Smart Cities in the Making: Learning from Milton Keynes

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts and Social Sci (FASS)

Abstract

The past decade has seen the widespread emergence of what are now often called 'smart cities'. Smart cities are generally understood to use the data produced by digital technologies to enhance their sustainability (by encouraging more efficient use of resources), economic growth (through innovating new products and markets) and openness (by enabling greater citizen participation in city governance). 'Smart cities' are a global phenomenon at the heart of how many cities are planning for future growth, and the UK is no exception. Over half of UK cities are implementing smart projects, and the government's Information Economy Strategy aims to make the UK a global hub of smart city delivery by capturing 10 per cent of the global smart city market by 2020. The government directly funds several large smart city projects, sponsors three innovation Catapults with direct links to smart initiatives, and the British Standards Institute is developing a framework for implementing smart city technologies. 'Smart', then, is increasingly central to UK urban development.

Smart technology in UK cities takes many forms, from smart grids, to sensors and chargers embedded in the built environment, to smartphone apps, to online open data repositories and dashboards. Smart cities are much, much more than their technological devices, though: a smart city also requires smart urban policy-making, it produces smart products, it has 'smart citizens' and it has visions of what smart is and should be, and all these things converge and diverge in all sorts of ways. Currently, although local community and citizen participation is repeatedly asserted to be a prequisite for a successful smart city, almost nothing is known about how the development and rollout of smart policies and technologies actually engage city residents and workers. Who are smartphone apps designed for and what social needs do they ignore? What kind of populations are described by smart data hubs, and who do policies using such data therefore address? Indeed, various concerns have been voiced by journalists, academics and urban activists that smart activity may well not reach socially marginalised groups and individuals, for example, and that it might therefore contribute to increased levels of social polarisation in cities between the digital 'haves' and 'have-nots'.

This project grasps the chance to answer these questions at a critical moment in the maturing of smart, and offers a real opportunity to generate social science that can both analyse and inform developments.

Through a detailed empirical study of an actually-existing smart city - Milton Keynes - this project examines how smart policies, technologies, products, visions and engagement activities imagine particular kinds of users, citizens and consumers. It will thus enable a wide range of public and private-sector local stakeholders in MK to understand much better who their smart activity is engaging, how and why. These findings will then help to ensure that smart city activities are as accessible to as many different kinds of people as possible, and that as many people as possible are engaged by the smart city emerging in Milton Keynes.

The project has been designed in collaboration with a range of local and national stakeholders in the UK smart city scene, including MK Council, MK:Smart, the Transport Systems Catapult, as well as Community Action MK, the umbrella group for voluntary and community groups in the city. This means that not only will its findings help MK to be a socially-inclusive smart city, but also that the project's findings will have impact on smart cities across the UK and beyond.

Planned Impact

SCiM responds to two ESRC strategic priorities. Smart interventions are forecast to have expanding commercial significance and learning from MK to get those interventions right will contribute to the UK's 'economic performance and sustainable growth'; the project's findings will also assist in the generation of the inclusive and accessible version of smart urbanism needed for 'a vibrant and fair society'.

In pilot research conducted for this project, we were told repeatedly by many of the stakeholders making MK smart that they struggle to understand how smart technologies - but also smart policy, produces and visions - engage people in the city. The need to get people using smart devices is very evident to these stakeholders, but how to do it is not. It is in this context that SCiM's analysis of how smart activities prduce diverse categories of social differences will significantly enhance smart city stakeholders' understanding of how smart works, enabling them to understand what kinds of identities and practices their activity is enabling and what it is not.

SCiM is therefore timely and relevant with scope for deep and wide impact across commercial and policy realms. Its planned impacts will improve the performance of smart city commercial initiatives that contribute to city and UK economic prosperity, provide evidence to enhance policy relating to social outcomes in emerging smart city developments, enhance the effectiveness of smart public services by increasing understanding of the outcomes of smart policy interventions, and contribute to public awareness of and engagement with smart city infrastructures. It will do this by developing nuanced understandings of how smart data, products, policies, visions and engagement activity create social differences.

