‘Star Light, Star Bright’ Wins Smart Oxford Playable City Commission

By: Smart Oxford

night sky

Smart Oxford and Watershed announces the winner of the first Smart Oxford Playable City Commission.  Creative practitioners were asked to propose new and distinctive ideas that put people and play at the heart of the City of Oxford which respond to the theme of Shared City.

Star Light, Star Bright maps the night sky onto the streets of Oxford via pressure sensitive lights embedded in the ground.  Placed in clusters across the city, the lights encourage players to gather together to map constellations from the night sky. Each “star” will shine brighter as more are activated, until the final star cues super bright beams of light – bathing the people beneath in a constellation of stars. This city-wide intervention brings life to dark, winter streets connecting strangers for a shared moment of discovery and wonder.

Laura Kriefman, founder of Guerilla Dance Project, says “We are so excited that Guerilla Dance Project have been awarded the Smart Oxford Playable City Commission. Having been actively involved in the Playable City movement for years, it is great to be able to create a city-wide piece in the UK. Guerilla Dance Project can’t wait to make the stars shine bright, for all the citizens of the beautiful City of Oxford”

The judges were particularly excited by opportunities for connection between the diverse populations who live, visit and work within Oxford and the connection to Oxford’s history of space exploration from Radcliffe Observatory to the European Space Agency at Harwell. As winners of the Award, Guerilla Dance Project will receive £30,000 and guidance to help realize their ideas. The winning idea will be unveiled in Oxford in Winter. 

Read more about the winning project and team: here.


OxFutures starts 3.2m project to boost innovative low carbon businesses

By: Low Carbon Hub


Oxford’s Low Carbon Hub has led a winning bid for £1.6m of European Regional Development funding that will be used to foster low carbon economic development in the county over the next three years. This funding will be matched with another £1.6m, the majority of which will come from six partners, which were also involved in the bid. The partners will work together to implement the project.

The low carbon sector is already an important part of Oxfordshire’s economy. Annually it accounts for 7% of Oxfordshire’s revenue, with 570 businesses earning over £1bn in sales. Through the project, known as OxFutures, the partners will increase the number of innovative low carbon businesses, ensuring that even more of the £1.5 billion that Oxfordshire spends annually on energy stays in the county.

OxFutures will increase renewable energy generation by facilitating the sharing of knowledge between academics, local authorities and small / medium enterprises (SMEs); encouraging networking between SMEs; and offering grants for new products, new start-ups and energy-efficiency measures. The result will be an improvement in air quality in the city, a reduction in energy bills and CO2 emissions and a boost to the local economy.

The project will build on the success of the first phase of OxFutures which originated as a partnership between Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, and the Low Carbon Hub. During the first phase, a four-year EU-funded programme, £18 million of investments were leveraged into local renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

The project partners will each play a vital role in OxFutures and have a strong history of working together:

The Low Carbon Hub is a social enterprise that develops community-owned renewable energy projects and supports low carbon groups in Oxfordshire. The Hub will manage the project funding and will be the first point of contact for local SMEs that want to apply for start-up funding or grants. Working alongside Bioregional, via a new networking centre called Oxfordshire GreenTech, it will also coordinate knowledge sharing between SMEs and the two universities with the goal of connecting more renewable energy across Oxfordshire.

Oxford City Council has ambitious plans to reduce the City’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2020. Its role in OxFutures will be to collaborate with SMEs and the two universities on Oxford’s transition to Electric Vehicles (EVs). Chargers will soon be installed across the city and the introduction of EVs will drastically improve air quality while encouraging renewables through providing a means of storing and utilising locally generated green energy.

Cherwell District Council is working with Bioregional, a charity and social enterprise that works with partners to create better places for people to live, work and do business within the natural limits of the planet – this is called One Planet Living. Together, they will be developing Oxfordshire GreenTech, a countywide business network which will support its members to create sustainable workplaces, logistics, products and services for a stronger, greener economy. Members will share knowledge, form partnerships and potentially work together on joint funding bids, and will have access to research from both universities.

