In moving Niagara’s sense of belonging from 72% to 90% by 2028 we will improve economic vibrancy, health behaviors and civic engagement and this will be accomplished by creating a digital ecosystem that makes ‘invisible’ members of society visible and by developing reimagined connectivity hubs that enable participation by all.
Sense of belonging, Niagara’s challenge indicator, is vital, unique and measurable with a sphere of impact broad enough that all 12 Niagara municipalities recognize its importance and see themselves in it. Young adults rate their sense of belonging at 68% while Niagara overall is average. Other segments of the population such as homeless and addicted persons also have very low sense of belonging. Sense of belonging directly impacts health, philanthropy, civic engagement, social inclusion and economic vibrancy; which are all challenges for Niagara.
Niagara has extensive experience bringing collaborative, multi-stakeholder projects to fruition. By leveraging considerable community strengths in data collection and knowledge exchange, and applying both Smart Cities and Smart Villages concepts, Niagara will improve its residents’ sense of belonging as measured by Statistics Canada. Using a life-course approach, select measures of voter turnout, health behaviours, philanthropy, median income and youth retention will chart our journey.
Smart Cities Niagara will create a digital ecosystem that enables ‘invisible’ members of our society to be more visible. Newly connected people will develop and match their skills with work and volunteer opportunities. Community hubs developed in partnership with the community will abound while mobile units reach out to ensure participation by all.
Question 1: Communities Involved
Please provide information on the community that is submitting this application. If this application is being submitted by a group of communities, add each community separately using the button. If this application is being submitted by a regional entity, please include the name of the regional entity with each individual community (e.g. City of Dunn/Smith Region). Do not include the regional entity as a separate, stand-alone community.
|Community||Province||Population based on||Indigenous Community|
|Fort Erie / Niagara Region||Ontario||30,710||No|
|Grimsby / Niagara Region||Ontario||27,314||No|
|Lincoln / Niagara Region||Ontario||23,787||No|
|Niagara Falls / Niagara Region||Ontario||88,071||No|
|Niagara-on-the-Lake / Niagara Region||Ontario||17,511||No|
|Pelham / Niagara Region||Ontario||17,110||No|
|Port Colborne / Niagara Region||Ontario||18,306||No|
|St. Catharines / Niagara Region||Ontario||133,113||No|
|Thorold / Niagara Region||Ontario||18,801||No|
|Wainfleet / Niagara Region||Ontario||6,372||No|
|Welland / Niagara Region||Ontario||52,293||No|
|West Lincoln / Niagara Region||Ontario||14,500||No|
Question 2: Prize Category
Please select a prize category.
$10 million (population under 500,000 residents)
Question 3: Challenge Statement
Please define your Challenge Statement in a single sentence that guides your preliminary proposal. It should describe the outcome (or outcomes) you hope to achieve.
In moving Niagara’s sense of belonging from 72% to 90% by 2028 we will improve economic vibrancy, health behaviors and civic engagement and this will be accomplished by creating a digital ecosystem that makes ‘invisible’ members of society visible and by developing reimagined connectivity hubs that enable participation by all.
Question 4: Outcomes
Please describe the outcome (or outcomes) your proposal seeks to achieve by elaborating on your Challenge Statement.
In introducing the Smart Cities Canada Challenge, the Hon. Amarjeet Sohi commented that “Canada’s diverse and inclusive communities are the ideal place for new ideas to flourish …” It is fitting that the challenge chosen to be addressed is not only vital to the well-being of the community but also one that, by its very nature, is diverse in its genesis, requires the inclusion of all segments of the population for solution, and yet is a single indicator. Achieving an increased sense of belonging meets these criteria and is Niagara’s primary Challenge indicator.
The growth of cities and regions has always rested upon the development of new knowledge and technology. Rapid industrialization of the mid-nineteenth century saw the growth in number and size of cities. Rural people moved to cities chasing employment and a better life. One result of this rural-urban shift is an increasing sense of depersonalization. As cities grow, people find themselves largely surrounded by strangers. Left to its darkest form, alienation and estrangement can become characteristics of modern life. At question, then, is what actions might be taken to focus the experiences of a region’s citizens to build smart, relational opportunities where people feel that they are connected and belong rather than isolated and remote. Smart Cities represents a unique opportunity to address this.
A sense of belonging is vital to the well-being and prosperity of individuals, families and communities. Communities whose residents feel that they belong and can trust each other are healthier, safer, more philanthropic, more engaged in the democratic process, have innovative and inclusive economies, and are resilient in emergencies. Crucial to sense of belonging being a problem worthy of, and amenable to Smart Cities solutions is the fundamental premise that belonging is a two-way street. Belonging is as much about shared emotional connection and memorable social interactions as being provided a place to live. Sense of belonging is not solely an end-point value, but is a crucial catalyst in a living-lab social equation.
The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) measures sense of belonging by asking respondents: “How would you describe your sense of belonging to your local community? Would you say it is: Very strong? Somewhat strong? Somewhat weak? Very weak?” On the most recent CCHS, 72% of Niagara residents described their sense of belonging to their community as very strong or somewhat strong. The highest such response from a community in Canada was 88%. Niagara will use 72% as its baseline measure of sense of belonging. Evidence in support of the internal validity of 72% as a baseline comes from its stability across previous iterations of the CCHS. The CCHS, a combined product of the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Statistics Canada and Health Canada, is a cross-sectional survey with a large number of respondents, that is recognized as leading to reliable estimates every two years. To make certain that results are not unduly swayed by numbers in one or two more populated municipalities, over-sampling will be purchased for each municipality with the goal that each of Niagara’s 12 municipalities individually achieves an increase in sense of belonging.
The goal of moving sense of belonging to 90% was chosen because it is a bold increase from baseline, it is not yet achieved by any individual municipality in Niagara and it has been approached elsewhere in Canada, making it reasonable to believe that it is achievable.
