General
02 Jun 2016

Research will examine citizen impact of Smart Cities

A team of researchers from The Open University has been awarded £750,000 to study the impact and engagement of Smart Cities, focusing on Milton Keynes. With over half of UK cities implementing smart projects, the findings will help ensure that Smart City developments are accessible to as many people as possible who can engage with the concepts of a smart city.

Smart cities use the data from digital technologies to enhance their sustainability (encouraging more efficient use of resources), economic growth (from innovating new products and markets) and openness (by getting greater citizen participation in local governance). They are a global phenomenon at the heart of UK urban development and are influencing how many cities are planning future growth.

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.

The OU’s two-year project, which starts officially in January 2017 has been given funding by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC). It will concentrate on Milton Keynes to examine what kinds of users, citizens and consumers are likely to be embraced by the smart policies, technologies and vision. The aim is to 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.

Professor Gillian Rose project lead for The Open University said:

“Although local community and citizen participation is a pre-requisite for a successful smart city, almost nothing is known about how 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? Many are concerned 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 gives the chance to answer these questions at a critical moment, and offers a real opportunity to analyse and inform developments, she adds.

The project has been designed in collaboration with a range of local and national stake-holders 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.

Geoff Snelson, Director of Strategy at Milton Keynes Council, said:
“The funding award for the Open University ESRC project is great news. The Open University and Milton Keynes Council have worked closely together on the MK:Smart project that has seen us recognised as a leading UK smart city. This new research project will build our reputation further and help set an agenda for future work together”.

The Open University and Milton Keynes Council are both partners of MK:Smart, a consortium bringing together higher education and industry partnership to help secure the future economic growth of Milton Keynes.

Ends

Notes to Editors:

Smart Cities and Social Difference:

Principal Investigator Professor Gillian Rose; Co-Investigators are Professor Parvati Raghuram (SocSci); Professor Sophie Watson (SocSci); Dr Nick Bingham (SocSci); Dr Matthew Cook (MCT). Full-time research assistant is Dr Oliver Zanetti.
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.

MK:Smart is a consortium which brings together The Open University, the University of Bedfordshire, the University of Cambridge, British Telecom, E.ON, Anglian Water, HR Wallingford, the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre, Milton Keynes Council, Community Action MK, Graymatter, Fronesys and Playground Energy.
It is a £16m initiative, partially funded by the Catalyst Fund of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) and led by The Open University, which brings together a higher education and industry partnership with the aim of helping to secure the future economic growth of Milton Keynes.

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