Oxford Brookes University (OBU) will offer SMEs free energy audits; with any recommendations that come out of the audits being part-funded through grants accessed via the Low Carbon Hub. Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development in OBU will build on work already done in Bicester by developing a region-wide case study of its LEMUR energy demand model using the acclaimed DECoRuM carbon mapping model, which identifies areas with high levels of energy inefficient housing and retrofits homes to reduce household energy consumption. OISD will also share learning from its research on smart energy technologies (Project ERIC) with SMEs via GreenTech.

Oxford University’s ‘Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy’ project investigates methods of integrating modern renewable energy technologies into national, regional and local grids. Through OxFutures, the university will use Oxfordshire as the first regional case study for this work with the goal of SMEs making this research a reality for the county.

SMEs wanting to register interest in joining Oxfordshire GreenTech, applying for grant funding and / or applying for a free energy audit should contact the Low Carbon Hub.


We are reaching a tipping point where the growth of renewables and advances in technology are combining to make green energy the most economically sensible choice as well as the right choice for the future of our planet. Through OxFutures we are bringing together some of the most important low carbon players in Oxfordshire to ensure the county benefits both financially and environmentally from this energy revolution.

Dr Barbara Hammond, MBE – Chief Executive, Low Carbon Hub

European Regional Development Fund: The project is receiving up to £1.6m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for ERDF. Established by the European Union, ERDF funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations.  For more information visit 


This article first appeared on 14th July 2017 on the website of the Low Carbon Hub.


Smart Oxford Playable City Commission – give us your input

By: Smart Oxford & Playable City

The Smart Oxford Playable City Commission shortlist reveals six innovative projects placing shared experience at the heart of the future city.  Help us choose a winner.


Watershed and Smart Oxford are delighted to announce the shortlist for the very first Smart Oxford Playable City Commission 2017.

From mysterious creatures appearing on city streets eager to make new friends, to forbidden buttons that connect the curious of Oxford, each of the shortlisted projects has found creative ways to celebrate the Shared City theme.

Artists, designers, technologists and creative practitioners were challenged to propose distinctive ideas that put people and play at the heart of Oxford. Responding to the theme of Shared City, applicants proposed using smart city technology in innovative ways to create opportunities for connection between the diverse populations who live, visit and work within Oxford.

This is the first time the Playable City model has been used in the UK outside of the annual Award and over 80 entries were received from 28 countries around the world.

The six shortlisted ideas are now available to view online and the public are invited to submit comments and questions via the Playable City website until 18 July. All  feedback will be shared with the judging panel and the winner will be announced on 01 August 2017.

In addition to the £30,000 award, the R&D commission offers the winner dedicated practical support and guidance to realize their ideas. The winning idea will be unveiled in Oxford in November.

The six shortlisted projects are:

Show Us Your City | Thomas Buchanan and Gavin Strange, UK

Oxford could be set to adopt a new family. Three connected, cheerful yet nomadic characters – that look somewhere between robots and cartoon characters – will ask questions and suggest challenges to the people of Oxford creating unexpected interactions, as well as asking friendly locals to show them around their newly adopted home by moving, lifting or rolling them between the city’s public spaces. Each character’s location will be openly available through Oxfordshire Open Data and the public will be able to keep up with their movements via their very own website.

Star Light, Star Bright | Guerilla Dance Project, UK

Star Light, Star Bright brings to life dark, gloomy streets via mounted, push activated lights. Placed in clusters across the city, the lights encourage players to come together to map star constellations from the night sky above Oxford onto the city’s surfaces. Connecting strangers for a shared serendipitous moment, each Star Bright beacon will shine brighter as more are activated, until the final beacon cues the whole cluster to mark the night with bright beams of light bathing those beneath in a constellation of stars.

Do Not Press | Playful Anywhere CIC, UK

Imagine if a button pressed on the outskirts of town could blow up a balloon in the city centre? What if a button on the Bridge of Sighs could send a poem to your friends phone? Do Not Press is an accessible, playful game to connect the curious across the various areas and communities of Oxford and reward them for playing together. Those who dare to press the apparently forbidden buttons will open the door to a myriad of digital adventures that have been woven into the fabric of the city.

Knock Knock | Bottle, UK  

Overnight, two brightly coloured doors magically appear on the streets of Oxford. A plaque invites passers-by to knock on them. Connecting two separate parts of the city, a knock on one door will mysteriously be heard on the other, creating a surprising conversation. Small video peepholes will allow viewers to teleport themselves to the mysterious alternate location to create a connection of their new friend on the other side of town.

