Nesta issues innovation and technology to-do list for Scottish cities

Written by Rebecca Hill on 29 September 2016 in News

Scotland’s cities could improve “significantly” on the way they use technology and innovation to drive growth, a report from the CITIE partnership has said.

Scottish cities have been challenged to boost leadership and open data to drive innovation - Photo credit: PA

The partnership, between innovation agency Nesta, Accenture and the government’s Future Cities Catapult, promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in cities and the report uses 35 different measures of innovation along with qualitative data from interviews to assess cities’ progress.

Although the report said that the seven Scottish cities perform as a group better than their European counterparts in six of nine policy measures, they trail North American cities in all but one area.

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Scottish cities have relative strengths in leadership, which the report said indicated their commitment to improving digital capacity and capabilities, but that they needed to boost this to create environments that truly foster innovation.

The report makes 13 recommendations for change, which its authors said would yield significant improvement for “limited financial investment”. These are divided into three main areas: leadership, openness and infrastructure.

One major focus for leaders is to encourage cities to think about how to use the vast amounts of data cities generate, with the report recommending the creation of city or region-based offices of data analytics.

These would integrate data across local public sector bodies to increase collaboration, develop standards and improve services. They could also work with central government to devolve datasets held at a national level, it said.

They should also make all procurement contracts open by default. “By including open API’s standards and data quality criteria into new public contracts, Scottish cities with ambitious smart strategies will be able to more easily generate, compare, and analyse data from multiple sources, and devise better policies,” the report said.

Leaders are also challenged to encourage citizens and city employees to generate real-time data that can be used to learn more about the use of city infrastructure and services, for instance through citizen apps and reporting of problems such as potholes.

Further recommendations for leaders are to promote digital city strategies by appointing a dedicated team or champion, experiment with open-source citizen engagement tools and use open-source strategies to encourage regional learning.

Infrastructure recommendations are to promote start-ups on trade missions and create city-wide Internet of Things platforms – a similar scheme has just been launched in London, which aims to offer a testbed for innovative products or services using IoT technology.

Meanwhile, the recommendations for openness include developing best practice packages to help businesses that relocate to Scotland and developing a Scottish cities challenge prize series to encourage innovation.

The report also recommended that cities should carry out a collective analysis of business models to understand regulatory barriers or gaps that could limit innovation that could become a Scottish “playbook” for Scottish cities.

“A joint play book would lead to a more consistent and predictable environment for innovation (in particular in cities where there has been limited market disruption) and strengthen cities’ ability to influence better policy outcomes,” the report said.

Cities on their own

The analysis also looked at the seven Scottish cities as individual entities, assessing their various strengths and weaknesses.

Dundee is praised for its “strong tech community” and increase in digital turnover, but the report said it could be held back by its lack of digital strategy or permanent senior leadership in the form of a chief information or digital officer.

“A strong plan and leadership will be necessary to realise transformative change,” the report said.

Similarly, the report said that Inverness needs stronger leadership and better resourced teams to realise its digital first programme, saying that the region’s soon-to-be-appointed digital champions could be given a broader remit that allows better alignment of smart city, open data and digital projects.

Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen receive praise for their leadership and collaborative approaches, but Aberdeen and Glasgow are told to increase their promotion of local entrepreneurs and SMEs, while Edinburgh is told to focus on future proofing local digital connectivity.

Stirling was also told to increase its public WiFi – the report said that it was only available in libraries and the city has one of the slowest broadband speeds in the Scottish analysis. Both Stirling and Perth were told to consider how to generate more data and open up existing datasets.

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