Research has shown that there are subgroups across Canadian society that consistently have lower levels of sense of belonging; indigenous people off-reserve; francophone persons outside of Quebec; drug addicted populations; those who are homeless; those who are economically marginalized; and recent immigrants. The percentage of the population of Niagara who report addiction to opioids is higher than provincial and national averages, as is the percentage of adults who report exceeding the low risk drinking guidelines for alcohol. Despite making progress emerging from an economy dominated by a downturn in manufacturing, Niagara still has a median income that is low and the level of income of the bottom decile is also below the provincial average. To achieve the highest level of sense of belonging in Canada, our Smart Cities proposal will need to pay attention to these particular demographics of Niagara.
Taking an inclusive approach to moving a sense of belonging requires intentional attention to measures that can impact segments of the population that are at increased vulnerability. Through lack of fixed address and frequent lack of conventional ID cards, homeless persons are in danger of losing their very identity and becoming invisible to formal society. A Smart Cities approach is vital to making the ‘invisible’ visible, so that these persons have access to participation in everything to which they have a right.
Being inclusive requires one to consider the full age spectrum across society. For this reason, Niagara will take a life-course approach making sure that no age group is omitted and that each age cohort is individually considered. Our primary indicator, the sense of belonging is only surveyed and documented from the cohort age 12-17 onwards. However, early childhood inputs are vital to achieving a sense of societal belonging and today’s 2 year old will be 12 by the time the Challenge completes its full evaluation so the proposal includes measures of early childhood development. There are two age cohorts in Niagara whose sense of belonging is well below the aggregate average: ages 17 – 25 with a rating of only 68% and ages 45 – 55 with 66%. A first step of the Challenge will be to use data to find root causes for these low ratings and then support interventions to address them.
Looking at our location, the Niagara Region is on the traditional shared territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Chonnonton peoples. The Chonnonton people have called these lands home for millennia; more recently, the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee have been sharing the land as One Dish, One Spoon Treaty territory. A sense of belonging was chosen as Niagara’s challenge in part because it has diverse components. Niagara’s twelve municipalities vary in size from 6,400 to 135,000 with widely disparate economies. Road, rail, water and air routes link Niagara’s 1,852 square kilometers, 12 + 1 municipalities and approximately 460,000 people with the Greater Toronto Area to the west and the United States to the east.
Just as a Smart City approach needs to be specific to a city, Niagara’s Smart Cities Challenge needed to be specifically embraced by twelve local municipalities who could each see themselves in it. It needed to be a broad concept that allows different governance groups to mobilize under the same umbrella, even as each may draw slightly different conclusions or have specific areas of importance to which they pay particular attention. Safety and security, supportive social networks, housing, economic inclusion and high quality public spaces are all pillars which contribute to achieving a more positive sense of belonging and all are under municipal stewardship.
Every Niagara municipality understands the power of community, and has signed on to achieving an increased sense of belonging as being vitally important for its residents.
In addition to measuring sense of belonging, the Niagara Challenge will measure indicators that both contribute to and emanate from this catalyst of social change. These measures are important in the Niagara context in their own right, but will also be signposts to the primary challenge objective. They are measures whose relative importance varies from municipality to municipality but which are all united under the umbrella of sense of belonging. They fall under the major categories of health, philanthropy, social engagement and economic vibrancy.
Research increasingly points to the health risks of alcohol consumption and alcohol misuse is closely tied to other health risks such as opioid misuse. On reports of the percent of the population who exceed the low risk drinking guidelines, Niagara at 55% is consistently higher than the provincial average. The goal is to move this to the provincial average.
Early Child Development
The Early Development Instrument (EDI) breaks child development down into 5 domains and is reported based on vulnerability. Vulnerable children are those that score below the 10th percentile. In the Emotional Maturity domain, the percentage of children in Niagara who were vulnerable (14.3%) increased significantly since 2008 and is higher than the provincial average. This means that children are not meeting expectations when it comes to aggressive, hyperactive/inattentive, and anxious/fearful behaviour.
Responding to this, the Niagara early childhood community has the goal to reduce vulnerability in the Emotional Maturity domain by 15% and the Challenge will join this collective impact process.
Like much of the country, fewer Niagara residents are making charitable donation, yet those that are giving are giving more. Over the period from 2012 to 2016, Niagara has seen a negative four percent decrease in the number of charitable donors, but a 14.8% increase in total amount individuals are giving. The decrease in donors does not mean that residents of Niagara are not pursuing other avenues to make their communities better. Through volunteering and activism, they still attempt to improve their fellow residents’ quality of life, but unfortunately the dispersion of organizations and opportunities make it difficult to quantify participation and outcomes. As part of the Smart Cities challenge, partners across the community will explore the development of new mechanisms to gauge and incentivize participation with a primary goal of increasing number of donors and volunteers by 15%.
Historically, diminishing rates in voter turnout align with decreases in sense of belonging. The more people feel that they belong nationally, provincially and locally, the more likely they are to vote. During the last municipal election, only 41.3% of eligible voters cast a ballot in Niagara, for higher tiers of government greater turnout occurred with 54.4% voting provincially in 2014 and 66.9% voting federally in 2015. As an outcome of increasing residents’ local sense of belonging, future turnout rates are expected to improve; and with greater turnout Niagara looks toward greater diversity among its representation
Newcomers and Employment
The dynamics of Niagara’s population are constantly in flux with the migration of individuals searching for new opportunities, following family and/or improving their quality of life. Research performed by Niagara Workforce Planning Board, in the span 2009 to 2013, showed that 22.6% of all newcomers failed to secure employment in the year following their relocation. Of those who secured employment, 54.9% obtained jobs paying less than $30,000 annually.
