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Civic Accelerator project accelerates

Two companies embedding in city hall to help find solutions to two problems
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20160818 Accelerator ro
Guelph City Hall is in the process of embedding employees from private company's to find solutions to planning notification, and water data problems. It is part of the Civic Accelerator project. (Rob O'Flanagan/GuelphToday)

The City of Guelph’s Civic Accelerator project is something of an experiment – a process of discovery to find new ways of solving lingering problems.

It now has collaborators set to embed in city hall and work on two of those problems, planning notifications, and the timely dissemination of water data.

A third area the city was looking to partner up on in the process, parking modernization, did not attract applications that were a good fit for the city at this time. The proposals received did not demonstrate sufficient mutual benefit for the city and the applicant through the embedding process, which was a requirement.

Andy Best, the city’s open government manager, said two out of three is considered a successful outcome for the request for proposal process.  

The city announced this week that the winning proposal for water data came from Kitchener-based Alert Labs, a company that has developed water monitoring sensors that strap on to in-home meters and connects to a digital network.

It can send real-time alerts to a homeowner for things like costly water leaks.

The winning proposal in the area of planning notification is Ottawa-based Milieu, a company, according to its website, dedicated to fostering meaning conversation between local government and the public, while facilitating strong, evidence-based decision making.

To enable those conversations and decision making, the company has developed web and mobile software geared to municipal governments, urban developers, planners and architects.

“The city has a legal requirement to tell citizens about the wide variety of planning decisions that are happening that may affect their lives,” Best said. “The legislation says we have to put those in the newspaper. That is getting harder to do.”

Best said the challenge put out to entrepreneurs and innovators was to help the city connect more easily, and relevantly, with citizens related to planning notifications.

“And that is so we can better solicit their input and feedback on plans that might affect a property around the corner from them,” he said. He added that Milieu has build consultation tools into its map-based platform.

Both Alert Labs and Milieu have products which they are seeking to develop, and both are eager to introduce those products into municipal government – helping to solve city needs while expanding their business opportunities.   

Best said water bills in Guelph are received once a month. The most up-to-date information homeowners have related to their water usuage is 30 days old by the time it arrives.

There have been situations were property owners had very costly floods or water leaks occur without knowing it, which results in significant spikes in their water bill. 

“This is a pretty significant customer service issue for our water department,” Best said, adding that it is one that can’t be addressed because current metering doesn’t have the capacity to detect such problems.

“The challenge is, how do we equip people with information about their real-time water usage, to prevent these problems,” he added.

Alert Labs technology could prevent disasters and give residents data about their own water use behaviour, allowing them to reduce usage and save money.    

Employees from the two companies are now beginning the process of embedding in city hall, where they will work with city staff and have access to city data and systems in an effort to solve the problems they are tasked with solving.

Andy Best pointed out in an interview in Market Square Thursday that the civic accelerator process is a pilot project, and when December rolls around and solutions are demonstrated, they may or may not be the solutions the city runs with.

“This is a learning process for us,” he said, adding that the accelerator process works entirely on the basis of mutual benefit and incentives. No money is changing hands between the city and the companies.    

Civic accelerator transforms the city into a kind of research, development and commercialization zone for civic technology.

The embedding process will continue until the end of August. From Sept. 5 to Dec. 5, Alert Labs and Milieu will work with city employees and partners to build, refine and test solutions. Solutions will be demonstrated in December.



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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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