LitKNIT Gateways | Graf + Tobier, Vienna & USA

LitKNIT Gateways constructs and plays a walkable programmable light show across Oxford. This smart version of “urban knitting” weaves programmable LED stripes into neighborhood gateways, knitting disparate demographics into an interactive illuminated metropolis. While street level participants activate individual segments through movement, the cross-town sequence of micro local landmarks is playable via smart phone/internet.

Love Thy Neighbourhood | Bimble ,UK

Weaving a web of micro adventures or ‘Bimbles’, Love Thy Neighbour invites residents to experience the true, diverse character of the city, offering a myriad of journeys incorporating celebrated, popular landmarks and hidden gems in the lesser known parts of the city’s nooks and crannies. The people of Oxford will also be invited to create their very own ‘Bimble’, providing residents with the opportunity to truly walk in one another’s footsteps and share favourite parts of the city with each other.


The panel will comprise industry judges at the forefront of art, society, and technology.

It will chaired by Lord Heseltine who will be joined Clare Reddington, Usman Haque, Sharna Jackson, Cigdem Sengul, Llewelyn Morgan, Sebastian Johnson, Asima Qayyum and Francesa Perry.

Hilary O’Shaughnessy , Lead Producer, Playable City, says, “The breadth of ideas and vision in the shortlist shows the strength and reach of the Playable City theme across all creative sectors. We are excited to choose and produce a project of global ambition that begins in the unique city of Oxford.”

Sebastian Johnson, Vice-Chair of Smart Oxford and Principal Economic Development Officer at Oxford City Council, says,A Playable City approach will start new conversations, imagine new futures and make new connections – it is a way of thinking differently about Oxford; as a shared city that links our diverse communities.”

Lord Michael Heseltine says, “I am delighted to be chairing the judging panel of the Smart Oxford Playable City Commission.  I’m looking forward to working with my fellow judges to review the innovative and creative ideas the competition has generated and am excited to see the winning entry delivered in the iconic city of Oxford.”

Full details of the shortlist are here.



What maths does: building a perfect metropolis

By: University of Oxford


Oxford Mathematician Neave O’Clery works with mathematical models to describe the processes behind industrial diversification and economic growth. Here she discusses her work in Oxford and previously at Harvard to explain how network science can help us understand why some cities thrive and grow, and others decline, and how they can offer useful, practical tools for policy-makers looking for the formula for success.

No man is an island. English poet John Donne’s words have new meaning in a 21st century context as network and peer effects, often amplified by modern technologies, have been acknowledged as central to understanding human behaviour and development. Network analysis provides a uniquely powerful tool to describe and quantify complex systems, whose dynamics depend not on individual agents but on the underlying interconnection structure. My work focuses on the development of network-based policy tools to describe the economic processes underlying the growth of cities.

Urban centres draw a diverse range of people, attracted by opportunity, amenities, and the energy of crowds. Yet, while benefiting from density and proximity of people, cities also suffer from issues surrounding crime, transport, housing, and education. Fuelled by rapid urbanisation and pressing policy concerns, an unparalleled inter-disciplinary research agenda has emerged that spans the humanities, social and physical sciences. From a quantitative perspective, this agenda embraces the new wave of data emerging from both the private and public sector, and its promise to deliver new insights and transformative detail on how society functions today. The novel application of tools from mathematics, combined with high resolution data, to study social, economic and physical systems transcends traditional domain boundaries and provides opportunities for a uniquely multi-disciplinary and high impact research agenda.

One particular strand of research concerns the fundamental question: how do cities move into new economic activities, providing opportunities for citizens and generating inclusive growth? Cities are naturally constrained by their current resources, and the proximity of their current capabilities to new opportunities. This simple fact gives rise to a notion of path dependence: cities move into new activities that are similar to what they currently produce. In order to describe the similarities between industries, we construct a network model where nodes represent industries and edges represent capability overlap. The capability overlap for industry pairs may be empirically estimated by counting worker transitions between industries. Intuitively, if many workers switch jobs between a pair of industries, then it is likely that these industries share a high degree of know-how.

