Here’s what we learned.

Community-driven developer competitions are excellent opportunities for innovators and cities to mutually shape technologies that can address local concerns and support the economy. These competitionsーsuch as challenges and hackathonsーhave grown in popularity in recent years, generating many positive outcomes in communities. However, shaping tech competitions so that they are community-driven, accessible to a wide range of participants, and truly impactful can be tricky. 

That’s why our Competitions Team was driven to learn more about how we can deliver opportunities that both innovate smart city technologies while also serving communities’ unique needs. We sought feedback in the form of surveys and candid conversations with various stakeholders on how to ensure our future technology competitions engage a wide audience, are accessible, and uncover invaluable opportunities and partnerships. 

Here are some best practices distilled from those conversations.

Engage Early, and Be Deliberate

There’s no official cadence for how often you should check in on potential participants; the important thing to remember is that communication channels should be open and up-to-date. Consistent engagement will open the door for discussion and may help refine the competition early on to better meet community needs. Successful engagement goes beyond the ritual of initial contact and instead facilitates real power in creating something amazing for everyone. 

Build Longer-Term Engagement Strategies

To make opportunities more inclusive, you will need a longer-term engagement strategy with your community partners. Consider asking your partners how they want their city to look and feel in 5, 10, 20 years, or for the next generation. Using a longer time frame can help communities envision where your opportunities can open doors, and in turn can help you better frame your opportunities. This strategy will also help identify local champions, build trust, and better understand a community’s goals.

Communicate with Content

Those in the tech space often forget that many technologies are not yet civically mainstream. When we recently sought community participants for our Augmented Reality (AR) Developer Challenge with Facebook Reality Labs, we found that while all communities were interested in integrating AR technologies into their toolbox, many communities could not articulate what that integration would look like and the types of challenges the technology could address.

To better communicate opportunities and attract a broader pool of applicants, it’s important to put in the legwork and create supplemental resources that educate participants and inspire action:

  • Write a blogpost highlighting successful and exciting use cases and anecdotes related to the technologies featured in your opportunity. 
  • Create and maintain a public FAQ page related to your opportunity.
  • Host a public informational webinar at least a few weeks prior to the application deadline for those interested in the opportunity to ask clarifying questions. 
  • Eliminate jargon where possible. 

Offer Workshops, Technical Tutorials, and Presentations

Many communities are resource constrained, which can prevent them from participating in tech developer opportunities. When additional funding is not an option, workshops and other training opportunities offered to communities can also serve as invaluable resources by delivering legitimate technical training and inspiring action. Make these resources accessible by hosting the events and materials online. 

Always Seek Feedback

Communities know what they need from opportunities the most. If something about your opportunity isn’t gaining traction, or you’re missing a key audience, seek feedback. Opportunities are not one-size-fits-all, but the smart cities space can do a better job presenting and shaping our endeavors when we create with, rather than for. 

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There is often a technocentric bias in the approach of administering smart city opportunities. In reality, there are layers of meaning and intelligence in cities as they exist. Solutions come from communities understanding what’s important to them and what problems they are experiencing, recognizing that technologies are one part of the equation in building happier, smarter, more resilient cities.

In 2020, US Ignite launched the Challenge Competitions Program to encourage and support innovative problem-solving across the public and private sectors. Typically these challenge events lay out a specific problem, enabling us to call on entrepreneurs, hackers, makers, developers, and other creative minds to generate new solutions with the help of next-generation technologies. 

We don’t have the answers to the enormous challenges facing cities, but we do believe that community-driven developer competitions can be catalysts for local agency and problem solving. By focusing first on communities, their challenges and their goals, we can build opportunities for cities to consider tough problems with new tools.

Please reach out at [email protected]ite.org if you:

  • have an idea for an interesting developer challenge or opportunity,
  • want to brainstorm ideas, or
  • have any questions or feedback about the program. 

We’re excited to connect with you!