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    Inside Government conference 'Smart Cities, Transforming Serices 2017'

    On 5 December 2017, Gillian Rose chaired an event by the think tank Inside Government. The day-long conference, Smart Cities, Transforming Services 2017, welcomed key figures from the smart cities field including Mike Pitts, Head of Urban Systems at InnovateUK, Jarmo Eskelinen and Chief Innovation and Technology Officer at the Future Cities Catapult, as well as representatives from smart city programmes in Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge and London and the Bristol is Open initiative.

    Discussion during the day ranged widely. Phil Swann, Chief Information Officer at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, insisted early on that the debate about smart cities really needed to get out of the tech-driven bubble that it currently inhabits and think much more about the users of smart technologies in cities. And a contributor from the floor suggested that the most valuable thing that Manchester was learning about smart was not about the tech at all, but about how to enable multiple urban stakeholders, organisations and authorities to collaborate on digital infrastructural change. Given the complexity of the governance of the urban built environment, the most important learning was about processes and practices to implement effective technologies, not about the tech itself (which rapidly changes in any case).

    In her closing remarks, Gillian emphasised three things:

    The first was the need to share best practice about how to make smart tech work effectively both with citizens but also in the context of complicated local government structures. A few suggestions were made during the day: get coders to intern in city government departments; think about procurement in terms of outcomes rather than objects; pay a lot of attention to standards; and consider carefully the importance of communications and engagement. But a day focused on sharing other ideas for integrating technological innovation with local government would be really useful, delegates suggested.

    A second area was about the process of 'scaling up' smart innovation. This was often pictured as a global process: what was invented in Manchester, or Cambridge, could be exported to cities elsewhere in the world. But, as the previous paragraph emphasises, a lot of effective sharing could happen between UK cities. And there is also the important issue of what happens when a smart city testbed – which is often just a street or a neighbourhood – gets scaled up across just one city and then encounters very different sorts of urban contexts. What happens when a smart service moves from a city centre location where everyone uses smartphones to a suburb where few people do? What happens when 'disruption' gets resisted by people who are benefitting from the status quo but is embraced by those currently marginalised in a city?

    Finally, Gillian was interested in how a lot of the discussion implicitly touched on the question of culture. This happened in two ways. First, there was a lot of talk about the values that were needed to adopt smart service transformation: vision, risk-taking, bravery. And some mention of what might prevent change: fear, distrust. This raises the question of what sorts of local or workplace cultures might be needed to adopt smart changes (as well as the organisational need for collaboration). And second, a lot of the more creative approaches to smart service provision seemed to come from places with a lively arts and design culture. Bristol was the obvious example here, with the maker cultures centred on Knowle Media West and the Watershed actively contributing to a distinctive vision of smart as genuinely city-wide and inclusive.

    So, a rich day of discussion and plenty of food for thought for the SCiM team.

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    Digital Cities for Change project

    Project PI Gillian Rose has been invited to be a member of the Advisory Board of the Digital Cities for Change project (DC2).

    The project is funded by the Ove Arup Foundation and hosted by the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction at the University of Cambridge. DC2 has just recruited two research assistants and is currently planning its launch event in June 2018. Gillian attended the Board's meeting on 22 November and contributed to shaping the project's particular focus on understanding the governance of smart cities in order to improve city life.

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    Smart City Expo 2017 in Barcelona

    Barcelona's annual Smart City Expo, which took place between 14-16 November, is one of the most significant global events in the smart city field. It's here where the big players get together to showcase new technologies and to discuss strategy. SCiM-MK sent Dr Alan-Miguel Valdez, who took a moment out from the exciting new tech and the autumn Barcelona sun to send his reflections back:

    Hello, Alan-Miguel Valdez here, back from the Smart City expo at Barcelona. Several interviewees have told us this is the place to be for learning about the latest in smart cities, so we had to be there. This year there were 675 exhibitors and 18,754 attendees from 700+ cities in 120 countries. I'd say that smart cities from the UK were largely underrepresented, but fortunately MK was there, with council leader Peter Marland contributing to the panel on Disruptive Trends Transforming Urban Mobility

    When I have visited similar events in the past, I usually spend most of my time at the conference, listening to presentations by experts and industry leaders. This time I spent my time at the trade fair instead. As part of our research, I wanted to visit the stands of the various smart cities, trying to develop an understanding of how the dozens of cities claiming to be smart were similar to (and different from) each other. We will need some time for proper analysis and reflection, but I would like to share something that caught my attention.

