Olds has a vision – to become the small and medium enterprise (SME) capital of rural Alberta. The primary expression of that vision is the creation of a “connected community” where the citizens are intelligent consumers of technology and have established an IT “culture of use”. This is a community that goes far beyond e-mail or simple e-commerce. It is a community where access to and use of information technology exists on a scale equivalent to the current use of electrical power or water in our taps.
The in -process implementation of the FTTP project is one step toward achieving this vision. The remaining gap is investment toward establishing the IT ‘culture of use’. In the past two years, the Olds Connected Community Committee – a sub-committee of OICRD Technology Committee has undertaken research on community engagement, developed a marketing plan, and achieved significant success in kick starting awareness and engagement toward acceptance of a ‘culture of use’ in the community. Our research indicates that changing culture in a community is a multi-year process of investment in influence and engagement in the community – five years is common. The development of ‘culture of use’ is beginning as evidenced by the huge increase in technology related contacts in the new Library and the significant increase in business presence on the Internet from 2010 to 2011 with more websites & use of social media. See another Blog entry for Business Web Presence report http://www.oldscc.com/blog/2011/11/olds-business-and-the-web/
As the Rural Alberta Development Fund Grant supporting this combined project has been completed, a final report has been submitted. Along with reporting on how the original objectives were achieved, it also includes key results and learnings from our multi-year project. Things like how many people are using the technology components in the new Olds Municipal Library, how many more Olds businesses are now using social media to connect with customers, how community engagement can be influenced, and how to integrate a marketing plan to use complementary techniques to deliver a message to the community.
The Executive Summary follows with the full report (3.7Mb) available for download here: http://oldscc.com/Olds_Extended_CES_Final_Report_to_RADF_letter.pdf
The overall premise of the project was based upon the following statement from the Alberta Government document “A Place to Grow” and the vision of the Rural Alberta Development Fund.
“A Place to Grow … reflects the traditional ties of rural Alberta to the land – to agriculture, ranching and farming. But it also looks beyond those traditional ties to a future where rural Alberta is a place to grow new opportunities, new ideas, and new potential for the future.”
Further, the Rural Development Fund was established in 2006 with the following vision:
“Rural Alberta’s Development Fund seeks to inspire and act as a catalyst for innovative, collaborative, community-led projects which promote growth, prosperity and quality of life in rural Alberta.”
Financial support from Rural Alberta’s Development Fund was used to provide the necessary investment and seed money to augment and leverage local community support and enable the establishment of the Olds Community Engagement Site and the design of the Connected Community Network (Fibre to the Premise – FTTP)
- Established Community Engagement Site. This component established a technology center in Olds where people access broadband technology, learning applications and support. The Community Engagement Site provides not only on-site access to services, technologies and support but acts as the catalyst for community members – young and old – to learn about the opportunities broadband access can provide. A “culture of use” has begun to emerge in the community.
- Establishing a Connected Community Network (FTTP) within the Town of Olds. This step – taking fibre to the premises of homes and businesses in Olds – will complete the “last mile” connection to the SuperNet. It will provide every home and business in Olds with the opportunity to access secure, consistent broadband technologies and learning applications. It will provide an economic tool to attract new businesses It provide a model to test the feasibility of the approach and the planning required for connecting fibre to the premises in other rural communities in our region and across the province. It has the strong support of municipal, community and business leaders in the Town of Olds.
A number of factors make this project unique:
- It has extensive support in the community and has been developed through an active partnership involving key stakeholders and a wide range of community, organization and business supporters.
- Its reach is extensive, involving potentially every business and residence in the Town of Olds. The combination of Community Engagement Site and the Connected Community Network (FTTP) will enhance opportunities for community members and businesses to take full advantage of “last mile” connectivity. The project provides equal access as some will have fibre to their premise & some will access via the Community Engagement Site.
The project continues to support all four pillars of Alberta’s rural development strategy.
- Economic development – specifically targeted at growing small and medium sized businesses.
- Community Capacity expansion – supports quality of life, and helps attract and keep people in our community.
- Health care – Opportunity for enhanced access to health care, direct home services and expanded telehealth.
- Learning opportunities – provides access to a wealth of learning opportunities for people of all ages from young children to adults and seniors.
The project is self-supporting and sustainable.
The overall goals for this project were to:
- Support sustainable economic development in the region
- Attract and retain more young people and young families in the rural communities involved
- Develop a culture of use so that the full potential of accessing broadband technology can be reached
- Improve access to education at all levels from basic education to post-secondary programs, skills development, and ongoing professional development and learning opportunities – see
- Support and enhance the quality of life in the community
- Use technology to improve access to health care services for people in the region and to support people working in the health care sector
The Olds project is grounded in strong community support. The ideas have been developed, discussed and expanded by community members, starting as early as 2003 when the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development was established and began its initial work developing an ICT strategy for the community.
When Rural Alberta’s Development Fund was established in 2006, plans had already been developed for the two separate but critically important initiatives – establishing a Community Engagement Site in partnership with the Community Learning Campus, and developing a fibre to the premises network. The establishment of Rural Alberta’s Development Fund provided a catalyst for the two proposals to come together under this single, integrated proposal. Members of the OICRD saw the benefits of working together to provide a comprehensive approach with benefits that extend well beyond any single community and could be used as a model for other parts of the province. And as the stakeholders involved in this project have worked together and refined the details, the benefits of linking the two components have become clear and crucial to the future of our community.
In summary, Rural Alberta’s Development Fund has offered the opportunity for the community of Olds, along with our partners in the South Central Rural Alliance, to create two innovative and collaborative projects for the benefit of the citizens of Olds and region. Olds, as a well educated and connected community will lead the way into the future for rural development. The projects have given the citizens of Olds the confidence to move to the next stage of engaging all citizens to maximize our capacity and assure our sustainability into the future.
With our partners, we are confident that the FTTP project will succeed and be transformational in our community and others as they learn from and follow our lead. We are confident that we will demonstrate the value of the investment, and it will contribute directly and powerfully to the objectives of Alberta’s rural development strategy. We are finishing the dream of ultra broadband to every premise in Olds and accessibility available to all.
“Sustaining the status quo may be acceptable for some communities in the short term. But in the longer term, rural communities need to be invigorated and recharged. They need to take a proactive approach to tackle issues and challenges, make choices, build opportunities in their communities, and determine the course of their community’s future.” A Place to Grow, page 10
For follow-up questions:
Community Engagement Site
Olds Fibre to the Premise
‘Culture of Use’