness among many similar sized municipalities across Alberta and Western Canada. As many of the County’s historic projects have been replicatable and scalable for other municipalities.

The team required for the successful completion of this project will include leaders from several departments including Communications, Systems, Planning and Development and Public Works. The full committee will include representatives from all business units within the County and as required will also include community stakeholders and residents. This project team structure has been previously utilized by the County in the implementation of the current website in 2012 with great success.

Our plan for using the $250,000 grant, should we be selected as a finalist. 

Should the County receive the $250,000 grant to complete a detailed strategy and implementation plan the proposed high-level breakdown of the spending categories include:

  • Communications and engagement with all residents, businesses and community groups as well as employees will be a key component through out the development of the detailed project outline.  It will ensure that the project meets or exceeds the needs of the community to feel empowered to connect with their local government.

Projected cost for this is $75,000.

  • Content for platforms and knowledgebase development will required to be identified in great detail in this stage of detailed project outline development.  It will ensure all data is identified and a means of collection is established. 

Projected cost for education and research is $100,000.

  • Small-scale pilots will be required to ensure that the technology selected will work for all business units and stakeholders within the community.  This could include for example in-house testing of voice activated mapping enhancement, utilizing the desk-less employees working at the County the software could be implemented on a test bed with limited licenses to ensure the system provides the accuracy and stability needed for navigation throughout the County on a daily basis.

Projected cost for innovation testing is projected to be $75,000.