Exploring discourses of smart citizenship in the Oxford Smart City Partnership

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE

Abstract

Responding to the ESRC strategic priority of 'ways of being in a digital age' the research will be embedded in emergent literatures on smart cities, big data and citizenship. Smart cities emerge through varying partnerships, stakeholders and trajectories that affect how the 'smart citizen' is constructed. Similarly to Greenfield's (2006) assertion that 'everyware' technology "will appear differently in different places: that is, there is and will be no one continuum of adoption" (p.167), there is not one model for existing nor purpose-built smart cities. A 'top-down' model could suggest an organised strategy between key stakeholders for the end benefit of the smart citizen. Critiqued as a 'high tech' variation of urban entrepreneurialism, Hollands (2015) sees private firm-led smart cities as a 'corporate smart city' where it can "only be effectively delivered through a corporate vision of smartness, in conjunction with an entrepreneurial form of urban governance and a large compliant and accommodating citizenry" (p.62). This raises the potential for conflict as "what if some smart initiative which started out as publicly funded and with social inclusion as a goal, become overtaken by private sector concerns whose goal becomes purely profit-making?" (Hollands, 2008, p.306). The corporate smart city could also be seen as providing the "supporting infrastructure for business activity and growth stimulating new forms of entrepreneurship" (p.2). However, this means the 'smart citizen' could exist within a highly hierarchal strategy with limited involvement in the delivery of the smart city. A 'bottom-up' or community model could be seen as producing the smart city with the smart citizen, rather than of the smart citizen. An example of this is exemplified by the Face Your World project - a 3D simulation environment software where young people in a neighbourhood community in Amsterdam collaboratively designed a city park by uploading images and ideas online for debate amongst each other (De Lange & De Waal, 2013). Through the agency of software, this crowd sourced plan persuaded the local government to abandon their initial plans for the park in preference of its alternative.
Responding to the lack of in-depth empirical case studies (Kitchin, 2015) the research will focus on smart city initiatives taking place in the city of Oxford. This is coordinated by the Oxford Strategic Partnership (OSP) - a set of collaborative organisations across the public sector (such as the city council, the NHS, the police), business (e.g. Unipart), academia (University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University) and voluntary and community organisations (such as the Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action) with the core of its pledge to build on existing 'smart' initiatives and technologies with "rigorous citizen engagement" (Smart Oxford Project Board, 2015, p.18). Examining policy documents and online content from these core actors will provide the theoretical discursive framing embodying meanings of 'smart' and 'smart citizenship' within this strategy. Additionally, attending public meetings from Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council or talks such as those hosted by either university will provide insight to discourses of smart citizenship. Together this will also enable comparative analyses between the academic literature and other smart cities.
Three or more case studies will then be developed in order to explore the diversity of smart citizenship across the projects categorised by Smart Oxford; mobility, energy, sustainability, robotics, innovation. As the OSP will build on current projects (Figure 1, 2015) it may be possible that additional initiatives of interest may emerge while later refining the research design.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000649/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1925887 Studentship ES/P000649/1 01/10/2017 25/11/2020 Adam Packer
 
Description Significant new knowledge generated: I have conducted an in-depth study of the network of local authorities, universities, businesses and technology companies working to assemble the 'smart city' in Oxfordshire, UK. I have considered three case studies that include consortiums working on specific R&D projects, contributors to the region's economic growth strategy and those developing or constructing visions of Oxford's innovation capabilities. The primary aim of this research was to explore discourses and enactments of 'smart citizenship' across a variety of initiatives and the fieldwork offers some evidence of information sharing, consultation and engagement practices being used by local agencies. Largely, however, the 'smart citizen' is used to evoke a general citizenry; the smart city is implemented 'for the community' or 'for the benefit of citizens' with little consideration of precisely who these initiatives collectively benefit. To this end, the project concludes that Oxford's smart city initiatives are governed far more by an urgency to facilitate start-ups, SMES and businesses, secure government funding, endorse the local technology-led innovation industry and exercise city branding efforts.

Important new research resources identified: After completing fieldwork I identified Voice Recognition tools in Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS), such as NVivo 12, to 'automatically' produce interview transcripts from audio data. I used the tool to transcribe a sample of my dataset (23 interviews, ~1 hour in length) having carefully evaluated the methodological and ethical implications of the tool. This included important questions on data handling as some services use the original audio data to train AI software or use Cookies to track edits on interview transcripts on edit platforms. VR services are also coupled with fees that exclude particular researchers from using the service. This has also opened up new research questions for me about qualitative research practice, ethics and data handling that I will be reflecting on in the thesis.

New research questions opened up: During the course of the fieldwork I began exploring the role of simulation modelling in decision-making and policy processes, particularly the use of 'digital twins' as renderings of regional mobility systems. This came out of discussions with the Oxford University spin-out company 'Latent Logic' who are using simulation modelling to train AI through 'scenario testing' for autonomous vehicle software. I am particularly interested in research questions that consider the processes of data collection and visualisation used to 'replicate' real-world conditions and I am considering developing this as part of a postdoctoral application to the ESRC Grand Union DTP.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of the funding will be most usefully applied in government and policy contexts where discussions on issues of data privacy, the potential of AI and data technologies and the UK's innovation strategy are current. For example, the UK government's innovation funding agencies (e.g. Innovate UK, UKRI) and departments (e.g. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles) might find it useful to consider the types of deliverables used to assess projects in order to identify affective forms of participations in funded projects. Likewise, the Cabinet Office Open Innovation Team or the UKRI Innovation Caucus might find value from this work as a case study of the 'facilitators' of a regional innovation ecosystem.

I also see the outcomes of the project supporting campaigns in the charity sector defending digital rights or lobbying technology companies for greater transparency, accountability and responsibility. This is addressed throughout the thesis in a discussion of local authority accountability in the age of the smart city.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport,Other