Smarter Cities Challenge Palermo – the final countdown

And so crunch week is upon us.  Time to focus our energies on refining our recommendations. We were lucky enough to have a last minute visit from the Mayor to our hotel team office, so we were able to validate some of our ideas with him. He’s a man of many wise words and sayings, and a man who very much believes in the possibility of change; he wholeheartedly refutes the Italian saying ‘He who is born round cannot die square’!


A lot of discussion and prep was required ….


And finally Friday arrived. Our Powerpoint skills had been tested, as had our patience and creativity, but finally we had an overview of recommendations that we were happy with and which we presented to the mayor and many of the people we’d met and interviewed during the previous 3 weeks. The last minute livestream on Facebook was a bit of a surprise but by that point it was too late to worry.

The mayor seemed happy with our presentation and it seemed to resonate with his thoughts and plans. He commented that they already have the infrastructure in place but they need to put it in service of the ‘client’ and that while they have both a communication and digital infrastructure, that these need to be combined, so create a system of participation and involvement.  I particularly loved his comments about how they currently manage by heroes but how they need to get back their souls to build a network of souls. He’s quite a poet!


The 3 presenters… happy with the result

And so a final team lunch was held as we said our goodbyes….but the hard work isn’t over. The report awaits!


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Smarter Cities Challenge Palermo – weekend #2

Weekend number 2 started with football….. while we were waiting for Italy to be beaten by Sweden (sorry Andrea!) the news flashed up on the screen. Coastguards in Libya in a ‘dispute’ with a German NGO over who was responsible for the death of some migrants during a rescue mission. Our eyes, ears and minds are now tuned in to this kind of news.

After a bit of shopping and a couple of hours of work, we all went off the international dinner with our new friends at La Noce. A fabulous evening of international food that everyone had made, chatting, dancing ensued, along with a table football tournament where the women were victorious! (We wanted to do something for the ‘unaccompanied minors’, the young lads we had met the last time we visited and Andrea had the great idea of a table football).

My overriding memory of the evening is of young African men and young African mothers dancing with Italian and German volunteers, dancing with Syrian and Tunisian men, women and their kids and also dancing with the IBM SCC team. It was such a fantastic picture of unity, happiness and hope. A REALLY amazing evening. Thank you La Noce, you’ll always have a place in my heart.


Sunday was largely filled with work again – we need to produce the best recommendations possible for all of the great people we have met. But Lisa, Helene and I did escape to the Massimo Teatro for a couple of hours to hear the beautiful voices of the children’s choir and orchestra rehearse. A bit of calm before the final week storm…

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Teatro Massimo children’s choir in rehearsal

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Smarter Cities Palermo – days 8-12

It’s funny how 3 weeks away from your day job seems like such an eternity to manage but 3 weeks on a project seems like a really short period of time! So week 2 arrived and it was time to divide and conquer.

We still had many meetings to do but we also needed to organise our thoughts and get some structure in place. Design thinking principles, SWOT analyses, workflows, a stack of post-it notes enabled us to synthesize the data we had and come up with a structure to move us forward.


We met three amazing women from the International Organisation for Migrants, part of the UN. The stories about sex trafficking were truly harrowing.  At the opposite end of the spectrum we also met a fabulous Italian entrepreneur who has her own fashion business based in Palermo.

I was also privileged to be able to visit Teatro Massimo on Thursday. It’s the 3rd biggest opera house in Europe and has a stage over 50 metres deep. But more impressive to me was the work they do in social inclusion. The superintendent told us about their ‘opera truck’ that they use to take opera around the city, to the masses – and how they took it one day to a tough neighbourhood called Zen. Initially they were performing to no one, but slowly the kids started to appear and then the mothers with their babies…. and finally the men. And how for those few hours of performance the police reported back that criminality stopped.  Amongst other things, they have a Rainbow Choir made up from kids from all walks of life and do concerts for pregnant women to introduce their babies to music.

Gelato and speed walks completed week 2 of being in the ‘City with a soul’.

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SCC San Jose heads into 3rd week

The team took a brief respite this weekend, with a fun trip to San Francisco and also a hike along on the Mine Hill Trail.  The rest was needed after a full week of Design Thinking workshops, a community volunteer project, further stakeholder interviews and deliverable work.  Below are some pictures from last weekend (quiz: see if you can find something strange and out of place in one of the San Francisco picture).

As the team enters our final week, everyone is in full-gear to complete our deliverable assignments and look at the insights together to refine our overall recommendations to the City of San Jose.  The overall story and flow of the city recommendation is starting to take shape, and we are seeing connections across all of our research and data reviews.  Much work remains to pull off the final presentation and report, but we do believe the City of San Jose will be “Wow’d” with the output.

team SF reflectionSF pichiking Mine Hill pic

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Design Thinking Workshop week

Last week on the project was Design Thinking week for us.

