One of the fascinating things about innovation projects is the way that they evolve and change as the project progresses, and how they leave echoes long after the project has finished.

In 2012 I was involved in setting up the Future Cities Demonstrator programme at Innovate UK. The goal was to enable cities and businesses to test, in practice, new solutions for connecting and integrating individual city systems, and for cities to explore new approaches to delivering a good local economy and excellent quality of life.

The Glasgow city demonstrator

In 2013 Glasgow won a £24 million grant for their demonstrator project. This had three core components:

  • The Glasgow Operations Centre – a central control room for city and community services
  • Open Glasgow – opening up city data for partners and the community
  • City Demonstrator Projects – trying out practical implementations of smart city approaches:
    • Intelligent Street lighting
    • Active travel
    • Energy efficiency
    • Integrated social transport

The targets were:

  • Improved efficiency
  • Improved responsiveness and resilience
  • Better citizen engagement
  • Better decision making
  • Innovation and redesign of services

All to deliver better outcomes for the citizens of Glasgow.

A successful project

The project ran its course. Some parts were easy, some more difficult. Some went well, and some not so well. At the end of the programme, a detailed impact evaluation was carried out that showed the project had been a great success. The £24 million investment produced £144 million of benefit to the citizens of Glasgow.

The direct benefits were excellent, but the really intriguing question is what happened next? What, if any, have been the knock-on effects? The indirect benefits?

Looking for spill-over benefits

In March 2018 I visited Glasgow and caught up with Dr Colin Birchenall, Chief Digital officer, Glasgow City Council, and Chief Technology Officer, Digital Office for Scottish Local Government. Colin was deeply involved in the Future Cities Demonstrator and was able to give me an insight into what has happened since the end of the project.

First of all, a warning. If you set out on a project with specific goals, you can say whether they were delivered or not and whether that was due to the project. When we come to the consequential benefits, the spill-over impacts, it is not so easy. The outcomes of the demonstrator project mix in with changes in policy direction, changes in funding, new technologies and new priorities. You can’t make a one-to-one connection between the demonstrator project and the current activities any more. But you can find out whether people involved in these projects recognise the connection with the demonstrator, and think that it was important in the development of today’s programmes.

What did happen next?

One of the important results was a shift in the thinking of many people involved in the infrastructure and services of the city. Some of the activities in the demonstrator were unashamedly sold on cost-saving and efficiency improvements to existing activities. Intelligent street lighting was going to save money in several ways; lower energy costs, reduced maintenance costs through automatic fault monitoring, and so on. Although that justified the initial investment, it was not the whole story.

People now recognise that integration of city systems, open data and smart technology enable them to deliver services to the citizens in a completely different way. So the efficiency gains were delivered, but they weren’t the real win.

It enabled Glasgow to set about redesigning services around the citizens and business, allowing prevention of problems and early interventions that led to better outcomes. Glasgow was able to operate in a much more innovative, agile, open and flexible way, with much better citizen engagement. A shift towards everybody thinking about “Our Glasgow”.

Having seen the potential of smart infrastructure in the demonstrator, Glasgow is now working hard to widen and deepen smart infrastructure. Based on the success of the intelligent street lighting project Glasgow is now investing in a further 20,000 smart lights. Their work has helped to kickstart the market, so they are now able to specify lighting systems that did not exist before the demonstrator proved the case for them. They are looking to develop a comprehensive digital telecare system for vulnerable citizens, and are investing in smart litter bins that are less expensive to operate.

Glasgow has learned the value of good city data, setting up a Centre for Data Analytics. This aims to allow data-driven transformation of city services. For example, a data matching service identifies families claiming benefits who are not also claiming school clothing grants; allowing automatic entitlement. Instead of a complex web of processes, if you are entitled to support from a programme you get it without having to apply separately. Improved service to the citizens and reduced complexity for the city.

They have also found that open data empowers people, and open innovation brings new solutions to city challenges. So they have created a Centre for Civic Innovation, a physical space where open innovation can be encouraged and nurtured. Scottish Enterprise is backing this up with an Open Innovation Programme.

The impact of the demonstrator has spread wider. Based on the learning from the Glasgow demonstrator, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Perth and Stirling are collaborating to deploy smart technologies and to open up city data.

There is also a recognition across Scotland that digital technologies can drive the transformation of local government. That led to the creation of the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government. That partnership now includes 30 of the 32 Scottish Councils and will be a powerful force for the adoption of new solutions to city and local government challenges in the coming years.

Bigger and longer lasting impacts

The Glasgow Future Cities Demonstrator was a success, contributing £144 million of benefit to Glasgow and its citizens for a £24 million investment. But I think that will ultimately prove to be only a small part of the final impact. It has shifted people’s thinking about the delivery of local services. Brought more partnership working, open innovation and citizen engagement. Allowed decision-makers to see and kick the tyres of some very different approaches to city operations. Ultimately, these will be the bigger impacts.

A criticism of demonstrators is that they often deliver technically, but don’t have any lasting impact, because there was no plan for success. The Glasgow demonstrator shows that done well they can have an electrifying effect that is much larger than the original plan and lasts much longer.

Getting the Best Out of the Glasgow Demonstrator
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