Craft­ing up a $50 mil­lion idea for Water­loo Re­gion

Re­gion seek­ing pub­lic in­put on youth-fo­cused bid to win $50-mil­lion Smart Cities Chal­lenge

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - FAISAL ALI

THE RE­GION OF WATER­LOO is con­sid­ered by some a cen­tral hub in the world of tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, and per­haps with good rea­son. From the world-renowned Univer­sity of Water­loo – con­sider, for in­stance, the re­cent No­bel Prize-win­ning physi­cist and school pro­fes­sor Donna Strick­land – to the tech gi­ants that have made Water­loo their home, and the wealth of start-ups that have pushed the bound­aries, Water­loo has done much to be con­sid­ered the Sil­i­con Val­ley of the North.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment cer­tainly seems to think so. Water­loo Re­gion was one of five ar­eas in the coun­try to be short­listed in June for Ot­tawa’s Smart Cities Chal­lenge, a coun­try-wide com­pe­ti­tion that will see the win­ner take home a $50-mil­lion prize.

The re­gion has un­til March of next year to sub­mit a de­tailed ap­pli­ca­tion to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, show­ing how it will use the prize money to cre­ate tech­nol­ogy-driven so­lu­tions to over­come a spe­cific chal­lenge. The Re­gion of Water­loo se­lected child and youth well­be­ing as its fo­cus, and over the next sev­eral months will be seek­ing in­put from the lower-tier mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, look­ing to gen­er­ate ideas and in­sights.

“We are now in a fi­nal­ist stage to build a full, de­tailed pro­posal. If we win, we would win a $50-mil­lion grant,” said Matthew Chandy, the Smart Water­loo Re­gion lead. “So we’re com­pet­ing against four other big cities across Canada for a $50-mil­lion grant to help us im­ple­ment var­i­ous tech­nol­ogy and datafo­cused so­lu­tions to help us make [Water­loo Re­gion] the num­ber one com­mu­nity for chil­dren and youth in the coun­try.”

The pub­lic and ser­vice

groups will play a key role in this process, as the re­gion tries to iden­tify the chal­lenges fac­ing youth in the re­gion, and how these chal­lenges can be tack­led with in­no­va­tive uses of tech­nol­ogy. The goal – or “chal­lenge state­ment” – for Water­loo Re­gion is to be­come the lead­ing com­mu­nity for youth well­be­ing in Canada.

“We will be­come the bench­mark com­mu­nity in Canada for child and youth well­be­ing by us­ing early in­ter­ven­tion, youth en­gage­ment and a con­nect­ed­com­mu­nity frame­work to cre­ate adap­tive, data-driven pro­grams and scal­able learn­ing tech­nolo­gies that im­prove early child de­vel­op­ment, men­tal health and high school grad­u­a­tion rates,” reads the re­gion’s chal­lenge state­ment.

The of­fi­cial launch of the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion phase be­gan this week, and Chandy is en­cour­ag­ing the pub­lic to be­come in­volved.

“We’re ask­ing all sec­tors of the com­mu­nity – so we’re ask­ing our tech and so­cial ser­vices sec­tor to come to­gether with youth and build so­lu­tions that will ben­e­fit youth, and we’re also just ask­ing the pub­lic to be a part of this,” he said.

Chandy gives an ex­am­ple of what a “tech­nol­ogy-driven” so­lu­tion to a chal­lenge might look like.

“A tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tion could be an app, for ex­am­ple. So right now, if youth are look­ing at ways of seek­ing sup­port for, maybe they’re get­ting bul­lied, or maybe they’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health chal­lenges, and they don’t feel like they can com­fort­ably speak to any­one about that,” he said.

“So maybe there is an app that they could find out who they can talk to, or anony­mously reach out and seek some as­sis­tance.

“That would be a very ba­sic ex­am­ple of how we can con­nect with youth,” ex­plained Chandy

It’s not just phone apps that are be­ing looked at here, Chandy notes. “An­other ex­am­ple would be, we talk about pro­gram­ming. Well how do we have more pro­gram­ming, and how do we teach kids dif­fer­ently? So how do we of­fer more pro­gram­ming and ser­vices out­side of just the class­room. How do we con­tinue to sup­port youth with con­tin­ued ed­u­ca­tion.”

Other chal­lenges to tackle could in­clude get­ting high speed in­ter­net to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, im­prov­ing high school grad­u­a­tion rates and lit­er­acy, and early child­hood de­vel­op­ment.

Cru­cially, be­sides cre­at­ing so­lu­tions to ex­ist­ing chal­lenges, the Re­gion of Water­loo will also need to come up with ways to mea­sure the ac­tual re­sults. To that end, the re­gion is en­vi­sion­ing the cre­ation of a “real-time child and youth well­be­ing dash­board,” that will use data col­lected from mul­ti­ple or­ga­ni­za­tions across the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, and com­bine it into a sin­gle on­line plat­form. The dash­board would es­sen­tially give a snap­shot of youth well­be­ing in the re­gion through a num­ber of statis­tics.

As an ex­am­ple, Chandy says, the dash­board could have a col­umn for grad­u­a­tions rates in the re­gion – of­fer­ing a quick, real-time in­di­ca­tor for how well young peo­ple are do­ing in that par­tic­u­lar area.

For those in­ter­ested in tak­ing part in the con­sul­ta­tions, and of­fer­ing their ideas, the first step would be to visit the web­site, rec­om­mends Chandy. In­for­ma­tion will be posted on how the pub­lic can get in­volved, as well as the tim­ings and lo­ca­tions of pub­lic events.

Com­pet­ing against Water­loo Re­gion for the $50-mil­lion prize are Que­bec City, Mon­treal, Ed­mon­ton, Van­cou­ver and Sur­rey, B.C. The mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have un­til March 5 to sub­mit fi­nal pro­pos­als, which will then be re­viewed by a jury. The fi­nal win­ners will be an­nounced some­time in the spring of 2019.

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