The age demographic of Niagara makes retention and attraction of youth a priority to ensure sustainability. Niagara’s population aged 15 to 29 represents 18.5% of the total population. The community is looking to this group to fill absences being created in the job market as Niagara’s larger age demographic enters retirement. Within the St. Catharines – Niagara CMA, the youth demographic represents 23.5% of the total employed workforce, where those 45 and older make up 48.3%.
The work people do and their ability to find higher paying jobs in the increasingly digital economy is an important contributor to sense of belonging. To attract newcomers and retain Niagara’s youth we need to generate meaningful technology enhanced employment and thereby build a strong sense of belonging to a community in which people want to stay.
Sense of belonging correlates not just with absolute income but also with how one perceives ones place on the income scale. One task of the Challenge will be to find and use more data to determine what measure should best be used here. Two possibilities under investigation are Gini coefficient and upper income level of the lowest decile of the population.
The outcomes above were picked because they have demonstrated historical and current importance to municipalities across Niagara; this is especially true for youth retention and increasing participation in the digital or high-tech economy. Sources of data for all measures include CCHS, Statistics Canada, Census Data, tax filer data, the “Living in Niagara” report and the EDI.
It has been said that one cannot imagine a Smart City without a good democracy. By directly monitoring participation in voting at all three governmental levels, there is validation of progress not only on the Smart Cities Challenge indicator but also of progress on a factor that is a requisite for being a Smart City per se.
Further evidence supporting selection of sense of belonging over other possible outcomes comes from recent visioning exercises by two of Niagara’s municipalities: St. Catharines – “Compassionate City” and Town of Lincoln – “A Place to Grow, Prosper, and Belong”. Niagara’s choice is applicable and scalable across Canada and, being a broad concept, allows for maximum relevance across a diversity of cultural and geographic landscapes.
As Niagara considers the Smart City approach to sense of belonging, any actions and inputs will be intentionally designed to increase interpersonal connection as well as digital connection. Niagara will pay special attention to the wisdom of the following: “In contemporary societies each of us feels increasingly self-sufficient, but at the same time depends on services and technological devices, on sophisticated forms of addiction, which we do not control. All of this corresponds to an instability and uncertainty in relationships, if not a dearth of relationships, which permeate and fray our sense of who we are as individuals, our emotional life and the sense of belonging to the community. Lately we have started to ask ourselves and discuss how to foster a sense of belonging and connection.”
In seeking to address the issue of sense of belonging in the Niagara context, there are many arguments in favour of a Smart City approach. A Smart City is a confluence of processes as much as a series of outcomes. It is only through the provision of open and accessible data to all segments of our society, that Niagara can achieve the shared knowledge base and understanding essential to a sense of community belonging. This approach will enable Niagara to look at sense of belonging and its associate indicators from a different angle. For example, through empowerment and knowledge-sharing, the Smart City approach will maximize the possibility of experimentation, which is a prerequisite to an innovative, inclusive and vibrant economy.
In order to succeed, Niagara must also learn from, and be a leader in, the relatively new concept of Smart Villages. In rural areas of Niagara, as around the world, building blocks such as broadband are necessary but not sufficient. Rural areas present unique opportunities as well as challenges. A rural community already has traditional networks that should not be lost in the addition of new assets for digital technologies and better use of data. A Smart Village is not just a small Smart City. Solving the riddle of town and country, therefore, is not just a matter of scale but of rethinking the communication synergies within the context of a digital development strategy for a complete region.
Question 5: Resident Engagement
Please describe how your community residents have shaped your Challenge Statement. Describe your plans for continuing to engage and involve them in your final proposal going forward.
Our challenge statement was shaped by our residents, such as “Lorna” from Niagara-on-the-Lake. Lorna found herself widowed, living in a new community where she knew no one. Her story along with many others provided inspiration for how our application unfolded. The engagement focused on people and how Smart City outcomes could benefit their lives. Residents’ feedback provided valuable direction to the challenge statement. We focused closely on the most pressing needs identified and the project proposals are in direct response to the feedback we received.
Niagara’s Smart Cities engagement plan was to focus on people and their experiences to determine the goal of the Challenge. To ensure effective engagement, Niagara leveraged the best practices noted in the Government of Canada’s Open Government Public Engagement Principles: Transparent, Relevant, Inclusive, Accountable, and Adaptable.
- Transparent: Processes were co-created with our community stakeholders taking into account the learnings of previous engagement exercises. Survey results were published on Niagaraopendata.ca.
- Relevant: Our engagement sessions were designed as a two-way conversations. Background and context of the Smart Cities Challenge was provided to ensure context was understood. We also expressed how their insight was imperative to understanding the challenges one faced in belonging to the community.
- Inclusive: Niagara leveraged a variety of channels: traditional media, social media (Twitter and Facebook), municipal websites, public forums and face to face. A variety of locations and events across Niagara were visited to ensure we heard diverse opinions.
- Accountable: Niagara created an opportunity for open dialogue and reported back to citizens that expressed interest. Results were shared on open data and smartcitiesniagara.ca.
- Adaptable: New methods for engagement were introduced by our partners based on their experiences in the community. This enabled us to further reach into the community for input.
Collaboration with Stakeholders in the Community
Building relationships and sharing data with our community stakeholders provided us with an innovative approach to enhance sense of belonging. With all stakeholders aligned on this goal, which spans the life- course, it allows us to introduce initiatives and solutions to children that will continue to be relevant and available as they mature in the community.
Our school boards and post secondary institutions will enable awareness of the Smart Cities solutions at a young age. This collaborative approach and continuous engagement with community partners is essential to enable systemic change and will facilitate the necessary cultural change within the community. Overall change management in the community will also be encouraged through incentivization and gamification programs that will span our municipalities and partner organizations.
