Liverpool Hosts International Symposium: Building Smart Cities with Citizens and for the Public Good

Building Data Ecosystems to Unlock the Value of Big Data in Liverpool City Region

This is a guest post, written and provided by:
Mark Boyle, Sue Jarvis, and Alex Singleton – Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place and the Geographic Data Science Lab, University of Liverpool
Aileen Jones – Liverpool City Region Combined Authority

Civic leaders in Liverpool are alert to the possibilities presented by computing power and data driven solutions to critical economic, social, and environmental challenges. These leaders, including Liverpool City Region (LCR), Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA), and its six constituent local authorities, are also alert to the reality that a high-performing data ecosystem must be at the centre of any high performing ‘Smart City’ Region. Accordingly, civic leaders in LCR are now striving to develop such an ecosystem to enable stakeholders to more effectively leverage the latent value inherent within local datasets. The extant energy, strengths, and assets of the City Region are cause for optimism – but the practice of sharing data is still nascent, and significant obstacles will need to be navigated if further progress is to be made.

Computerised data analytics are key progenitors of growth in central LCR strategic documents (transport, skills, innovation, industrial strategy, spatial planning, regeneration, infrastructure, climate, housing, health, education), and if harnessed effectively provide the opportunity to improve both the productivity and prosperity of the City Region. Moreover, the Metro Mayor has articulated his intention to make LCRCA a data-driven organisation that utilises data to inform and improve public policies and services. Local authorities are also making significant moves to conceptualise, audit, and improve their data infrastructures, and Liverpool City Council (LCC) in particular is taking stock of the values it wishes to use to calibrate its data management practices.

The University of Liverpool’s Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice, and Place is committed to supporting LCR’s civic leaders  in building a high-performing data ecosystem capable of rivalling international peers. Through participation in peer-to-peer networks, continuous learning, connectivity, and knowledge exchange we are acquiring valuable expertise and greater understanding of good practices and the activities of ‘Lighthouse cities’. The University  and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority cherish their role in the MetroLab Network and have benefited greatly from ongoing learning from this network.

Ben Levine, MetroLab Network’s Executive Director, notes,

“MetroLab is an international network of cities and universities that are partnered locally to leverage data- and tech-oriented research to address pressing community priorities. We are lucky to be working with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and the University of Liverpool as they collaborate on transformative projects locally. We are also pleased that lessons from their efforts can inform work happening in cities and universities across our membership in the US, UK, and Canada. The coalition of cities and universities involved in MetroLab reflects a perspective that our societal challenges — whether we are talking about sustainability, equity, or transportation — can be addressed by bringing people together from across disciplines and sectors to implement effective solutions.”

In March 2020, the Institute, in collaboration with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, will host an international symposium entitled Building Smart Cities with Citizens and for the Public Good. Metrolab will be represented by Anne Dodge, Executive Director at the University of Chicago Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation and a lead on the 2020 Annual Metrolab Summit.

To inform this symposium, international experts Alanus von Radecki, Nikolay Tcholtchev, Philipp Lämmel, and Gretel Schaj, based at BABLE UG and Fraunhofer FOKUS in Germany, have undertaken a review of international good practices – mainly drawn from European cities – in the development of urban data ecosystems, and in a Heseltine Institute-sponsored Good Practices Reference Guide have profiled paradigmatic exemplars. To complement this Guide, the Institute has also published a parallel Position Statement to highlight the lessons extracted from the international good practices studied which might inform Civic leaders  in LCR.

Through our activities we hope to:

  • Clarify what we mean by the term ‘Smart City’ in LCR and define associated key terms
  • Articulate what we consider to be the fundamental challenges facing LCR
  • Raise awareness of international good practices and support civic leaders to engage effectively with Metrolab Network
  • Provide a concise health check of the status of computerised urban data analytics and data-driven solutions in LCR
  • Suggest a roadmap for redevising data sharing arrangements in LCR
  • Pose ‘consultation questions’ to clarify next steps.

Map of Liverpool City Region Combined Authority boundary (in red)

According to Dr Aileen Jones, Assistant Director of Policy and Strategic Commissioning at Liverpool City Region Combined Authority,

“The energy and impetus so necessary to build a Smart Liverpool City Region and an effective LCR data ecosystem is already flourishing. The LCR Local Industrial Strategy to be published in 2020 has an explicit focus on ‘Tech for Good’. Our establishment of a Liverpool Civic Data Cooperative (CDC) designed to increase wider access to health and social care data with the active consent of local citizens will be a game changer for the City Region. A real moment of opportunity exists for LCR to accelerate its digital transition, build, enhance, and scale its data ecosystem, and adopt smart and data-driven solutions to pressing economic, social, and environmental problems.”

For Professor Mark Boyle and Sue Jarvis, Director and Deputy Director of the Heseltine Institute at the University of Liverpool, the key question for city leaders and municipal authorities as architects of the Smart City is: How can urban data ecosystems be designed, built, and governed to enable city leaders and municipal authorities to exploit more fully the powerful data revolution and effectively tackle critical economic, social, and environmental challenges in a way which is democratic and ethical, and which maintains ongoing stakeholder – and public – trust? This is a tough challenge. Our work with Metrolab will really help us to more effectively address it in the context of Liverpool City Region.

Professor Alex Singleton, Head of the University of Liverpool Geographic Data Science Lab, who brokered the relationship between Metrolab and LCR, notes:

“Alongside Glasgow and Bristol, Liverpool is the only other UK city region benefiting from Metrolab membership. In building out our Consumer Data Research Centre, which functions as a consumer data access broker for academic and other stakeholder groups conducting research for the public good, learning from Metrolab has been very important to us.”

Profile of LCR Initiatives

LCR has a number of strategic technical-related assets which afford significant competitive advantages and upon which it should build:

Deployment of 5G networksA consortium of Liverpool City Council’s Adult Social Care Department, the NHS, university researchers, local SMEs, and a UK 5G technology vendor are testing the use of 5G in the City Region. They are also testing artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and IoT with the aim of reducing the digital divide and enabling better health and social care in communities
A supercomputer dedicated to industrial R&DThe Hartree Centre/Daresbury hosts one of the most powerful supercomputers in the UK and works in cooperation with STFC’s UK research and development centre to enhance the data analytic capacities of local actors, including SMEs
Digital skillsLocal government and industry-led initiatives are addressing some of the skills gaps (basic and advanced) that exist in the City Region. For example, the NHS has several programmes for training its staff and patients to use digital tools
Sensor CityThis initiative is a joint venture between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University. It offers technical expertise and business support to academic and industry enterprises to promote the use of sensor solutions
LCR ActivateThis support and funding programme is designed exclusively for helping digital and creative businesses in the City Region to grow. It provides practical, hands-on support and funding to help digital, creative, and tech businesses develop using emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning, virtual and augmented realities, Big and Open Data, high-performance computing, and cloud and cognitive computing
Consumer Data Research CentreLed by the University of Liverpool, this centre functions as a consumer data access broker for academic and other stakeholder groups conducting research for the public good
Materials Innovation FactoryThis University of Liverpool and Unilever facility is a world-leader in robotics- and computer-aided materials discovery and design
Knowledge QuarterThis £1 billion, 450-acre innovation district located in Liverpool city centre incorporates world class innovation clusters in the areas of health/antimicrobial resistance/infectious disease, materials chemistry, and high performance and cognitive computing
LCR Backhaul Network (The Digital Spine)An investment in a 220kms fibre optic network connecting all six local LCR local authority areas, the Hartree Supercomputer, and the GTT fibre optic cable
AI Solutions HubThe STFC Hartree Centre, and IBM Research intend to expand their existing partnership, which applies world-leading AI and high-performance computing to address industrial challenges, as part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy
Liverpool Civic Data Cooperative (CDC)A SIF-funded project designed to increase wider access to health and social care data with the active consent of local citizens
Transport for the NorthThe LCR Combined Authority works alongside Merseytravel to improve the delivery of transport services. For instance, real-time information about bus routes and service efficiency is now offered to users in the City Region, and via the use of sensor technology, traffic lights are enabled to give priority to buses when roads are congested to improve punctuality. In their efforts to improve public transportation in the Northern region, the Combined Authority and Merseytravel are planning to implement a single travelcard to enable users to traverse the entire region. To this end, they will share data about timelines, timetables, and planning with all the Northern regional transport authorities
Virtual Engineering CentreA leading technology innovation centre for engineering development using virtual engineering technologies and expertise
Strong market actorsThe region hosts major tech companies such as Atos, EPAM, Unilever and The Very Group, and has the UK’s largest SME-led e-health cluster, a nascent IoT cluster, and a growing number of tech enterprises and SMEs in the digital and creative sectors

About the Heseltine Institute

The Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place is a non-partisan, internationally recognised University of Liverpool research institute, bringing together expertise from across the University and policy communities to co-create, impact, and influence public policies for tomorrow’s cities. We do this by:

  • Undertaking, funding, and publishing fundamental and applied research
  • Providing thought leadership, consultancy, and advice
  • Convening and hosting events including conferences, policy provocations, workshops, and seminars
  • Building and strengthening academic–practitioner networks
  • Developing capacity-building and providing training courses
  • Providing an evidence base to have impact on public policy

Outputs can be downloaded from the Heseltine Institute website.

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