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Learning from Future Cities Demonstrators

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Life in cities is becoming more complicated

Globalisation and the breath-taking progress in digital technologies have led to the world becoming ever more interconnected and interdependent. Combine that with other factors such as climate change, new patterns of work, and demographic changes and one can see why city life and its management is becoming ever more complex.

City authorities tend to work in silos

City authorities, in common with most other organisations, operate in silos. The reasons for this have their roots in the work of mathematicians and philosophers such as Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes, who said ““I have described the Earth and the whole visible Universe in the manner of a machine.”

Making no allowance for interdependencies

One problem with this rationalist approach is that is makes no allowance for interdependencies and cannot deal effectively with challenges that span two or more silos. This is true of cities and many of them have told us they are reaching a point where they can no longer function effectively in this way.

Technology is an enabler for cities

Cities therefore have to find new ways of working, and technology is a vital enabler. That is easy to say, but there are many technological solutions based on varying business models and, without prior experience, it is very difficult to know which the most appropriate solution is to adopt.

Moreover, technology is only part of the solution; the rest is about how city authorities organise and operate and engage citizens in that.

Where are the use cases for smart city solutions?

This kind of message has been made to me consistently in conversations with Councils, and at a various ‘Smart Cities’ conferences - ‘there aren’t the use cases on which to base business cases for investment in smart cities solutions’.

Some cities are at crisis point

Some of our cities are at crisis point and it is therefore imperative that this is addressed. Doing so will help the competitiveness and sustainability of the UK’s cities, and also support the UK businesses offering such solutions through developed a vibrant home market in which to demonstrate the value of their products and services before taking them to the rest of the world.

A series of events aimed at city authorities

To that end, we are running a series of events aimed at people from city authorities to help them learn from some of the projects Innovate UK has been funding.

Why did we have a Future Cities Demonstrator Programme?

Recognising the challenges I’ve described above, in 2012 Innovate UK Launched the Future Cities Demonstrator programme. The objective was to discover the value that could be delivered to a city through integrating city services and systems.

The focus was on innovative combinations of tools and techniques available off the shelf to demonstrate what could be achieved with what was already available.

Phase one

The competition was in two phases. In the first phase 29 cities were funded £50k each to carry out a feasibility study to show how they could improve the performance of their city by integration of city systems.

A rich variety of proposals came forward, many of which eventually found other forms of financing. An analysis of those feasibility studies is here:

Second phase

In the second phase cities developed bids for funding based on their feasibility study to demonstrate in practice how integration of city systems could add value.

The result was that Glasgow was awarded £24m to implement its proposal, and Bristol, London and Peterborough (collectively, the D4) were each awarded £3m to implement part of their plan.

The Future Cities events

The demonstrator projects have been completed, learning is being distilled, and next steps for building on them are in various stages of planning. This is therefore a good time for the cities to share the rich insights they have gained.

We have partnered with each of the D4 to organise events at which key people from the D4 will share and discuss some of the ground-breaking projects they have been delivering and transferable lessons from them.

Primary objective – share the use cases

The primary objective is to address the ‘use case’ challenge in an enjoyable and interactive way. So the events are designed to maximise the opportunities for dialogue, participation, and networking; what they will not be is a long series of PowerPoint presentations.

We and the D4 also recognise that there is pioneering work happening in other cities as well, and that we don’t have all the answers. Collaboration though, will help each city get the answers it needs more quickly and with fewer costly errors.

Our aims

What we want participants to experience is:

  • Clear explanations of where/how value has been created
  • Honesty: practical lessons - what didn’t work as well as successes
  • Insights into distinct solutions/ business models that can be replicated elsewhere
  • Momentum, and a clear case, for collaborating on future cities solutions with other cities.
  • An opportunity to feed in to thoughts on what any future demonstrator should be about
  • The ability to extend their networks of people holding similar challenges and questions

Themes to be discussed

The themes to be discussed will vary between events but each will cover areas of critical importance to many cities, eg:

  • Leadership and Organisation for Future Cities
  • Use of data to enhance prosperity and sustainability
  • Innovation through people and community engagement
  • Urban logistics
  • Smart energy
  • Smart business models

Attending the events

  • Bristol - Nov 16
  • Glasgow – Jan 21
  • London – Feb 8
  • Peterborough – March 2

Attendance is free and registration links for all City Demonstrator events four are here 

Are they for you?

If you work in a local authority and you’ve ever asked yourself the question “how could we do thing differently?” then these events are for you and I look forward to meeting you at them.

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