This network can be seen as modelling the opportunity landscape of cities: where a particular city is located in this network (i.e., its industries) will determine its future diversification potential. In other words, a city has the skills and know-how to move into neighbouring nodes. A city located in a central well connected region has many options, but one with only few peripheral industries has limited opportunities.

Such models aid policy-makers, planners and investors by providing detailed predictions of what types of new activities are likely to be successful in a particular place, information that typically cannot be gleaned from standard economic models. Metrics derived from such networks are in-formative about a range of associated questions concerning the overall growth of formal employment and the optimal size of urban commuting zones.



This article first appeared on the website of the University of Oxford on 7th July 2017.


Digital entrepreneurship

By: Michel Wahome, Oxford Internet Institute

The ‘techie’ archetype is the mascot of our age. Generally imagined and depicted as a youth, most often male, wearing a casual sweat-shirt, and carrying a backpack that contains the tool of his trade—the laptop. The techie dreams of building a software ‘app’ that commands a global following and so ingenious that wealthy investors line up for an opportunity to bankroll it. At the macro-scale, the archetype is cast in a narrative where ‘start-up’ environments inhabited by techies are the economic engines of the present and the future. As a result, any government worth its salt is concerned with establishing this ‘ecosystem’, often modelled on the ultimate exemplar, Silicon Valley. These tropes and ideal types belie the variety of actors and forms of digital entrepreneurship that exist around the world.

The digital entrepreneurship imaginary, for one thing, has a wide reach because it is transmitted by the relatively ubiquitous technologies with which it is associated. Information technology, is also accessible in a different way. Its knowledge, talent and material requirements do not require the heavy investments of other ‘start-up’ generating counterparts like ‘biotech’ or ‘clean tech’. As a result, there is a belief that in this cosmopolitan world of bit and bytes that the ‘next Facebook or Google’ can come from any place and that the digitital realm represents opportunities for everyone, independent of where they are located geographically. ‘Does this belief hold water?’ is an underlying question of my research. ‘How do Silicon Savannah’s arenas of expectation interact with global structures of innovation and entrepreneurship?’ is how it is framed in my thesis.The aim of my research was to consider how a variety of  ‘techpreneurs’  in Nairobi, Kenya envision success and whether those imaginaries and narratives are aligned with empirical reality as evidenced in their practices and outcomes. In a world where the successful are called unicorns, fantasies almost seem inevitable. What are actors willing to do in order to keep the dream alive? I have found that the expectations and imperatives that have developed around the technology start-up concept often lead to unexpected or perverse outcomes as firms enact what they think (or are taught) success looks like.

Interest in these topics stem from a previous life, when I worked for a US-based, science organisation that advised governments and corporations about how to ‘do’ innovation. We aimed to facilitate desirable outcomes such as the adoption of ‘clean’ technologies; a shift towards greener, smarter cities, and the development of vaccines for neglected and rare diseases. Armed with the knowledge of various frameworks such as Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff’s Triple Helix, the OECD’s Freeman and Lundvall inspired Oslo Manual, Stokes’s Pascal’s Quadrant, etc. we conducted extensive research into the ways the cases under our remit differed from the ideal. The advice was always aimed at retro-fitting the context to fit the framework. I always felt that we were not giving full respect to the intractability of contingent factors such as history, place and culture. It seemed to me that they were much more durable, and may be even held more potential, than we could consider given our approach. Meanwhile, in my home town of Nairobi, an emergent digital innovation economy seemed to be providing a case-in-point—it had originated under ‘scarcity’ conditions and without the interventions and inputs that we often regarded as prerequisites. Maybe university-industry linkages were not that important. What if dedicating percentages of GDP to R&D and education in STEM was not a requirement? Then again, perhaps, it was the nature and affordances of digital technologies that had facilitated these organic developments. It could also have been that despite all the hype, Silicon Savannah did not really represent a working exemple of innovation entrepreneurship and was just part of the ‘Africa rising’ media narrative that was in vogue. These musings seemed more at home in an academic setting, which led me to enrol in the Science and Technology Studies program at the University of Edinburgh. Using Biography of Artefacts and Practices’ approach, I traced the history of the ICT industry in Kenya from deregulation and liberalisation in the nineties, to present day Silicon Savannah. A year of fieldwork produced ethnographies of two technology firms, different as night and day, as they navigated towards ‘exit’ and/or profit. Interview data was supplemented by digital archives of blogs, emails and social media in an attempt to capture how and why respondent’s perspectives and practices changed over time.