Community stakeholders include our 13 municipalities, (Niagara Region, Town of Fort Erie, Town of Grimsby, Town of Lincoln, City of Niagara Falls, Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Town of Pelham, City of Port Colborne, City of St. Catharines, City of Thorold, Town of Wainfleet, Town of Welland, Town of West Lincoln) and our partners: Brock University, District School Board of Niagara (DSBN), Niagara Connects, Chambers of Commerce, INCommunities (211), Niagara Catholic District School Board (NCDSB), Niagara College, Niagara Police, Niagara Workforce Planning Board, Niagara Regional Housing, Niagara Health System, Niagara CIO Consortium and Innovate Niagara.
Feedback for the Challenge was provided by stakeholders at the following steering committee meetings: February 22 – Thorold, March 9 – DSBN St. Catharines, March 22 – Port Colborne, March 29 – Welland, April 5 – Town of Lincoln, April 12 – DSBN St. Catharines and April 19 – St. Catharines City Hall.
Future engagement to develop partnerships will include local companies associated with our incubation spaces as well as Cowork Niagara. We will also leverage the organizations that are part of our local open data ecosystem Additional stakeholders were identified during our application process, such as the municipal library boards and Niagara Community Foundation. Niagara is in the process of further developing these partnerships. Several companies have also expressed an interest in working with us as we proceed in our Smart Cities journey – these include: IBM, Bell, Future Vault, Microsoft, Rogers.
A funnel engagement approach was used for Niagara’s Smart City Challenge. Broad, high level engagement was done initially, narrowing as the program areas were determined and becoming more focused over time as projects and measures were defined. The following is a list of engagement events and opportunities.
Smart Cities Roundtable discussion at Brock University (March 29, 2017) – The Smart City concept was introduced to the community. The purpose was to gather various stakeholders and the public together to discuss how they can help municipalities in Niagara become Smart Cities.
Smart Cities Forum in City of Thorold (Jan 17, 2018) – A forum to explore the opportunities of a Smart City approach for Niagara was hosted by the Niagara Region and brought together members of the public sector to hear presentations from Brock University Smart City experts along with technology experts from Rogers, Microsoft and IBM.
Smart Cities Niagara Town Hall discussion at Brock University (Feb 8, 2018) – The public was invited to this town hall to provide ideas to contribute to the Niagara Smart Cities Niagara project.
Think Big Survey (launched March 1, 2018) – Our initial survey which asked our residents which areas to focus on, leveraged a framework developed from previous engagements with hundreds of people going back as far as 2005 in building the Living in Niagara quality of life reports. This survey was advertised in newspapers, municipal websites and social media. The intent was to determine the top 5 sectors that require attention and would benefit from a Smart Cities solution. The feedback prioritized work and employment, economic prosperity, mobility, health and environment as the top areas of importance. Selection of these specific areas of focus, guided Niagara to use sense of belonging as the overall umbrella indicator. Residents were also asked to submit their million dollar ideas.
Belonging Survey (launched April 8, 2018) – This survey was designed to capture residents stories about a time they felt they did not belong. These stories allowed us to personify our project proposals and enabled us to this of the users first.
Brock University MBA Information Technology students (April 2018) – Using requirements developed as part of the Smart Cities Challenge exercise a final essay assignment for 100 students was developed to generate innovative project ideas that would increase our sense of belonging. As youth retention has been defined as an indicator, their feedback was critical as they are the embodiment of the phrase, “Nothing about me, without me”.
In person engagement sessions, were guided with input from our community partners with residents representative of the entire life-course. Locations were dispersed across the geography of Niagara. At these sessions, residents had the opportunity to discuss their sense of belonging in the community and suggest what activities may help to enhance their sense of belonging. The insight that people are most vulnerable during transitions within their life course was revealed during these engagement sessions. These transitions included: change in marital status, new mother, new to community, change in work status and larger scale neighbourhood transitions. These face to face engagements also provided us with the opportunity to explore in depth, occasions that decreased a person’s sense of belonging. This understanding assists in the development of initiatives that will have the greatest impact to move our indicators.
These sessions were conducted at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Centre (April 10, 2018), St. Catharines Library (April 11, 2018), and the Ridgeway Farmers Market (April 14, 2018). Additional sessions are being planned for June at various local farmers markets.
Previous community engagement also contributed to the understanding of local needs. In the development of municipal mission statements and community vision statements a substantial amount of relevant and meaningful engagement has been done. One specific example is the Town of Lincoln where a broad inclusive approach to engagement was used to develop their community vision statement – “A Place to Grow, A Place to Prosper and A Place to Belong” This engagement exercise highlighted sense of community, belonging and inclusion as being important. Town of Fort Erie’s council vision statement “A welcoming, prosperous, connected community of choice” and the Niagara Region’s “Building Community, Building Lives” are also reflective of the citizens contributions.
Since 2008, the Niagara Prosperity Initiative (NPI) has been conducting research and engagement in the Niagara community to support poverty reduction and prevention activities.
Since 2005, through the Living in Niagara report, Niagara Connects has been gathering data, information and knowledge to describe, and inform planning to strengthen, quality of life in Niagara.
Plans to Sustain Engagement
Smarter Niagara Steering Committee – Niagara Region advisory committee primarily made up of community members will guide Niagara’s Smart City efforts. This group will continue to meet with the goal of expanding engagement avenues.
Discussions have begun on the development of a Civic Tech group that will be connected to our innovation and incubator organizations. Next steps include liaising with Code for Canada and using their Civic Tech toolkit as guidance.
Niagara will continue to promote Smart Cities and engage with our citizens through various mediums including: libraries, farmer’s markets, mailing list, social media, niagaraknowledgeexchange.com and smartcitiesniagara.ca.
