The Solution: A Global Network of Smart Communities Implementing Change #54 #cong19


This article explores why a global network of smart communities can transform our world for the better and identifies key attributes of a smart community in the future.

Key Takeaways:

  1. “Smart communities” have the greatest potential for rapid positive change in the world
  2. The community development sector in Ireland is comprised of thousands of groups, people and volunteered hours. Output from the sector can be greatly improved with improvements in efficiency brought about through digitisation
  3. Digitisation and the development of evidence-based approaches to local development will have a transformative change in Ireland and across the world
  4. Smarter communities of the future will use the information to better understand opportunities, make better decisions, improve cross-community collaboration and work in a more efficient and effective manner.

About Pat Kennedy:

Pat is the CEO of an Irish tech company called eTownz. eTownz have spent the past 8 years undertaking research in community development best practices. The company is developing a platform “eTownz Community Council Dashboard” to allow communities to better plan and manage local development activities.

Contacting Pat Kennedy:

You can connect with Pat on LinkedIn, see his work on eTownz or send him an email.

By Pat Kennedy

Our world is facing many economic, social and environmental challenges. Local communities have potentially the power to be the greatest force of change in the world. In order to realise the potential of communities they will need to modernise (and modernise without losing their soul)

Across the world, locals with shared goals, come together and form groups. Together, they utilize their shared skills, energy, resources and free time to change their communities.  This is in reference to all sorts of groups: business groups, sport groups, environmental groups, social support, heritage and arts groups, the list goes on.

The internet as a service has completely transformed most sectors. However the community development sector has not had the same transformative change through dedicated digital services.

So, what would the future look like if the community development sector went through a similar transformation as it has in other sectors? What if we could better quantify community work in your community, county and even country. Quantify all the activities by local group, everything including but not limited to …Tidy Towns, Chambers of Commerce, Men’s Sheds, Coder Dojos, GAA, St Vincent de Paul, Meals on Wheels, Sustainable Energy Communities, the list goes on.

Community activity is vast but largely unaccounted for, some high level figures include:.

  • 18,586 non profit groups in Ireland (mainly community groups)
  • 10,9816 people are employed in the sector (many again community orientated).
  • The “Leader” budget alone for 2014 – 2020 is €250 million along with many other public funding mechanisms.
  • Over 25% of the Irish population volunteer their time with various groups.
  • There are 232 million volunteers hours annually which is equivalent to €2 billion annually (@minimum wage )


There are six areas where dedicated and centralised online community development tools could have a significant impact in the future.

1) Bottom Up Data

Like all sectors, in order to make smarter decisions we need access to up-to-date & relevant data. Smart communities will be equipped with the tools to regularly gather local data. This will include sensors to environmental data but also user information on the projects, tasks and goals of local clubs and groups.

A smart community ecosystem would allow information from these various sources to be made available to community stakeholders allowing greater understanding, improvements in efficiency and better targeting of solutions to specific local goals and challenges.

2) Top-Tier Data

The Open Data movement provides rich and detailed public datasets which can help communities better understand their opportunities and issues. The data is open source and publically available, however it needs to be cleaned, visualised, interpreted and delivered on a very regular basis to those involved in local development, localised unemployment data, weather data, crime stats, housing information. All this made available by public bodies and in the future this will be processed and delivered in a manner which helps local communities grow.

3) Community Engagement, Opinion and Local Governance

Facebook & other social media tools have provided a place where people can discuss local issues online. However, social media has some limitations, mainly because there were not designed as a community development tool. In future, local communities will have discussion tools, voting tools, idea boards among others. Such tools would improve the cross pollination of ideas and help build engagement/participation in local initiatives.

4) Task Management in Local Development

The figures indicate that people want to contribute to their community but how.  Help needs to be flexible and respect the skills and interest of the volunteer. Community groups are always looking for more help however in future they will outline the specific help needed into task management tools. Subsequently, this can be shared among their members and the wider community so that people could be carrying out these tasks whilst on a lunch break, on a bus, or in front of the team.

Task management tools provide continuity between meetings and a clear roadmap on the agenda. It also helps reduce the pressure on the key community stalwarts to do everything. By tracking volunteer hours and contributions, we then can look at rewarding local volunteers in different ways. Examples of this include, time banking so they can exchange services, organize awards ceremonies for helpers and maybe even vouchers for local businesses !

5) Online meetings & training

Not everyone can attend meetings when they are on, they could be away from home or minding the kids. In future community groups will move towards conducting meetings either full or partly online. Consequently, this will open the door for so many more people to contribute to local issues without attending a meeting in person. A simplified means of documenting and distributing meeting notes, project plans and such again helps bring more people into help with local initiatives.

6) Effective & Efficient Knowledge Transfer

Effective and efficient transfer of ideas and expertise among the sector is an essential component of a smart community. Knowledge silos exists across many players in the sector from research institutes, to community groups and funding organisations. In future there will be a system to carefully document and catalogue best practices, case studies and other relevant information in a centralized digital repository. The experts across various sectors can help define best practise and project methodologies to create a collective “know how” which can be accessed by communities across the country and world.

  • Bob Kennedy says:

    Very interesting concepts here Pat that could be piloted now.
    Have you tried out any of them?
    What would it cost a community?

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