Ariel view of Dallas, Texas.

Jun 22 2022

North Texas Civic and Private Organizations Unite for Innovative Collaboration

The Lone Star State alliance seeks to pool resources and build a smart region.

In Texas, a regional effort is proving that innovation can be a collaborative endeavor.

The North Texas Innovation Alliance (NTXIA) transcends municipal borders to bring together technology-driven solutions to meet a range of civic challenges. Its projects address everything from autonomous vehicle initiatives to artificial intelligence-driven infrastructure projects and advanced metering solutions.

The formal mission of NTXIA is to create “the most connected, smart and resilient region in the country,” says co-founder and executive director Jennifer Sanders. NTXIA’s stated aim is to make North Texas a leader in integrated smart city efforts, especially those initiatives that cross geographic boundaries. “The first step is the establishment of entities that drive strategy, commitment to collaboration and execution,” Sanders says.

To that end, NTXIA brings together “best minds and best practices” to facilitate cross-jurisdictional collaboration, she says. By working collaboratively, “we bridge gaps in capacity that limit the speed of individual entities to plan, deploy and scale solutions.”

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Public, private, civic and academic institutions all play critical roles in driving innovation. In bringing together these diverse regional stakeholders, “there are innumerable opportunities to find success in regional collaboration utilizing best practices in data, technology, sustainability, land use and service delivery,” Sanders says.

How Public-Private Partnerships Can Spur Innovation

NTXIA pulls together an engaged network of innovation-focused organizations, all working together to learn, share, replicate and scale projects that are successful from one jurisdiction to another.

“By uniting multiple public entities, currently numbering more than two dozen, the NTXIA hopes to better align private sector capabilities with specific demands from local jurisdictions,” Sanders says. Corporate tech leaders including Cisco participate in the alliance.

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As a central resource, the organization can help to streamline civic efforts. By mapping initiatives that reach across departments or jurisdictions, it can provide civic leaders with insight into what their neighbors have done or are already doing.

The time is ripe for such an effort, as many jurisdictions have unprecedented funding available. With federal funds flowing, a collaborative network “can aid broadly in making the most strategic and impactful use of this once-in-a-generation investment,” Sanders says.

Why Regional Governments Benefit from Innovative Collaboration

In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, which houses several NXTIA members, more than 30 percent of residents live and work in different counties within the metroplex. This presents a cross-jurisdictional challenge.

“When those counties operate on disparate systems — whether emergency services, traffic signals, mass transit and so many others — we all suffer,” Sanders says.

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The arrival of some 360 new residents a day in the DFW area adds to the complexity. “We must address the region as a whole if we want that growth to be sustainable environmentally and operationally,” she says.

At the same time, increases in extreme weather events, traffic, infrastructure deterioration, affordable housing and income inequality are regional issues that must be tackled in a collaborative way.

“As our cities transform into smart cities, this becomes even more critical,” Sanders says.

Why Partners Seek a Smart Region

A collaborative, regional approach can help municipal leaders address several key smart city challenges.

“The most fundamental barriers that have held us back across the U.S. in scaling smart cities and infrastructure investments are policy lags, procurement and financial constraints,” Sanders says. To drive success, “these must be addressed, and they must be addressed in an innovative and streamlined manner — hence the smart region.”

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The good news is that, for the first time in a generation, funding availability is an enabler and not a barrier. But the strategic use of these funds requires “a change in mindset,” Sanders says. Specifically, it demands a pivot toward collaborative regional thinking around innovation.

“There is more precedent to point to in interlocal agreements, sharing agreements and public-private partnerships, and the hope is that through these learnings, the public sector can move more quickly to deployment than has classically been possible,” she says.

Jennifer Sanders
There are innumerable opportunities to find success in regional collaboration utilizing best practices in data, technology, sustainability, land use and service delivery.”

Jennifer Sanders Executive Director, North Texas Innovation Alliance

How Early Success Spurred More to Join Regional Alliance

In 2021, NTXIA made rapid progress on its efforts to create “the most connected, smart and resilient region in the country,” Sanders says.

When Texas suffered a devastating winter storm, for example, programs co-created among membership and tailored according to their individual and collective priorities “allowed for rapid response opportunities to discuss learnings and ways solutions can be leveraged across the region,” she says.

Early success has spurred growth in NTXIA’s membership to encompass more than three dozen organizations, two-thirds of which represent the public sector. Participating cities include Dallas, Allen, Arlington, Irving, Plano and others. Some public sector councils like the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and others also participate.

Together, they have conducted six workshops with 19 subject matter experts and peer cities “to dig deeply into all aspects of digital infrastructure, data, security and economic development,” Sanders says.

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The organization also launched a first-of-its-kind call for revenue-generating solutions in partnership with Marketplace.city “to understand the landscape of new and tested solutions to benefit local government,” she says. Those learnings have been shared nationally through the National Smart Coalitions Partnership, of which NTXIA is a founding member.

NTXIA also has developed a range of shared resources, including a repository of peer policy changes, public-private partnership contracts, requests for proposals and other templates. In addition, regional efforts supported by NTXIA include a four-jurisdiction partnership that resulted in a joint RFP to deploy broadband serving four adjacent smaller communities.

“This effort is being highly sought after by larger municipalities around the country,” Sanders says. “We are so proud of these communities’ role in innovating cross-jurisdictional partnerships to get the job done.”

Next Steps: Federal Grant Collaboration and Building Resilience

Looking ahead, NTXIA aims to leverage multijurisdiction collaboration to help civic leaders maximize their investments.

“Our forward-looking initiatives in 2022 include heavy support of membership in planning for federal funding investments, both utilization of formula funds as well as competitive grants,” Sanders says.

The group plans to hold workshops and bring in subject matter experts to elevate best practices in shaping these grants. They’ll also be sharing insights around broadband, physical assets, mobility, resilience, data security and workforce development.

An emerging cross-disciplinary fellows program will facilitate partnerships by embedding teams of students at the community college or university level within public sector member organizations. Fellows will be encouraged “to take a 360-degree look at a chosen problem statement, from policy to technical to the business case,” Sanders says.

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In addition, civic innovation challenges will lead to pilot opportunities, giving municipalities a chance to integrate and test new ideas, driven by community engagement.

“Finally — and this is early but promising — we have convened more than 30 organizations to explore the pursuit of a next-generation resilience hub,” she says. That effort represents the start of a regional network that will incorporate solutions addressing electrification, community resilience, workforce development, economic development and equitable access to fresh food and housing.

Innovation doesn’t have to be a solo effort. NTXIA is proving that across a range of key civic areas of concern, municipalities can work together in support of higher-level regional outcomes.

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