Question 6: Projects and Activities
Please describe your preliminary proposal and its activities or projects.
Building and Leveraging the Digital Foundation
When we look at sense of belonging across both an individual’s life course and the factors that can affect a sense of belonging (safety and security, supportive social networks – especially in early childhood and later life, housing, economic inclusion and high quality public spaces) there are a number of opportunities to leverage smart city technologies to measurably increase a sense of belonging.
Niagara has seventy four distinct neighbourhoods within our region’s twelve diverse communities. We will build on existing assets to broaden and deepen engagement with data collection in each of these communities. This will allow us to dig deeper into life course and the statistical dips in a sense of belonging that come along with transitions in life.
Our Smart Cities projects are looking to leverage community data and expand on the work done to date to develop connections for all citizens of Niagara. Potential projects to be further developed include:
1. Community Hubs
Creating opportunities to belong will be achieved through the creation of digitally connected community gathering places. Community hubs aren’t just about digital access – they are gathering places for people – that will enable them to build deeper face to face connections. These hubs will leverage a number of data and connected technologies and provide citizens an opportunity to participate in a digitally connected world:
Connected Community Shelters/Benches/Kiosks: Strategically located throughout Niagara to provide; information, wayfinding, charging, wifi, and assistive technologies such voice response. These shelters can also provide heating at night. These shelters and benches will leverage green energy sources such as solar or kinetic. The shelters could also be located in other cities in Canada and countries to promote Niagara/Canada as a place to belong.
Working with Niagara’s public library systems to strengthen and modernise services by including 7×24 unmanned facilities with self service RFID based inventory control, tablet/laptop/hotspot loan, computer and internet access. These spaces would also include demonstration centres in order to increase digital literacy showcasing “the technology of tomorrow, today”. We would also explore gamification opportunities to connect youth to existing and new community programs.
We also see this as an opportunity to provide personal support services to people in need via counseling over video conferencing. Additionally, new roles are being explored for libraries within planning to take on a community hub approach. These spaces could be used for basic human needs such as showers and temporary shelter. Access to these services will be tied to a digital identity (expanded upon in next section – Connecting People).
Roving Mobile Hubs – The modern “book mobile” – bringing a technology lab to the communities with mobile hotspots, personal and business services. We will leverage our existing Health Bus, Water Wagons, Municipal Transit programs and technology partners to reach communities and groups that are typically isolated from the larger population.
Spark Niagara iNnovation Neighborhoods for residents and small businesses: The creation of these collaboration hubs will provide a place for youth, seniors, independent contractors, small and medium enterprises, and corporate business to connect, explore and create innovative solutions that align with our municipalities’ specific strategic plans. They will work to solve their local municipal problems and challenges through both social and technological innovations. They also allow for intrapreneurship within a small business or corporation as well innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the municipality and help boost economic inclusion for youth.
Expand free WiFi programs to include existing community gathering places (i.e. churches, school, social halls, etc) through partnerships with local broadband providers.
Leveraging geospatial software and open source platforms, we will crowdsource free WiFi in Niagara and publish as an open data set with built-in mapping functionality on our open data website (niagaraopendata.ca).
2. Connecting People
Creating opportunities for people to connect and participate is critical to moving the sense of belonging measure. Leveraging and expanding upon work already in place, Niagara will create a data exchange platform to match people with data across various areas including employment, volunteering, mentoring and sports participation. Focusing on these areas will influence several of our key indicators.
In November 2017, a technology solution designed to effectively and efficiently match Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support (ODSP) clients to available training and job opportunities was launched. The technology solution, titled Building Employment Networks Niagara (BENN), is an integral part of creating an innovative customer experience and enables more efficient and effective service delivery. The tool supports case managers who work with clients to develop individual case plans, life stability supports, employment coaching, training opportunities and job placements. BENN features an assessment and client profile section, which is then used to match training and employment opportunities to suitable clients. SAEO partnered with Planning and Development teams to utilize data captured through the Employer Survey to pre-populate employer information in BENN, optimizing the investment in the survey across operating departments. SAEO also worked with Economic Development to ensure alignment with their mandate to provide effective services to attract, maintain and increase jobs in Niagara. In all over 650 OW clients, 50 local employers and 8 Employment Ontario Agencies in Niagara were consulted in building BENN.
Building on work already completed to build BENN, this functionality will be expanded to collect structured and unstructured data, analyze and identify further opportunities to match opportunities across all of Niagara. Areas identified for matching include employment, volunteering, mentoring and sports. Non-personal data will be shared across Niagara’s open data platform.
NiagaraOpenData.ca, an innovative and collaborative approach, built on an open source technology, to bring together open data from a growing community of public sector partners – currently have 13 contributing organizations on this platform. Niagara’s existing open data platform will be moved to this environment which will allow for greater adoption and serve as a foundation for a regional data repository.
Future Ready Community Data Platform – Shared Data Infrastructure (a community cloud). Niagara will expand on an existing Public Sector Community Cloud platform to create open platforms for collecting, analyzing and sharing data.
The Niagara CIO Consortium led an initiative to architect a shared public sector data infrastructure and develop a community cloud. The consortium is currently working through various opportunities to optimize what has been built, complete a formal pilot and collaborate on the future utilization of this unique platform. The Niagara Community Cloud was the first project identified by the group which serves as a foundational platform which will evolve into a more advanced Niagara region internet exchange which exists in other regional municipalities across Canada and the World. The Consortium believes it could be leveraged to attract new economic development opportunities, enhance public sector economy of scale throughout the Region, optimize security and technological capability and lower costs for key taxpayer services through derivative efficiencies.
Along with data, a key foundation for any Smart Cities initiative is digital access. Niagara has made measureable strides in expanding broadband access throughout the Niagara region, however there are still significant gaps in availability.
