The KNOWledge politics of experimentING with smart urbanism.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Urban Institute


The aim of the proposed research project is to develop theoretical and empirical understanding of how smart urbanism experiments are re-shaping urban knowledge politics in European cities. The project proposes a symmetrical analysis of formal, corporate-led initiatives and informal, grassroots-led initiatives, as well as hybrid combinations. Together we refer to these as smart urbanism experiments. First, an interdisciplinary and comparative theoretical framework is developed on the knowledge politics of smart urbanism experimentation. This framework advances perspectives from critical urban geography, science and technology studies and socio-technical transitions literature. Second, the project will apply and test the framework in 8 European cities in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain to gain deep empirical understanding of contemporary (formal and informal) smart urbanism. Finally, this provides the opportunity to actively contribute to shaping contemporary debates on smart urbanism. The project will support cross-national, comparative analysis for refining and debating the initial theoretical framework in various settings.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
Smart urbanism experimentation on a practical level will identify ways in which digital technologies are shaping new emancipatory interfaces between business, city administration and citizen initiatives. Meanwhile, the research is likely to produce outcomes of tangible importance for educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, urban planners, and anyone interested in the concept of smart cities.

To achieve maximum impact we will engage a range of stakeholders: direct beneficiaries, decision-makers, and collaborators.

Direct beneficiaries include urban dwellers, members of the general public, and private sector companies, such as technology companies. Initiatives that deploy technologies such as GPS devices, smartphone apps and sensors, or the central coordination of responses through collection and analysis of data in 'control rooms', is shaping new practices of knowing what is happening in cities and, critically, intervening in urban processes. Entrepreneurs, start-ups, technology companies would directly benefit from the new knowledge produced by this project, there is scope for capacity building through technical skill developments and technological advances.

We will engage with decision-makers, such as politicians, mayors, and company directors, who have the power to make changes within the context of the city. Key decision-makers across Europe will be included in the workshops, policy workshops and case study fieldwork. We will engage our existing network of civil servants and advisors to maximise knowledge and expertise. The new knowledge produced in this project would be useful to government agencies and urban planners. The activities and outputs of the project will therefore be of benefit to departments responsible for climate change, transport, health, housing, planning - data produced would also be beneficial to agencies tracking social and environmental quality measurements, and monitoring technologies. This instrumental impact has the potential to influence the development of policy, practice, service, and could potentially shape legislation, and be a catalyst for altering behaviour.

Partners and collaborators - e.g. civil society organisations with an interest in urban issues with an already established audience. We will engage with these groups to maximise civic participation and with charities who engage directly with user groups on the policy and practice of urban problems. We will involve these groups in workshops and city case studies. We are engaging with neighbourhood groups and charities to help ensure that the questions asked from the research are relevant and that the outputs are in a form that is most beneficial to knowledge users. This conceptual impact will be to the contribution of the understanding of policy issues in the context of the urban, and this has the potential to reframe debates in light of new framework developments. Better public understanding of the consequences of policy choices for urban issues, together with an appreciation of the evidence base about how urban problems are tackled, will benefit democratically-empowered citizens wanting to understand the urban governance issues, environmental issues within the city, debate the policy alternatives and collectively determine their future urban directions. Thus, in addition to engaging with the types of organisations described above, it will be imperative to engage with the general public to disseminate new knowledge, and debate the policy options for future city living.

We will promote the impact of the consortium's wide range of capabilities in the wide ranging areas of the urban through a range of workshops and international public engagement activities.
Description The project undertook urban case studies over several European contexts including the UK, France, Germany and Netherlands and undertook detailed analysis of the application of smart technologies in key domains of application including districts, environmental sensing, mobilities and participative platforms. There were 4 key findings related to purposes, processes, outcomes and implications. i). Purposes - Across the cities and domains there was an expectation that smart and digital applications would lead to transformational outcomes. The primacy of datafication and the development of computational applications as a form of analysis and decision-making was largely uncontested. Across public and private sectors there was a widely assumed position that urban improvement had to be mediated through digital technologies, knowledge and expertise. ii). Processes - Existing urban policy coalitions were extended with the incorporation of new knowledge and expertise primarily from the technology sector. A premium was based on the use of consultants, companies and hires that provided data, software and wider computational skills to build smart cities products, services and platforms. This produced a focus on data and datafication in order to provide the relevant inputs for software systems with a weakening of the importance of other forms of knowledge and expertise. Questions about the trade-offs and implications of different policy options became marginalised unless they could be understood through a computational lens. iii) Rather than producing transformations in the use or material development of urban services and infrastructures the benefits really focused on relatively minor but potentially useful operational efficiencies. Although the imaginary of metropolitan wide systems was powerful most applications where focused on individual users interaction with the network. As a result strategic metropolitan wide issues about the need for sustainable futures and low carbon transitions tended to be backgrounded. iv). Implications - Reflecting on these findings we argued that future urban priorities need to subject smart city applications to more scrutiny by enlarging the range of knowledge and expertise involved in policy innovations.
Exploitation Route There is currently a new round of state and commercially sponsored experimentation in applying novel technologies AI and robotics in urban contexts. There would be value for the private and urban policy making community to more effectively understand the implications of the lessons from smart technologies for these new sets experiments, demonstrations and applications. This would focus upon i) rather than technology push approach seek to enlarge the range of social interests involved in urban experiments and ii) enhance the capacity for systemic learning from individual experiments and comparatively to ensure that lessons are learnt collectively.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice