Sylvie Albert was deeply involved in the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York-based think tank long before she moved to Winnipeg to become dean of the faculty of business and economics at the University of Winnipeg.
In addition to teaching at the faculty of management at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., for eight years, she wrote books about the ICF and was an international jurist for the group that runs the annual "Intelligent Community of the Year" program.
Winnipeg made it to the top 21 the past three years and cracked the top seven this year for the first time, in a field of about 400 communities that apply.
Albert did not contribute to the Winnipeg submission and has recused herself from jury duty this year because of the Winnipeg connection, but that does not stop her from providing an expert opinion about Winnipeg's relative standing in world of intelligent communities.
"The biggest thing that blew me away when I arrived was the extent of collaboration in this community," she said. "That's very hard to find in cities internationally."
'The biggest thing that blew me away when I arrived was the extent of collaboration in this community'
She said she met more than 50 CEOs in the first two months she was here.
"The doors were wide open," she said. "I'm not a big name, just one of the deans at the U of W. People take you in. I quickly started to see all the networks of networks."
You might not think collaboration is necessarily a key piece of having an intelligent community, but it can be.
John Jung, the co-founder and chairman of ICF, was in Winnipeg this week giving the city the once over as part of the process to pick the intelligent community of the year.
He said, "You need to be much more holistic in approach like working with educational institutions. Cities like Winnipeg work closely with the universities, positioning them in the centre of a knowledge-centric economy, making them a part of the community's daily life. It raises the bar for everyone."
The big message of the ICF is for communities to take advantage of everything they have and to add the technology element -- like high-speed broadband -- to leverage that for the benefit of the entire community.
Again, it's not just about how wired the community is.
"What we are looking for is the positive aspects of how to utilize technology for prosperity and create wealth in communities by addressing opportunities, he said.
That means making the community's assets as inclusive as possible including all the disenfranchised elements of the community.
"We advocate that," Jung said. "We encourage greater access, more affordable access. It is really important that you develop talent in the community and you want to keep that talent in the community."
Winnipeg's predisposition to be self-deprecating may cause locals to scoff at the city's inclusion in such an international competition, but Albert, who has travelled to more than 40 countries, said that kind of self-criticism happens everywhere.
When it comes to the ICF, everyone doesn't have to be Palo Alto, Calif.
"There is no black and white," she said "Each community has its own flavour. It's really about creating quality of life and sustainable communities," she said.
There are six main criteria judges consider: infrastructure, skilled workforce, innovation and creativity, digital inclusion, marketing and advocacy and sustainability (which was added this year for the first time).
Each year there is a particular theme to focus on and this year's is about the power of culture and how it can help make a community intelligent.
Marina James, the CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, whose office produced the submission, said, "With the theme of 'Community as Canvas' we felt if we could not garner a higher standing with the amount of collaborative, creative energy in Winnipeg than we, as an economic development agency, would not be doing a good job."
Highlights of Winnipeg's submission include the city's technology incubators and accelerators, AssentWorks, a unique international collaboration at Sisler High School called the Digital Voices Project, Aboriginal People's Television Network and the Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre at the U of W.
Putting together the submission means getting input from across the community spectrum.
James said part of the enduring benefit in taking part in a program like this -- regardless of the eventual ranking -- is the mash-up of brain trusts from all sorts of sectors.