Currently more than 60% of the Niagara region does not have reasonable access to broadband that many of us take for granted. When we factor in the recent CRTC declaration that broadband be considered an essential service with set targets of speeds of 50Mb/s for download and 10Mb/s for upload that 60% gap in service increases significantly. While this can be dismissed as a rural problem, it also prevalent in many of the urban areas. This creates a digital divide based simply on location.
Access to broadband for all citizens creates an environment for innovation and sets the stage for knowledge based businesses to begin, grow, attract and retain skilled staff and build economic opportunity across the entire region. Farmers would have access to the precision agriculture equipment and data to maximize yields. More people could enjoy work/life balance without long commutes. Low cost ubiquitous broadband access is absolutely required to build a knowledge based economy and sustain a Smart City initiative.
Niagara Regional Broadband Network (NRBN) – a municipally owned fiber company – has already connected high-speed fiber to over 250 public sector facilities in Niagara. NRBN provides a significant amount of fiber throughout the region however, the citizens of Niagara are not equally served. A recent broadband study in Niagara identified a gap of approximately 1250 km of backbone fiber that would be required to connect our underserved communities. Rural communities have very few options for broadband and when it is available, it is typically a reduced service at a higher cost. Barriers to digital access are excluding citizens from participating in the digital world.
A number of projects are already underway to address this gap in broadband including Niagara Region’s participation in SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fiber Technology). SWIFT is a joint effort with other Southwestern Ontario municipalities to leverage provincial and federal funding to help build additional fiber in underserved communities.
3. Virtual Niagara
Currently, there are many members of society that are regarded as ‘invisible’ due to the lack of an environment that is inclusive, impartial and accessible. A digital ecosystem that uses digital identity and presence makes the invisible, visible. Digital identity can help governments to empower citizens, create a sense of membership and build a more connected digital society. Providing a digital presence is an opportunity to drive transformational change for citizens, businesses and public administrations towards collaboration and inclusion. The intent to provide digital representation for all users of a centralized governed system allows all participants to be heard and identified. It also fosters a sense of belonging in a collaborative space. Leveraging Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) and blockchain technology in collaboration with Pan-Canadian Trust Framework developed by Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) could ensure that a digital identity is secure and scalable across a national system. Formalization of a digital identity could spur the development of other technologies such as digital environments that could provide citizens with shared spaces (digital storage portals), collaboration tools and efficient data analysis. A digital identity should become a priority, both as a primary source of identification and as an opportunity to foster digital inclusion through authentication and other trust services. This would provide a single point of interaction between citizens, government and other organizations
While Smart Cities initiatives can certainly foster an environment for improved community outcomes, adoption of these services can be hindered by a divide in digital literacy. Encouraging the adoption of data and technology based solutions requires innovative approaches that generate excitement, nurture lifelong learning and breakdown the digital divide.
The agri-food sector is an iconic socio-economic driver in Niagara. Exploring a direct farm to table model, Niagara citizens will be able to access a variety of local produce from their homes. A virtual farmers market will connect residents and local farmers. The virtual farmers market will allow local farmers to promote and sell their products locally both supporting our Niagara Local Food Action Plan and Niagara’s economy.
Niagara’s Smart Cities team will also explore integrating our existing data sets and artificial intelligence to provide a mobile enabled platform that connects every citizen in Niagara to each other and solutions to everyday issues. This virtual gathering place will be built with the community for use by the community. Parents would use the virtual gathering place for peer to peer advice and to access community resources. It will allow job seekers to connect with employers and youth to connect to recreation programs. Artificial intelligence will not only deliver meaningful answers but also help identify areas of focus for the Smart Cities Niagara team to increase the sense of belong for all groups in our community.
A mobile application that creates a virtual representation of Niagara that can help citizens and visitors explore the history of the region. The region will be represented in different ways including interactive maps and augmented reality. In order to engage a younger demographic we will also leverage a recent community project that replicated the entire Niagara region in the Minecraft format.
Question 7: Preliminary Proposal
Please describe the ways in which your preliminary proposal supports your community’s medium and long-term goals, strategies, and plans.
It is no accident that Niagara’s preliminary proposal supports so many of the community’s medium and long-term goals since it was broad, intentional region-wide consultation had led to the focus on ‘sense of belonging’ and the resulting proposal.
Municipalities often lack capacity to generate the data they need to effectively plan; municipal planning capacity will increase exponentially with the proposed advanced Niagara region internet exchange. The increased open, transparent and accessible data generated through Smart Cities will enhance Niagara Connects’ long-term mission of gathering and sharing information to support planning for a stronger future. Niagara Connects has been measuring quality of life, including sense of belonging, through the “Living in Niagara” reports since 2008.
Piloting a secure digital identity designed to make ‘invisible’ people visible directly advances St. Catharines’ Compassionate City goal Social sustainability goals noted in the “St. Catharines Strategic Plan” in which all are encouraged to take action and help – assisting seniors and homeless, mentoring, and participating in neighbourhood committees.
The District School Board of Niagara’s strategic plan is entitled “iMatter at DSBN”. To be our best selves we all need to feel like we matter … it is easier to feel like we matter when we feel like we belong. The mobile app representing the region through interactive maps and augmented reality will engage youth.
All of the proposals that create opportunities for people to connect – broadband connectivity, future ready community data platform and shared data infrastructure combined with increased accessibility through connected community hubs and roving hubs – will allow Public Health and Community Services to reach enough people to achieve their objectives of “Early Childhood Development” and “Meeting People Where They Are”.
Everyone needs a place to call home. “A Home for All” is the vision of Niagara Region’s Housing and Homelessness Action Plan. This plan includes service hubs providing one-stop access. Digital identity will aid in placement while connected community benches and shelters provide physical warmth and voice connection.
