Collaboration key to smart cities research

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The first in a series of Smart City events took place last Thursday at the University of Manchester Innovation Centre, the venue offering the perfect location to an event looking at the smart innovation that makes a city become “smart”. The event saw the newly formed Manchester Urban Institute and Manchester Informatics team up to introduce some of the areas of research that are happening at the university.

The event arose from a need to link up the University of Manchester’s activities across the CityVerve project; Manchester £10M Innovate UK Smart Cities demonstrator. However CityVerve is not the only smart cities activity the university is involved in. Manchester has a long tradition of smart city research and collaboration between the city, industry and the university. These include Living Labs, Triangulum, smart sustainable, healthy cities and venturing back to the late 1980’s with infocities.

CityVerve was first on the agenda for the meeting after an introduction to smart cities by Carmel Dickinson, Manchester Informatics Programme Manager. CityVerve is a 2 year project funded by Innovate UK. The project has 20 delivery partners from the private and public sector and each theme that the university is involved in was represented at the meeting.

The 4 areas are Energy & Environment, Health & Social Care, Data Management & Analytics and Overall Evaluation. For Energy & Environment the theme is split into air quality and smart buildings whereas for Health & Social Care the theme is split into managing long term conditions and increasing physical activity for wellbeing.

First up was Ian Cotton, Director of Manchester Energy who alongside Alessandra Parisio is working on how we can improve energy use in not just new buildings but in older buildings, such as the one in which I write this piece, the Kilburn Building. Systematic frameworks are needed to manage energy resources better and the work in this area of CityVerve is helping to make that a reality. Unfortunately Dave Topping, Senior Research Fellow from the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences was unable to make it, therefore the work on air quality was presented by Carmel Dickinson, however there has been a request for future meetings on the brilliant work that Dave is doing in Manchester and further afield.

Tjeerd Van-Staa, Professor at the Health eResearch then discussed the ways in which self-management of COPD can be improved through the use of smart technology. Smart technology in this case study can be smart inhalers, location services and apps that can help to improve patient’s self-management. Charlotte-Stockton Powdrell, who is part of the use case that is trying to increase physical activity, then spoke about how the use of contextual nudges can encourage activity and have a positive effect on the health of Greater Manchester residents.

Ann Gledson, who is working on data analytics for CityVerve then spoke on the cross-thematic insights we can gain from the data sets across the different case studies. Examples include current parking levels, car park profiling, weather data, event data and various other data that can inform policy and service design in Manchester and beyond!  

John Rigby, Senior Research Fellow from the Alliance Manchester Business School finished off the university’s role in CityVerve with an overview of the project evaluation process.. John showed what is feeding into the CityVerve impact assessment and the KPI Parameters. The work the evaluation team will therefore assess is partly the other work that previous speakers presented on, no pressure!

Finally to finish the meeting, Dave Carter, Honour Fellow from the School of Environment, Education and Development gave a talk on 30 years of digital innovation and gave a wider context of the work that has taken place prior to CityVerve. This dates back to the global meeting of digital activists in 1984 in Italy and the presentation went through the agendas that have shaped the work that now is taking place on CityVerve and at the university.

Attendees posted interesting questions and points about CityVerve and the wider implications of smart cities. These included the issue of privacy, matching the speed of technological advancement and technological failure amongst many others.

The message from this event is clear, collaboration is key to developing research and activities on the theme of smart cities!

Watch this space for future activities.

Slides from the event are available.

For further questions on smart cities, Cityverve or regarding the event, please contact Ben Pringle at