Geonet’s longitudinal comparison of digital entrepreneurship in several African cities, represents an opportunity to expand this inquiry. I am eager to understand how contingent factors interact over time to produce a variety of scenarios, different from the ones that I am familiar with. I will be involved in developing these explanations based on comparative analysis of the close and distant case studies that we will be building. Evaluating how digital entrepreneurship manifests and is facilitated, in a breadth of places and spaces, supports institutions tasked with making choices about how to best support the generation of digital livelihoods and technologies. It enables them to think beyond replicating the archetype.


This post was originally published on the OII’s Geonet project blog on 


Oxford Conference: Digital Transport Exchange 6-7 July 2017

By: Smart Oxford

Digital Transport Exchange

Digital Transport Exchange: Practical, scalable applications of digital infrastructure to improve the transport experience

Hosted by Smart Oxford in conjunction with the MoBox Foundation and Oxfordshire County Council, Digital Transport Exchange is designed to share knowledge and build networks by bringing the data and digital infrastructure ecosystem together for the first time to explore ways of delivering the benefits of transport and city data infrastructures for customers, communities and clients.

The conference will brings together business leaders, senior public sector representatives, innovators and pioneers from across the transport digital infrastructure ecosystem to begin a ground-breaking conversation on the best ways forward.

It will tackle the unresolved issues which are holding back progress. A highly interactive format will run across two days and include keynotes, marketplace, workshops, interactive sessions and one-to-one meetings, with ‘Meet the Experts’ and lots of networking opportunities built-in.

Speakers include:


Find out more here.


What are the barriers to big data analytics in local government?

By: Fola Malomo, Vania Sena and David Sutcliffe, Oxford Internet Institute

The concept of Big Data has become very popular over the last decade, with many large technology companies successfully building their business models around its exploitation. The UK’s public sector has tried to follow suit, with local governments in particular trying to introduce new models of service delivery based on the routine extraction of information from their own big data. These attempts have been hailed as the beginning of a new era for the public sector, with some commentators suggesting that it could help local governments transition toward a model of service delivery where the quantity and quality of commissioned services is underpinned by data intelligence on users and their current and future needs.

In their Policy & Internet article “Data Intelligence for Local Government? Assessing the Benefits and Barriers to Use of Big Data in the Public Sector“, Fola Malomo and Vania Sena examine the extent to which local governments in the UK are indeed using intelligence from big data, in light of the structural barriers they face when trying to exploit it. Their analysis suggests that the ambitions around the development of big data capabilities in local government are not reflected in actual use. Indeed, these methods have mostly been employed to develop new digital channels for service delivery, and even if the financial benefits of these initiatives are documented, very little is known about the benefits generated by them for the local communities.

While this is slowly changing as councils start to develop their big data capability, the overall impression gained from even a cursory overview is that the full potential of big data is yet to be exploited.

We caught up with the authors to discuss their findings:

Ed.: So what actually is “the full potential” that local government is supposed to be aiming for? What exactly is the promise of “big data” in this context?

Fola / Vania: Local governments seek to improve service delivery amongst other things. Big Data helps to increase the number of ways that local service providers can reach out to, and better the lives of, local inhabitants. In addition, the exploitation of Big Data allows to better target the beneficiaries of their services and emphasise early prevention which may result into a reduction of the delivery costs. Commissioners in a Council needed to understand the drivers of the demand for services across different departments and their connections: how the services are connected to each other and how changes in the provision of “upstream” services can affect the “downstream” provision. Many local governments have reams of data (both hard data and soft data) on local inhabitants and local businesses. Big Data can be used to improve services, increase quality of life and make doing business easier.

Ed.: I wonder: can the data available to a local authority even be considered to be “big data” — you mention that local government data tends to be complex, rather than “big and fast”, as in the industry understanding of “big data”. What sorts of data are we talking about?