The project will enhance and progress its non-academic impacts through its Advisory Group (AG). The AG will be chaired by Prof Allan Cochrane, who has considerable experience both of MK and as an urban researcher. Confirmed members are:
- Academic: Prof Rob Kitchin, Geography, Maynooth University; Prof Ola Söderström, Geography, Université de Neuchâtel; Prof Alessandro Aurigi, Urban Design, Plymouth University; Dr Jennifer Gabrys, Sociology, Goldsmiths;
- Policy: Geoff Snelson, Director of Strategy, MK Council; Neil Fulton, Director of LUTZ project, Transport Systems Catapult; Martin Pett, Principal Technologist (Human Factors and Visualisation), Transport Systems Catapult; Prof Enrico Motta, MK:Smart Project Director; Prof Gerd Kortuem, lead of Citizens and Education strands of MK:Smart; Saviour Alfino, Project Manager, British Standards Institute; Dr James Evans, project lead for Manchester Triangulum project; Matthew Cockburn, Project Manager for City Innovation, Bristol City Council. A member will also be recruited from the Future Cities Catapult.
- Commercial: Prajakt Deotale, Business Transformation and Strategy Consultant, TechMahindra; Stewart Bailey, Marketing Manager, Virtual Viewing.
- Other: Stuart Turner, Trustee of Fred Roche Foundation; Sheila Thornton, Chair of Trustees, Community Action MK.

The AG will be convened 4 times during the project's life: at 3 months, to set initial priorities; at 9 months, to review progress and design impact deliverables and pathways; at 15 months, to review the project's analysis, design the end-of-project event and conference and enhance the project's impact content and pathways; and at 21 months, to advise the project team on the post-project academic and non-academic impact of its work. Each WP lead will also meet with a relevant sub-group of the AG members five times, in order to refine the WP design to be responsive to stakeholder interests and to gain more detailed, sector-specific advice about impact pathways. Meetings of the whole AG will be face-to-face; sub-group meetings will be face-to-face where possible but also utilise skype conferencing.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project explored a range of case studies exploring how each addressed - or did not - social differences.

The project's case studies focussing on smart city governance show how local and non-local relations variously amenable to smart have developed and sedimented in the city since its inception in the late 1960s, with little attention to social difference as such.These case studies increase our understanding of smart city policy and governance assemblages: they are hybrids which emerge from the complex interplay of local and non-local relations in governance spaces associated with cities.

The case studies examining data concluded that 'Smart' information architecture solutions are not a 'one stop' answer to improving a city's efficiency, and certainly should not be assumed to be helpful for making urban social difference actionable. The investigation of an open data hub revealed that the data scientists given responsibility for the portal did not have a strong sense of local institutional culture so that the portal had not become useful to those seeking to use the data to address social inequalities. What is needed instead is a fully fledged data-driven ecosystem that connects authorities and citizens, strengthens groups, mobilises communities, and positively shapes policy and decision making.

The case study focused on the multiple forms of labour that are assembled in producing a smart city was of a solar energy platform startup. All the actors involved in the conceptualisation, creation, implementation and the mobility of the startup were interviewed, which clearly demonstrated the extensive range of work needed to make a city smart, including the need to establish and maintain local partnerships between the voluntary sector and the startup.

The citizens case studies looked in particular at a suite of citizen-initiated projects supported by MK:Smart. All the projects revealed inherent difficulties in including people in new digital technologies, especially people who were already marginalized due to income, other socio-demographic factors or limited tech knowhow. All those that were most successful were those that were championed by one determined individual. We concluded that cities need to consult more actively with community groups as they develop smart city initiatives and in developing a vision for the community in conjunction with the council's vision too.

The final aspect of the project looked at the forms of visual communication used by smart city stakeholders in the city. The accuracy of their representations of smart city activity in MK was assessed and it was established that most visualisations of smart city projects pictured business people, almost entirely white and mostly men. Further discussion established significant ignorance about smart city activities in MK and considerable scepticism about futuristic smart city visions. Smart city work would benefit from communications that are sensitive to local people, landscape and infrastructure.