Youth retention in Niagara is a long-term goal of many organisations. “Niagara Region Council’s Strategic Priorities” includes a focus on Global Attractiveness and Youth Retention. “Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) policy briefs”, Niagara Workforce Planning Board reports, and the Work and Employment Sector of the “Living in Niagara 2017” report all point to significant gaps in data, which proposals in the connecting people section can fill.
The “Niagara Prosperity Initiative (NPI)” financially supports poverty reduction and prevention. The community data platform – shared data infrastructure will be invaluable. Matching people to jobs and jobs to people will become a reality through expanding the functionality of BENN; ditto for mentoring, volunteering and sports while innovative approaches to decreasing the digital divide will make more people eligible to be matched.
All of the proposals support the goal of the Niagara Mental Health and Addictions Charter where: optimal mental health …is an essential element to be included …as we build a stronger future.
Finally, the proposal supports the Niagara CIO Consortium’s “Intelligent Community Plan”.
Question 8: Implementation
Please describe your community’s readiness and ability to implement your proposal successfully.
Niagara has a long history of successful collaboration and implementation of large scale, multi-jurisdictional, multi-partner initiatives resulting in positive community outcomes. Every regional project is automatically a multi-jurisdictional one, involving at least two and often four tiers of government. Some projects stand out for their high degree of complexity spanning multiple business lines and functional units. Recent examples of successful projects which involved creation of ad-hoc multi-stakeholder groups coming together include the successful 2021 Canada Summer Games bid and the Ontario Healthy Kids Community Challenge. Ongoing highly effective cross-sector groups that have brought multiple projects to fruition include the Niagara CIO Consortium (NCC) and the Smarter Niagara Steering Committee.
Success in implementing all multi-stakeholder proposals depends on: shared vision (which requires extensive prior community consultation); role clarity; mutually agreed-upon governance; profound knowledge of and respect for local council; privacy balanced with transparency; inclusiveness; geographic representation; early and frequent communication including reporting back to municipal councils; and a respected third party to provide secretariat function and management of fund disbursement. Some of these essential processes can be formalized through memoranda of understanding (MOU); and all can only be created and maintained through open and constant engagement. Niagara has direct experience in managing and is continually learning in all these areas.
Established in 2015, the Niagara CIO Consortium (NCC) is a group of public sector IT leaders. The group has senior representation from public and catholic school boards, college, university, healthcare, police services and municipal governments. This group shows the importance of shared vision and the necessity for understanding roles and responsibilities. The shared vision of the consortium is to position the Niagara region as a technology centre of excellence; and through collaboration, foster a culture of innovation and promote the use of technology as a driver for economic growth and improved quality of life. Successful projects of the NCC include Niagara Open Data (resulting in multiple members ranking in the top twenty on the 2017 Open Cities Index); and a public-sector community cloud hosted in Niagara with Ontario Ministry of Education funding. A formal MOU was established to guide the shared service relationships, largely because of great differential capacity of participants. The existing MOU will need to be expanded and revised to accommodate the Smart Cities Niagara proposal.
The Smart Cities Niagara Steering Committee recently voted to have the NCC function as the governance body for our Challenge proposal. The primary point of contact for Smart Cities Niagara is a member of the NCC. Current membership of the NCC will need to be expanded to include other key stakeholders of the project.
The St. Catharines Downtown CCTV Camera Project, a Niagara Regional Police project to install cameras in downtown St Catharines, embodied the idea that the police, business owners and residents work in partnership to find new ways to solve problems. This project was highly sensitive politically and showed that the higher the degree of sensitivity, especially around privacy, the greater the level of importance that must be placed on inclusivity and constant communication. The feedback from city officials, the public and business owners was all taken into consideration as part of the implementation of this project. However, there was an early public impression that the aim of the project was to enforce authorities’ surveillance on citizens. Engaging the public as a partner in the implementation served to overcome this concern. Earlier engagement might have prevented the initial misunderstanding. Our designated communications team for the proposal will take these learnings and adopt a proactive community engagement approach.
Communication with residents is vitally important and so is reporting back to constituent municipalities on project progress, appropriate use of funds, and timely notification about any issues or politically sensitive topics. The Healthy Kids Community Challenge team developed a process of reporting back to both Niagara Region Council and all twelve municipal councils. This not only kept all politicians informed; it also kept the objectives of the challenge front and centre and alive in the minds of councillors. It will be important to replicate this for Niagara’s Smart Cities proposal. It is important to be respectful of senior municipal staff as well as municipal elected officials. The Niagara area CAOs’ monthly meetings provide a venue for updates and discussion of potential barriers.
The Niagara Prosperity Initiative(NPI) was established by Niagara Region in 2008 and provides an annual investment of $1.5 million to support poverty reduction and prevention. Niagara therefore has demonstrated ability to manage programs that provide social impacts across the entire region. NPI also uses third party agencies, most recently United Way and the Niagara Community Foundation, to manage flow of funds. The right choice of such an agency is important in the context of multi-jurisdictional projects. The current proposal is to ask the Niagara Community Foundation to function in this capacity.
Smarter Niagara Steering Committee: Established in 2011, the core mandate is to provide input to staff and Regional Council on cross-disciplinary urban strategies and policies that create, improve, enhance, and protect the built and natural environment, in turn enriching the social, mental, and physical well-being of the people of Niagara. The membership for the Smarter Niagara Steering Committee has a maximum of fifteen members. Membership for the Smarter Niagara Steering Committee is comprised of up to three Regional Council members combined with representatives from the community at large who have diverse interests as well as a gender balance. Smarter Niagara is a Region-wide initiative; therefore, the membership is geographically representative of the entire Niagara Region and represents a broad cross-section of Regional residents and interests.
Niagara’s 12 municipalities with the Regional government collectively budgeted approximately $45 million annually towards innovation. That amount demonstrates that Niagara has the capacity to deliver on large and complex technical projects.