Fola / Vania: Local governments hold data on individuals, companies, projects and other activities concerning the local community. Health data, including information on children and other at-risk individuals, forms a huge part of the data within local governments. We use the concept of the data-ecosystem to talk about Big Data within local governments. The data ecosystem consists of different types of data on different topics and units which may be used for different purposes.

Complexity within data is driven by the volume of data and the large number of data sources. One must consider the fact that public agencies address needs from communities that cross administrative boundaries of a single administrative body. Also, the choice of data collection methodology and observation unit is driven by reporting requirements which is influenced by central government. Lastly, data storage infrastructure may be designed to comply with reporting requirements rather than linking data across agencies; data is not necessarily produced to be merged The data is not always “big and fast” but requires the use of advanced storage and analytic tools to get useful information that local areas benefit from.

Ed.: Do you think local governments will ever have the capacity (budget, skill) to truly exploit “big data”? What were the three structural barriers you particularly identified?

Fola / Vania: Without funding there is no chance that local governments can fully exploit big data. With funding, Local government can benefit from Big Data in a number of ways. The improved usage of Big Data usually requires collaboration between agents. The three main structural barriers to the fruitful exploitation of big data by local governments are: data access; ethical issues; and organisational changes. In addition, skill gaps; and investment in information technology have proved problematic.

Data access can be a problem if data exists in separate locations with little communication between the housing organisations and no easy way to move the data from one place to another. The main advantage of big data technologies is their ability to merge different types of data; mine them for insights; and combine them for actionable insights. Nevertheless, while the use of big data approaches to data exploitation assumes that organisations can access all the data they need; this is not the case in the public sector. A uniform practice on what data can be shared locally has not yet emerged. Furthermore there is no solution to the fact that data can span across organisations that are not part of the public sector and that may therefore be unwilling to share data with public bodies.

De-identifying personal data is another key requirement to fulfil before personal data can be shared under the terms of the Data Protection Agreement. It is argued that this requirement is relevant when trying to merge small data sets as individuals can be easily re-identified once the data linkage is completed. As a result, the only option left to facilitate the linkage of data sets with personal information is to create a secure environment where data can be safely de-identified and then matched. Safe havens and trusted third parties have been developed exactly for` this purpose. Data warehouses, where data from local governments and from other parts of the public sector can be matched and linked, have been developed as an intermediate solution to the lack of infrastructure for matching sensitive data.

Due to the personal nature of the data, ethical issues arise concerning how to use information about individuals and whether persons should be identifiable. There is a huge debate on ethical challenges posed by the routine extraction of information from Big Data. The extraction and manipulation of personal information cannot be easily reconciled with what is perceived to be ethically acceptable in this area. Additional ethical issues related to the re-use of output from specific predictive models for other purposes within the public sector. This issue is particularly relevant given the fact that most predictive analytics algorithms only provide an estimate of the risk of an event.

Data usage is related to culture; and organisational changes can be a medium to longer term process. As long as key stakeholders in the organisation accept that insights from data will inform service delivery; big data technologies can be used as levers to introduce changes in the way services are provided. Unfortunately, it is commonly believed that the deployment of big data technologies simply implies a change in the way data are interrogated and interpreted and therefore should not have any bearing on the way internal processes are organised.

In addition, data usage can involve investment in information technology and training. It is well known that investment in IT has been very uneven between the private and public sector, and within the private sector as well. Despite the growth in information and communications technology (ICT) budgets across the private sector, the banking sector and the financial services industry spend 8 percent of their total operating expenditure on ICT, among local authorities, ICT spending makes up only 3-6% of the total budget. Furthermore, successful deployment of Big Data technologies needs to be accompanied by the development of internal skills that allow for the analysis and modelling of complex phenomena that is essential to the development of a data-driven approach to decision making within local governments. However, local governments tend to lack these skills and this skills gap may be exacerbated by the high turnover in the sector. All this, in addition to the sector’s fragmentation in terms of IT provision, reinforces the structural silos that prevent local authorities from sharing and exploiting their data.

Ed.: And do you think these big data techniques will just sort-of seep in to local government, or that there will need to be a proper step-change in terms of skills and attitudes?

Fola / Vania: The benefits of data-driven analysis are being increasingly accepted. Whilst the techniques used might seem to be steadily accepted by local governments, in order to make a real and lasting improvement public bodies should ideally have a big data strategy in place to determine how they will use the data they have available to them. Attitudes can take time to change and the provision of information can help people become more willing to use Big Data in their work.