We hosted two Design Thinking workshops:

One workshop was held with City of San Jose stakeholders, landlords, Housing Providers, Property Managers and Tenant Advocates. We spent the day working through design thinking concepts, personas and brainstorming ideas for ways to engage on the sharing of data and information to support the City of San Jose with the Housing Affordability issues currently occurring in the city.

The second workshop was held with Charity Housing Providers, Tenant Advocates and Property Managers specifically brainstorming ideas related to the challenges in education, communications and applications related to Low Income Housing properties (Affordable housing).

The experience for these workshops was emotional and very different to running a design thinking workshop with a Corporate client. I found this experience to be both confronting and rewarding and I want to thank the IBM team for being such amazing facilitators and being able to pivot quickly when we needed to change our agenda at short-notice.

The ideas that were generated could help with the education of, search and application for, as well as the property experiences of all tenants and housing providers in the City of San Jose. These ideas will be incorporated into our final report, recommendations and roadmap for the City of San Jose – which will be presented to the City and Stakeholders on the 17th November.

As we enter into the final Sunday night of the trip, I am looking forward to not only this final week of work,  but also to experiencing Christmas preparation here, such as the Christmas tree lighting ceremony outside our hotel this week!



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Smarter Cities Challenge Palermo – woo hoo, it’s the weekend! (Days 6 – 7)

The weekend arrived! It’s amazing how tiring a week of listening can be, so a bit of down time was certainly welcome. Friday night started with a party at Moltivolti. An African band played to a packed audience of ‘many faces’ (as you’d expect).  So dinner, dancing and a bit of singing were in the order of the evening.


Saturday was a chance to expand our horizons outside of the central old city. First stop Monreale, a historical hillside town just outside of Palermo which boasts an amazing cathedral with over 6000 square meters of mosaics dating back to the 12th century. The sun shone, we had a fabulous lunch (which largely goes without saying on this challenge so far) before heading back into the city.


Cathedral at Monreale

Second stop was a visit to La Noce (the valley). We’d heard from their director, Anna, earlier in the week and she’d invited us to the Centre to meet some of the people in her centre. The organisation does everything from running a school, to helping and housing unaccompanied minors (UAM), families who have come through the ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ and vulnerable women.


La Noce and the Smarter Cities Challenge team – multiculture at its best

Most of the UAM are young African men, 16 or 17 years old, who have great ambitions for what their future – chefs, footballers, doctors… and with such passion and such amazing support from the team that runs La Noce you know that anything is possible.  We met Syrian and Tunisian families and heard about those that come from refugee camps in Lebanon.


Helene, Kate and Lisa with some of the lovely ladies from La Noce

The visit was a really good reminder to us all of one of the main reasons we are here and we were all really moved by their stories and how warm and welcoming they were.  I ended Saturday happy but physically and emotional exhausted.

Sunday morning came around all to quickly and we were off on another tour, this time a little closer to home. Ballaro is an area in the heart of the city centre, right next to where we are staying, and is famous for being an area populated by migrants. It’s trying to shake off its reputation of being unsafe and somewhere not to visit at night. Certainly during the day it is vibrant place with a huge market selling everything from fish, bread and vegetables through to second hand goods where bartering is possible. One of the well known faces in the area, Massimo, took us around and introduced us to many people. With every step he knew someone and with each of these steps we seemed to have the knowing nod of ‘ah yes, the team from IBM’. The responsibility is beginning to weigh on my shoulders.



Team SCC Palermo (L to R: Mike, Kate, Andrea, Helene, Lisa and Angelo) up a bell tower in Ballaro

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Smarter Cities Challenge Busan – 3 rewarding weeks!

We have now completed our three week Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) with the City of Busan. What an incredible experience and one of the highlights of my 16-year career at IBM. We interviewed over 50 people involved in disaster management, including various government agencies, academia, the private sector, and importantly citizens of Busan. We presented our findings and recommendations to the Mayor of Busan, who seemed pleased with our effort and who commented on just how much we were able to accomplish in such a short period of time.


Busan City, recognised as a thought leader in disaster management, has a solid foundation for managing disasters leveraging on great technologies available and importantly a great pool of experienced resources. We found out interviewees keen to share their insights and experience and they were a great group to work with. The last two weeks of the project were an intense period, gathering, analysing and documenting our findings, as well as developing some compelling recommendations to make Busan an even safer city. We did find some free time during the final two weeks to enjoy some of the sights in Busan, including Gamcheon Cultural village (pictured).


I have to say it was really hard to leave the wonderful city of Busan which I have become very fond of. Even harder was to leave the our SCC team of 5 members, as well as other supporting members, many of whom I have established good and hopefully lasting friendships with. I do however look forward to seeing my family whom I have missed greatly for three weeks, and getting back into my regular day job. I am truly impressed with the caliber of IBM people we gathered for this project and which supports the reason why I have so much respect for IBM. I highly recommend to my fellow colleagues to seek opportunities to work on a corporate citizenship assignment like this.

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