CityVerve kick-off: great ideas and a common purpose

CityVerve about to kick off

One of CityVerve’s aims is to bring together the brightest minds to create a blueprint for smart cities. So it felt appropriate to be at the University of Manchester’s Sackville Street Building last week to discuss the project, along with around one hundred partners and stakeholders from the public and private sectors, and academic worlds.

With a scope of work agreed and 21 organisations signed up, we decided it would be great to get everybody together for the first time to share how we’ll each contribute to creating a smart, innovative, inspiring Manchester.

What really came across was the common purpose that everyone has in really bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) to life – not for technology’s sake, but to help improve people’s lives.

The event commenced with Rowena Burns, Chief Executive of Manchester Science Partnerships, explaining how partnerships are in the DNA of Manchester, with collaboration firmly at the city’s core.

When we pull together a partnership, we start from a good place. We have many existing relationships, a lot of trust, a lot of common cause and understanding – all built up over many years. In the Manchester Corridor we had a huge wealth of knowledge to build upon, across education institutions, public authorities and the private sector.

Pulling together 21 disparate partners into binding legal agreements, with a delivery structure across a range of sectoral inputs has been no mean feat.

Whilst the planning stages for CityVerve has brought its challenges – meetings with 27 lawyers to name but one – Rowena gave thanks to the smaller members of the partnership for keeping pace with the legal and governance demands in getting everything off the ground.

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, then stepped up to the stage and modestly opened by admitting he was not in his comfort zone talking about the technicalities of the Internet of Things. But he stated that he found the idea of a ‘smart, innovative, inspiring, Manchester’ very easy to get his head around.

When we set out the economic strategy of the city of Manchester, we looked at large cities. We worked out that compared to the mega cities around the world, we wouldn’t be able to compete on size. We’d have to be smart.

Sir Richard spoke about how Manchester has already been involved in smart cities projects, through Triangulum, the EU-China Smart Cities Project, and has made data widely available through the use of open data.

Talking about why Manchester was a great place for a smart cities demonstrator, Sir Richard said, “Ten local authorities working together gives us a test-bed of 2.5 million people. At the heart of that we have Corridor Manchester – a microcosm of a city. We have two universities and ten thousand knowledge workers. It gives us the space to develop new uses of technology and then roll it out across Manchester.”

Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester and Chair of Corridor Manchester, followed on from Sir Richard. Dame Nancy explained how Corridor Manchester had entered a ‘decade of opportunity’, and outlined the vital role CityVerve will play in ensuring it becomes a world-class innovation district.

A key feature of CityVerve is that it starts with people, rather than things. Citizens want to engage not only with knowledge based technology but culture. There are challenges that face our city, and indeed all cities: energy, health and social care, transport – and, of course, culture. Engagement with our communities is particularly important with CityVerve.

This is an experiment to test ideas. Not everything will work, but the point is that we’ll learn from it. At Corridor Manchester we’re uniquely placed to investigate approaches, share our learnings; to create a blueprint for what could, and should, be done.

The audience of CityVerve partners and stakeholders then heard from Digital Catapult, COO, Andrew Carr, who delivered the keynote speech for the event. Digital Catapult helps oversee the IoTUK government programme, meaning Andrew was consequently well placed to provide context on how the project will help grow the wider UK digital economy.

The UK ranks fourteenth in the world when it comes to adopting new technologies, but we’re fifth in availability of digital. There’s something there that says we’re very good in creating new ideas, but culturally we’re slow in adopting them compared to other regions.

With this type of ecosystem, partnership and collaboration, the things we are building are real. It’s important to the UK culturally that we change our appetite to risk and learn to fail fast.

Listening to Andrew, it’s clear that the citizen centric approach that all the speakers spoke about is key – showing the benefits of the technology, rather than forcing it on them.

For CityVerve to be successful, Andrew underlined the importance of open innovation and the need to develop a culture where the adoption of technology happens at speed. Simply put, Andrew outlined how CityVerve must strive to inspire, innovate and deliver impact.

Before moving to show our film, I certainly felt inspired by the opportunities that CityVerve offers. If you’re interested in getting involved, we’d love to hear from you.


July 19, 2016 in Events

Tune in to CityCast, the smart cities podcast from CityVerve