Westerville worked to put its best foot forward April 23-25 as it was host to International Community Forum co-founder Robert Bell as a part of the evaluation process for the Intelligent Community of the Year.

The Intelligent Community Forum is a global network of cities and regions with a think tank at its center, according to its website, intelligentcommunity.org.

Its mission is to help communities use information and communications technology to create inclusive prosperity, tackle social and governance challenges and enrich their quality of life.

Bell said the organization was founded in 1999 as technological change started to affect communities.

Bell's visit to Westerville involved a tour of the Uptown district and other places of interest in the city, including The Point at Otterbein University, 60 Collegeview Road, and the WeConnect Data center, 35 Collegeview Road.

The main event of the visit was the WeConnect Innovation Expo on April 24, highlighting the city's innovators.

An early visit was to the Westerville Public Library, 126 S. State St.

"The role we played is partly for digital inclusion and making sure the community has access," said Erin Francoeur, executive director of the library.

She said they gave Bell a tour of the library and highlighted the location's "meet the author series," which has brought 38 authors to town since 2012.

Francoeur said the library staff was honored to be a part of the visit.

"We're only a part of this, and we've known for a long time that we've had an intelligent community," she said.

Westerville is one of seven communities worldwide that are in consideration for the award, including Abbotsford in British Columbia, Canada; Chicago; Hudson, Ohio; Taoyuan, Taiwan; Sarnia-Lambton County in Ontario, Canada; and Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia, according to Christa Dickey, Westerville's director of community affairs.

Dickey said Westerville first won the organization's Smart21 ranking and then advanced to the Top7.

Westerville also is the first city in the U.S. to achieve both the Smart21 status and Top7 on first application, Dickey said.

To become the Intelligent Community of Year, Bell previously said each community fills out a questionnaire, which is then evaluated by a group of independent researchers and leads to being ranked as a Smart21 community.

He said once that ranking is achieved, those communities fill out another questionnaire that is more detailed and it is evaluated by the same group of researchers.

Then members of the ICF visit each community to validate the information on the questionnaire and to see how all programs and projects in the communities work together, Bell said.

The winner of the Intelligent Community of the Year will be announced in New York City on the last day of the organization's closing summit on June 11.

The goal of the program is to provide communities large and small, urban and rural, with evidence-based guidance on becoming an Intelligent Community, and an objective method for measuring their progress, according to the organization's website.

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