Booz Allen Hamilton

Smart Cities Challenge Participants Offer Innovative Solutions to Cities’ Challenges

April 02, 2015

by Patrick Mccreesh

On Saturday, February 21, Booz Allen sponsored the Global Urban Data Challenges: Smart Cities Challenge in Boston, and I was honored to serve as a judge at the event.

The Global Urban Data Challenge invites participants to solve long-standing challenges in 25 cities across the globe using technology. The Boston theme – “Smart Cities for Small Cities” – challenged teams to address problems faced by the cities of Holyoke and Somerville, MA.

The Holyoke Challenge: Using Internet of Things (IoT), civic tech, and other smart cities concepts, how can the City of Holyoke improve the pedestrian experience for residents and visitors?

Teams were asked to design a walkability initiative in response to city leaders’ and businesses’ desire for more pedestrian activity in center city.  Seven teams took on the challenge. As is often the case, the winning team most effectively listened to the client who said their best form of communication with the community seemed to be through Facebook.

The winning team, Holyoke Stroll, took the day to integrate the city's Stop.Think.Click. system with the city's Facebook page and create a walking path with a feedback cycle.  In this program, walkers receive discounts from local merchants for providing feedback on what blemishes they see around town, serving to both support walkability and improve city services.  The team also included a monitoring program to track activity and enable users to suggest new walking routes to add to the program.  The total cost of the program is low, because the team did all the work, and the City Rep from Holyoke was ready to adopt!

The Somerville Challenge: What tools can the City of Somerville deploy to empower community stakeholders to participate in data generation to solve difficult policy problems?

Somerville is a data savvy city with a dynamic mayor who has implemented systems-thinking throughout the city's management practices.  While the city has a lot of quantitative data, they are still working through the qualitative data that would support root cause analysis.  This challenge had 4 teams supporting the problem and three strong solutions emerged.  One was a data gathering approach that leveraged text analytics to review get-coded Tweets to understand Somerville's challenges.  The second was a multi-channel data collection platform that uses SMS, web, and mobile input to collect challenges form the community.  The winning team, SmahtSomerville, created an app for city staff that asks questions based on IBM's Watson to machine-learn why people were interacting with city services (e.g., police, social services, health programs).  The Somerville rep felt this would help the city understand the core of problems and develop a better root cause for solutions.

It was energizing to be a part of judging this event, and is a great way for Booz Allen to stay connected to the great thinking going on at the local level. For more information on the Global Urban Data Challenges, visit: