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 â€“ which is often just a street or a neighbourhood â€“ 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.