Ed.: I suppose one solution might for local councils to buy in the services of third-party specialist “big data for local government” providers, rather than trying to develop in-house capacity: do these providers exist? I imagine local government might have data that would be attractive to commercial companies, maybe as a profit-sharing data partnership?

Fola / Vania: The truth is that providers do exist and they always charge local governments. What is underestimated is the role that data centres can play in this arena. The authors are members of the economic and social research council funded business and local government data research centre for smart analytics. This centre helps local councils use their big data better by collating data and performing analysis that is of use to local councils. The centre also provides training to public officials, giving them tools to understand and use data better. The centre is a collaboration between the Universities of Essex, Kent, East Anglia and the London School of Economics. Academics work closely with public officials to come up with solutions to problems facing local areas. In addition, commercial companies are interested in working with local government data. Working with third-party organisations is a good method to ease into the process of using Big Data solutions without having to make a huge changes to one’s organisation.

Ed.: Finally — is there anything that central Government can do (assuming it isn’t already 100% occupied with Brexit) to help local governments develop their data analytic capacity?

Fola / Vania: Central governments influence the environment in which local government operate. Despite local councils making decisions over things such as how data is stored, central government can assist by removing some of the previously-mentioned barriers to data usage. For example, government cuts are excessive and are making the sector very volatile so financial help will be useful in this area. Moreover, data access and transfer is made easier with uniformity of data storage protocols. In addition, the public will have more confidence in providing data if there is transparency in the collection, usage and provision of data. Guidelines for the use of sensitive data should be agreed upon and made known in order to improve the quality of the work. Central governments can also help change the general culture of local governments and attitudes towards Big Data. In order for Big Data to work well for all, individuals, companies, local governments and central governments should be well informed about the issues and able to effect change concerning Big Data issues.

Read the full article: Malomo, F. and Sena, V. (2107) Data Intelligence for Local Government? Assessing the Benefits and Barriers to Use of Big Data in the Public Sector. Policy & Internet 9 (1) DOI: 10.1002/poi3.141.

Fola Malomo and Vania Sena were talking to blog editor David Sutcliffe.


Accelerating autonomy: EMBA alumnus and F1 veteran Mark Preston on StreetDrone ONE

By: Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

StreetDrone One

StreetDrone ONE is an autonomous vehicle (AV) platform designed to open up self-driving technology to educational institutions, as well as programmers and developers outside the traditional car industry. CEO and founder Mark Preston is an entrepreneur, Oxford Executive MBA (EMBA) alumnus, and former Formula One technical director.

‘As I began to do more work in this area I realised that, despite the huge pressure on companies to embrace the new technology, there were not enough ways for people to learn how to work with it. Car manufacturers kept telling me they simply couldn’t find graduates who had experience with autonomous systems,’ explained Preston. ‘The problem boils down to this: building a car is extremely expensive, and institutions and programmers won’t have the skills or the finances to do it. So they need a readymade platform on which to try out their ideas.’

Mark Preston

After identifying the gap in the market, Preston and managing director Mike Potts approached Renault to license their Twizy hatchback, which they have modified to include 360 degree cameras, laser sensors, customisable panels and a fully customisable operating system.

The battery powered, lightweight car might be no match in performance to Preston’s race cars, but the process of designing and marketing it has many similarities. ‘The best way to explain motorsports is that it is a prototyping competition,’ said Preston. ‘It’s a low volume, high value and highly innovative industry, and so there are obvious parallels to the world of starts-ups.’

Having enrolled at Oxford Saïd in 2005 to improve his knowledge of fundraising and general business practices, Preston says his Executive MBA has been essential to his fast-paced career: ‘I launched the Formula One team, Super Aguri, at the same time as studying the EMBA. The advice of both the faculty and my cohort was invaluable, and I still seek the counsel of my fellow alumni to this day.’

As to how anyone could build an international motorsport team while completing one of the world’s most rigorous business qualifications, Preston tells us the secret is impeccable time management: ‘let’s just say long haul flights provide a great opportunity to catch up on your coursework,’ he said.

StreetDrone ONE will begin delivery of its self-drive ready platform in August 2017.