    Judging from the exhibits at the expo, it looks like cities don't want to be just smart anymore. Now that hundreds of cities claim to be smart or experimental, smart alone may not be enough to raise the symbolic capital of a place. Most of the promotional materials I gathered at the expo are clearly designed to attract investment, with cities framing their smartness as a unique selling point. Since 'smart' by itself is not so unique anymore, cities need to offer something else on top, and in consequence projects are becoming "smart and social", "smart and sustainable", "smart and inclusive", "smart and connected", "Smart and clever", etc…This may be related to growing acknowledgement that 'big data' is not new, and not smart by itself, with people from ICT companies acknowledging that they had been using big data from a long time ago, long before "smart" became fashionable. It may be too early to tell, but judging from the number of stands devoted to it I suspect that robotics and automation will become the next new thing, the defining element of the next generation of smart cities.

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    ESRC Festival of Social Science at the centre:MK

    The weekend of 4-5 November, SCiM-MK was pleased to participate in the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Recognising the limited public recognition and debate about smart cities, we took some exciting smart technologies to Central Milton Keynes's thecentre:MK. Members of the public were invited to experiment with those smart technologies and to talk with us about their experiences.

    We had two pieces of tech on display. Most excitingly, we were able to showcase how novel augmented reality technology might change the way we interact with the city using a hololens headset. Our project partners, Virtual Viewing, had developed an interactive experience booth within which hololens wearers were able to bring up video and data about our virtual Milton Keynes cityscape. We were also able to demonstrate other modes of urban data visualisation using an iPad.

    We used this as a prompt for conversations. Perhaps most illuminatingly, the terminology of 'smart city' is relatively unknown amongst the public. That said, many people could think of ways smart technology were changing the ways they lived in cities. Broadly, the Milton Keynes residents we spoke to were optimistic about the future of their city as it got smarter, and excited about the possibilities that new technology could offer. But that didn't mean that smart got an unconditional green light. People are worried about how smart might exclude certain groups. They are also anxious about what might happen to their personal data.

    The event generated some fascinating conversations amongst members of the community and food for thought as we move toward the second half of SCiM-MK.

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    SCiM-MK's research discussed in 'Property Week' article

    Milton Keynes' smart city developments, and SCiM-MK, took centre stage in a recent article in the trade journal Property Week. Dr Miguel Valdez, a SCiM-MK Research Associate who previously worked for the MKSmart project, was interviewed for the piece. For Miguel, the scalability of smart projects is linked to what they might achieve commercially. "If you try to solve the problem for your city, it is not going to get people truly excited," he told Property Week. "If you're offering a solution that you can prove will scale up to other cities so it will have commercial applications elsewhere, that’s a way to get investors excited."

    The article is available online without a paywall.

Report from @ProfGillian who chaired the @InsideGovt #smartcities event on our website https://t.co/d2leJ9q4TS. Gil… https://t.co/Rs2MiaMig7
by SCiM_MK

From the @MKSmartProject, also at the OU https://t.co/d5RFLAoWUD
by SCiM_MK

Tomorrow @ProfGillian will be chairing @InsideGovt's 'Smart Cities Transforming Services' conference. Speakers incl… https://t.co/67aQIV7HI8
by SCiM_MK

. @ProfGillian is an Advisory Board member of Cambridge University's @CSIC_IKC hosted Digital Cities for Change pro… https://t.co/jyCzRd8kgd
by SCiM_MK