UK smart city lessons: why and how to build local partnerships

Tue, 2013-05-21 12:20 -- Liz Enbysk

We recently interviewed Alstom smart grid chief Laurent Schmitt. He revealed that partnerships with local universities are part of Alstom's secret sauce.

Now we have this article from The Guardian that drills down a little further into the science of local partnerships. Universities are an important part, as you will read, but it's vital to bring in government and business as well. Although this article is more of a quick tour than a detailed how-to, we think you'll want to skim it for its examples of the different partnering forms and flavors that are cropping up around the UK. And for its lessons learned. Two of the most important: 1) data sharing between organizations is essential and 2) a local government authority needs to lead. -- Jesse Berst, Smart Cities Council Chairman


Premise of Terry Kirby's piece in The Guardian is that "imaginative partnerships between the public and private sectors, led by local authorities, are essential to the delivery of innovative 'smart cities' of the future."

It quotes Dr. Drew Hemment of the Manchester-based think tank FutureEverything on the need for what he calls "elegant" partnerships. "There has to be a huge cultural shift from working in silos to working collaboratively. We must create partnerships in which all sides understand each others' demands. We need a new ecosystem for cities, to enable an innovative smart-city ecology to grow.''

There are many forms these partnerships take on. The Guardian lists a number of them occurring around the UK, including:

  • In Cardiff, information shared between six different public sector bodies helps control crowds and traffic at the city's Millennium Stadium
  • In northern Spain, 16 groups are involved in the futuristic experiment in the port city of Santander in which sensors can deliver real-time online information to consumers on such matters as traffic flows or pollution levels
  • In the West Midlands, a consortium of 16 organisations that includes city councils, universities and motor vehicle manufacturers are involved in the Cabled project, which is testing a range of low-carbon electric vehicles

Says David Bailey of Coventry University, one of the groups involved in the Cabled initiative: "The key thing about this cooperation is different actors bringing different expertise to the table, thereby enabling cross-sector learning and fertilisation. Such 'boundary spanning' is necessary in developing new markets, technologies and social solutions.''