This article first appeared on the news pages of the Saïd Business School website on 28th June 2017.


University researchers reach out into the community

By: University of Oxford

A researcher reconstructing lost historical sites, a project transforming lion killers into lion conservationists, activities to help people living with dementia and a department giving schoolchildren a chance to touch a piece of the moon have all been named winners at this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards.

These projects, along with eleven others, were recognised at the University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards on 28 June, at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Dr Claire Sexton, of the Department of Psychiatry, won an Early Career Research Award for engaging communities with her research on ageing in the brain. Since 2015 she has delivered Dementia Friends information sessions and public talks about her research. She is also Founding Chair of Dementia Friendly Chipping Norton. The group aims to bring together people living with dementia, caregivers, community organisations and researchers to increase awareness of dementia locally and improve inclusion and quality of life.

The Department of Earth Sciences was recognised in the Building Capacity category, for their work with Oxford primary school groups. Schoolchildren joined researchers in investigating samples of real lunar material brought to earth by the Apollo missions in the 1970s, which are rarely seen and held, even by researchers of lunar science.

Awarded projects engaged those much further afield too. A project led by Dr Amy Dickman from the Department of Zoology worked with communities in Tanzania to transform lion killers into lion conservationists – a major need in an area which holds the world’s second largest lion population, but had previously suffered extremely high rates of lion killing by local people.

The Vice-Chancellor’s prize was also announced at the ceremony – this year’s winner was Dr Alexy Karenowska, Department of Physics, for her work on the documentation, preservation, and restoration of at-risk cultural heritage sites across the world. Dr Karenowska led a team to create a 13 tonne replica of the Triumphal Arch from Syria’s Palmyra site, destroyed in 2015. She managed the installation of the structure on Trafalgar Square in London and has overseen the installation of the same arch in New York, Dubai and Florence.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor says: ‘I have been deeply impressed by the quality of the public engagement with research projects submitted for this year’s awards. The breadth and diversity of the activities taking place show how seriously the University takes its commitment to public engagement. It is inspiring to see the positive impact these activities have both on research and on the individuals and communities that have been involved, from warriors in Tanzania and young adults in Brazil, to local communities affected by dementia.’

Professor Alison Woollard, the University’s Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research says: ‘Public engagement enriches both research and society and the University is committed to enabling our researchers to inspire, consult and collaborate with the public. I’m delighted that we are able to recognise and highlight the fantastic work our researchers are doing and hope these awards encourage more colleagues across the University to carry out their own public engagement with research.’

A full list of project winners can be found here.

This article first appeared on the pages of the University of Oxford website on 28th June 2017.


Oxford autonomous vehicle technology trials in self-driving delivery van

By: Oxbotica

delivery van

Greenwich, London, 27 June 2017 – The TRL-led GATEway Project together with Ocado Technology (a division of Ocado, the world’s largest online-only supermarket) has completed the UK’s first trials of an autonomous CargoPod vehicle around the Berkeley Homes, Royal Arsenal Riverside development in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The real world trials see a self-driving delivery van, called CargoPod, operating in a residential environment, delivering grocery orders to over one hundred customers.

Taking place in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab, the GATEway Project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) is a world-leading research programme, led by TRL and funded by UK government and industry. It aims to demonstrate the use of autonomous vehicles for ‘last mile’ deliveries and mobility, seamlessly connecting existing distribution and transport hubs with residential and commercial areas using zero emission, low noise transport systems.

CargoPod, developed by Oxbotica as part of the GATEway Project, is guided by their state-of-the-art autonomy software system Selenium, which enables real-time, accurate navigation, planning and perception in dynamic environments. The pod is able to carry a total of 128kg of groceries at a time.

Uniquely, the focus of the study is both on the commercial opportunities of self-driving technology and how it functions alongside people in a residential environment. This, the third of four trials with the GATEway Project, is exploring the public’s perceptions and understanding of driverless delivery vehicles. Ocado Technology is using the trials to explore the logistics and practicalities of deploying self-driving vehicles as part of the last mile offering for the Ocado Smart Platform, an end-to-end solution for providing bricks and mortar grocery retailers around the world with a shortcut for moving online.


This article first appeared on the website of Oxbotica on 27th June 2017