Procurement in the public sector presents certain challenges. Where possible Niagara will leverage local companies, manage the scale of the projects, and adopt agile and iterative delivery methods.
Question 9: Finalist Grant Breakdown
Describe your plan for using the $250,000 grant, should you be selected as a finalist. Provide a high-level breakdown of spending categories and an accompanying rationale.
|Niagara will leverage the finalist grant to assess potential governance and operational models to support the execution of the Challenge; bolster Niagara’s data and information exchange ecosystem to fully understand our communities’ sense of belonging; further engage and educate the community on the Challenge’s objective; and establish proof-of-concepts on several of the proposed projects.
Governance and Staffing Consultation
As Niagara’s Smart Cities team spans all its municipalities and includes the interest of several community partners and service providers; the multi-stakeholder nature of Niagara’s proposal creates a unique opportunity to revolutionize how the area governs and staffs such a large initiative. The first stage of project pre-development will be to the assess potential governance and operational models through consultation and supported through in-kind administrative and project management contributions from the 13 municipalities and the Smart Cities Niagara steering committee. ($40,000)
In Niagara’s approach, access to data and information is key. Selection of Niagara’s proposal topic presented a challenge when discovering and accessing local level data that could truly depict the issue throughout its communities. As Niagara continues to develop upon its strategy in the finalist round, it is the objective of the project to ensure that the sense of belonging can be modeled down to our community and neighbour levels. To accomplish this requirement Niagara will be filing multiple custom request with Statistics Canada and several federal and provincial ministries (i.e. Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Housing, etc), and exploring new mechanisms for fill our communities’ data needs. ($25,000)
To ensure that all data is accessible to our community, Niagara will further invest in building upon our current data exchange platforms. Leveraging the work of Niagara Connects, Niagara Open Data Consortium, Niagara Community Observatory, Niagara Workforce Planning Board, Niagara CIO Consortium and local municipal geospatial divisions, Niagara will establish an multi-dimensional data repository to align and facilitate data sharing with the community’s service providers. Resourcing will also be provided to community service providers to assist in the preparation and publication of data to the repository to ensure the protection of individual’s privacy rights, while also strengthening the volume of valuable open data publications. ($35,000)
Community Engagement Strategy and Communication Plan
Ongoing engagement with our communities is critical. A strategy to ensure open dialogue and inclusiveness with our communities is important as we continue as a finalist. Budget allocation to advertise the engagement opportunities (traditional media and targeted social media promotion) is also required. ($25,000)
A substantial portion of the finalist grant will be dedicated to developing agile and iterative proof-of-concepts for several of the initiatives proposed within this application (Connectivity Hubs, Virtual Niagara). Focusing on leveraging local firms and talent and innovative open procurement, we will engage industry through formal requests for information (RFI) helping us establish options, scope, timelines, resource requirements and budgets for individual projects. ($125,000)
Addressing these components Niagara will be prepared to fully implement the Smart Cities Niagara plan as outline within the proposal.
Question 10: Partners
Describe the partners that are or will be involved in your proposal. Where partners are not yet determined, describe the process for selecting them.
Developed with Niagara’s educational institutions, service providers, area municipalities and its citizens, this proposal is firmly forged through partnerships. Continuation of this model is pivotal to the Challenge’s success. It is critical that the communities themselves become partners in our Smart Cities solutions.
Research / Subject Matter Experts
A large dependency of our proposal is the access and analysis of data to fully illustrate the challenge within our community. With partners like Niagara Community Observatory at Brock University; Niagara Workforce Planning Board; Niagara Research at Niagara College, and the Niagara Open Data Consortium, all focused on leveraging data and deriving local insight, Niagara plans to leverage these community assets. To obtain access to the required data, Niagara plans to engage the Federal and Provincial Open Government teams and Statistics Canada to establish data sets and access methodologies that can be replicated across the country. For gaps in Niagara’s local data assets, Niagara will further expand on our data exchange ecosystem by leveraging the work being done by Niagara Connects partnership development outreach, and will connect with Niagara’s Chambers of Commerce, INCommunities (211), Niagara’s charitable and employment organizations .
Community Engagement and Education
In implementing initiatives of this size, with a large number of stakeholders, adoption and support is driven by the community’s understanding of benefits and outcomes. To lead an engagement and education campaign Niagara will turn to our experts in the community. Niagara looks to its educational institutions and organizations such as Niagara Connects, Innovate Niagara, Spark Niagara and the Niagara Open Data Consortium to develop curriculum and informative material. Niagara intends to ensure the Challenge and its outcomes are a dominant feature of our community’s story.
Management, Consulting and Governance
Supplying the role of effective governance, management and consulting functions is critical to our success given the numerous projects slated for development. Our partners: Niagara CIO Consortium, Niagara Community Foundation, Niagara Regional Police, Niagara Regional Housing and our 13 Municipalities (Niagara Region, Fort Erie, Grimsby, Lincoln, Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Pelham, Port Colborne, St. Catharines, Thorold, Wainfleet, Welland, West Lincoln), have the expertise and leadership to provide a solid and transparent model to manage the delivery of our projects.
Technology Partner Selection Process
To ensure that solutions are transferable to other communities and that whenever possible open platform solutions are selected, Niagara will assess each potential partner with those principles in mind. A socially responsible procurement methodology will be used in vendor and technology partner selection. Lessons learned from small scale proof-of-concepts and continuous community feedback will be used to guide larger deployments. A challenge-based procurement process will be leveraged and when required more traditional procurement methods will be applied.
Local Partnership Development Approach
To identify and onboard new partners required to implement our projects, Niagara will leverage the extensive ecosystem of our already established partners. Building and strengthening collaboration between our diverse community of partners and citizens sets Niagara up for success.