Helping communities take smart cities approaches

In collaboration with Evergreen & Future Cities Canada

How might we help municipalities mobilize data and technology to tackle their toughest challenges? The Community Solutions Portal makes smart cities solutions more accessible and collaborative.

Two people standing in front of a mountain with houses

Challenge

Will smart city technologies make our communities better? How can we help municipalities of all sizes apply smart cities approaches to build more inclusive, livable cities?

Solution

The Community Solutions Network is an online portal for community leaders to share resources, connect with others and see practical examples of smart cities approaches.

Process

Stakeholder engagement
Content strategy
Information architecture
Website design
User testing

Results

Nearly 140,000 pageviews in the first 10 months.

The context

As part of its Future Cities Canada initiative, Evergreen leads the Community Solutions Network alongside partner Open North to help communities across Canada adopt smart cities approaches.

For many communities, the idea of a ‘smart city’ may seem unattainable—after all, municipalities across Canada have different needs, resources and even access to basic technology. These factors can keep them from adopting small and achievable solutions to pressing issues, such as food insecurity, at-risk youth or water management.

Understanding our audiences

After a market scan of other organizations and smart cities enterprises, we worked closely with our clients to better understand common issues and barriers faced by all sizes of Canadian municipalities.

We reviewed one-on-one interviews with municipal leaders and decision-makers, to get a better perspective on the unique needs of urban, suburban, rural and northern communities.

We uncovered a key insight; that leaders aren’t looking for technology or other ‘smart city solutions.’ They are driven by issues their communities are facing, and want to see practical examples of how other communities are solving them.

Content strategy

Our content strategy was guided by common issues faced by municipalities. We facilitated a workshop with our clients to cluster these issues into broader categories. These tags would make it easier and more intuitive for users to browse and navigate content.

Whiteboard with many blue and orange stickies
Using sticky notes to group content with stakeholders
Whiteboard with large yellow and small blue and orange stickies

Wireframing

Our wireframes were detailed, starting out as collaborative sketches and moving into high-fidelity digital explorations. This level of rigour helped us visualize how users might engage with content from the landing page through to more granular pages.

Whiteboard with wireframes drawn
White board sketches to prototyped wireframes
High fidelity wireframe

User testing

There is enormous value in testing with users at the wireframe stage. We facilitated the sessions, posing questions and assigning tasks to each participant, making small tweaks and adjustments to the wireframes as we uncovered more about the user experience.

Illustration of a user testing session

Design

Understanding that “smart technology” can be an intimidating topic for many users, we designed the site to be clean, simple and approachable, using soft, round edges and minimal colour blocking.

Tablet view of the portal homepage Mobile view of the How to Start page Desktop view of the stories archive Tablet view of the resources archive Desktop view of a success story page

Initial development framework

We built an initial framework to make it easier to populate the site in the existing CMS (Expression Engine). Mindful of AODA WCAG standards, we built out all style sheets and behaviours, particular repeatable modules, as well as constructed numerous full pages, making the hand-off to the developer as seamless as possible.

Conclusion

The Community Solutions Portal launched as part of Future Cities Canada, just in time for the Government of Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge.

Since its launch, the portal has received many accolades and community leaders continue to share resources and success stories to inspire others to tackle their most pressing challenges. We continue to work with Evergreen as the site continues to evolve, building off of the initial strategy with new integrations and functionality.

See the Community Solutions Portal.