In general, then, the project concluded that smart city projects are rarely focussed on social difference as usually understood by social scientists, eg class, race, gender and so on. However, the project did detect an implicit vocabulary that understands the social in terms of flows of data rather than structures of difference, a finding which will enhance contemporary scholarship on digitally-mediated cities.
Exploitation Route The research project found that smart city projects are rarely focussed on social difference as usually understood by social scientists, eg class, race, gender and so on. Smart activity is not directed at minimising social inequalities, for example. However, much smart city activity depends for its success on 'buy-in' from local citizens. Smart projects in MK that were effective in other ways - that is, useful to local communities as well as commercially viable - depend in very large part on close and sustained collaborations with existing community groupings and local priorities. Local councils have existing strategies for development, and local communities often have well-articulated needs. The most effective smart projects in MK responded to these 'local' agendas. Longer term partnerships and even just ongoing, informal conversations were important in developing a shared sense of vision and also a shared language between the tech innovators and experts and local needs and understandings. Projects that drew on that shared vision then tended to be more successful in terms of getting local people involved.

These findings are valuable to a range of smart city actors: startups looking to innovate successfully; cities looking to achieve strategic goals; and communities looking to enhance their quality of life. All need to come together to understand each other's requirements (not necessarily to agree!), in order for a city to go smart successfully.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

 
Description The activities of the research team in Milton Keynes have encouraged greater awareness of smart activities in Milton Keynes across a very diverse range of stakeholders in the city. These have included researchers developing smart city technologies (MK:Insight), local arts and heritage organisations and local policy makers. As the project has matured, the team has also taken its findings to national media outlets (Thinking Allowed) and events (FutureBuild). The team has also designed a toolkit for avoiding inadvertent social exclusion in relation to smart city projects, available at www.engagingsmartcities.org. We plan to take this toolkit to a range of smart-city-related organisations over the next few months.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Membership of Centre for Digital Built Britain Advisory Committee (CDBB AG).
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description ESRC Festival of Social Science event - thecentre:MK shopping centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The SCiM project organised a smart city engagement event in Milton Keynes' central public space, the shopping centre called thecentre:MK. The team sourced materials for the public to engage with, an augmented reality hololens headset, some interactive ipad apps showing examples of city interface technologies, and a series of teaching materials on the smart city developed by the SCiM team. Team members and postgraduate students with aligning research interests staffed the stand over a weekend. Encouraging engagement through the novel digital technology, we entered into dialogue with members of the public on themes relevant to the way cities will change as they get smarter. These dialogues provoked discussion both around the specific changes that could take place in Milton Keynes and those people's opinions on the development of their city, as well as wider dialogues on aspirations and concerns around urban living more broadly in an age of smart technology. Thus publics were encouraged to discuss with the research team key ideas such as the place of autonomous vehicles in the city or the ethics of data privacy in urban spaces managed by big data. Where permission was given, those discussions were recorded and transcribed. These engagements were regarded as impactful activities as they generated new discussions among members of the public and engagement with the themes at heart of the SCiM project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description FCC talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk was given at the Future Cities Catapult in London about the project's 'toolkit' for enhancing social inclusion in smart city developments. A survey of attendees reported increased understandings of the pathways to inclusion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Futurebuild talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A 15 minute talk was given at a panel on making smart cities socially inclusive, convened by Prof Peter Madden. There were several questions afterwards and a meeting was arranged with a representative from OxLEP.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description MK Arts and Heritage Alliance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A talk to the regular meeting of the MIlton Keynes Arts and Heritage Alliance on the cultural implications of smart cities. The MK AHA reported widespread interest in the talk and the project PI was asked to review the city's bid to become European City of Culture as a result.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Thinking Allowed 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Open University hosted a special edition of the Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed, which featured the SCiM project and three project researchers (Rose, Watson and Zanetti). There was also a live audience of about 80 people.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description toolkit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The website has sub-sites for three key actors in smart city activities: local councils, businesses and the voluntary sector. It explores case studies in each of those sectors of best practice for avoiding the inadvertent exclusion of social groups from smart city activities. There are also three short animations with take-away points to enhance the impact of the toolkit. A fourth part of the website talks about the visual communication of smart city projects to make the communication inclusive and effective.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.engagingsmartcities.org
 
Description toolkit launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The project's toolkit for avoiding social exclusion in smart city projects was launched in MK in December 2018 at a well-attended event with a wide range of participants from the city, the Ox-MK-Cam Arc and other regional representatives. There was extensive discussion at the event about the issues raised.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018