Innovative Oxford : engaging

By: Smart Oxford : 08 August 2017

The Shared City: | experimenting | engaging | expanding | empowering

Oxfordshire – the UK’s first ‘Social Enterprise Place’

Oxford is one of the UK’s leading hotspots for Social Enterprise, with a diverse ecosystem of startups, innovation programmes, and research.

In addition to the examples of community engagement listed on our web page on empowering, here are some examples of how the city is supporting engagement, in the areas of:

  Collaboration, citizen engagement and exchange

Oxford is a vibrant centre of science and technology innovation, and the people of Oxford of all ages and backgrounds share in, and benefit from, this thriving innovation ecosystem.

   Smart Oxford Playable City

Drawing on our “Shared City” vision Smart Oxford Playable City is a public, global competition to create a more connected and collaborative Oxford using smart city technologies based on our vision of Oxford as a Shared City.

We invited all innovators, technologists and creative people from around the world to submit a distinctive idea that we could uptake to help make Oxford more liveable, open and collaborative city.

Making use of the city’s existing infrastructure and smart city technologies, the winning entry will put people and play at the heart of the city and catch the imagination of those who live, study, visit and work in and around Oxford.

Shortlisted entries included:

  • Do Not Press – buttons across Oxford inviting people to create new connections across the city in playful ways

  • Love Thy Neighbourhood – weaving a web of micro adventures by allowing people to share collections of favorite places and routes throughout Oxford
  • Knock Knock – linking people in disparate parts of Oxford via a mysterious front door that would appear overnight in two locations in the city and invite passers-by to knock on it.

  • LitKNIT Gateways – constructing and playing a walkable programmable light show across Oxford.
  • Show Us Your City – inviting people to adopt friendly, nomadic characters – somewhere between robots, blobs and cartoon characters – asking the people of Oxford to show and share with them their newly adopted city.

In a period of public comment, we invited people’s comments and feedback, which were taken into account by the Judging Panel, with the winning entry announced on 2nd August as Star Light, Star Bright.

Star Bright Beacons will be smart, IoT networked, touch activated lights which appear embedded in the pavements, mounted on walls, clustered together, and appearing across the city, mapping onto its surfaces star constellations from the winter night sky and bringing together strangers to play with location and serendipity, to reveal a hidden, unique view of Oxford.

As winners of the Award, Guerilla Dance Project will receive £30,000 and guidance to help realise their ideas. The winning idea will be unveiled in Oxford this winter.

   Cowley Road Carnival

Drawing a crowd of over 50,000 people, this year’s two-day Cowley Carnival celebrated a shared-city theme of ‘technology and industry’.

About 600 people were in this year’s procession, all travelling in fossil-fuel free ways – including 3 metre high robot made of recycled materials from Oxford Brookes University’s robotics group and a F1 car from the Oxford Brookes Racing team.

Highlights included costumes and puppets from many local community groups and schools, with the street becoming a living laboratory as young “Guardians of Science” engaged audiences in the experiment. Reincarnations of the “Giants of Science” – Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Curie, Faraday, Turing and Franklin, moved through the town in a spectacle of light and sound.

New for Carnival this year was a Science Zone celebrating and sharing Oxford’s position as hub of science and innovation, and featuring world-leading science from Oxfordshire’s Harwell Campus including the European Space Agency, with Same Difference Arts presenting A Few Feet UP human telescope and Sens-o-matic, an interactive science experiment to discover all your senses. The Science Zone also featured Medisci and a walk-about performance from Ultra Low with Oxford City Council.

In the Brookes Zone people interacted with Artie, a life-size fully interactive and user-friendly humanoid robot. Artie was the first humanoid robot to join the Department of Computing and Communication Technologies at Oxford Brookes University and is used in the department’s cutting-edge research into human-robot interaction.

   Oxford Brookes OutBurst

In May Oxford Brookes University held a festival called OutBurst where Brookes bursts out of the university campus into the community, bringing great ideas, activities and entertainment right to the doorstep of the Oxford public.

The festival showcased cutting-edge research and expertise from across the university in a variety of stimulating and fun events for the people of Oxford, including installations, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and discussions for all ages.

Events included Meet ARTIE, a life-sized humanoid robot, that people could control and interact with, Sumo Robots, a hands-on session in a robot arena, Drawing with Light, an introduction to the technique of long exposure photography for ages 7 and above, and Painting in 3D, where people could be inspired by the latest 3D VR technology and immerse themselves in a world in which they were the artist.

   Curiosity Carnival

Funded by the European Commission, Curiosity Carnival, a city-wide programme, took place this year with activities across the ciy’s museums, libraries, and gardens.

Participants engaged with researchers from our two Universities and MRC Harwell, for an evening of fun and entertainment for all ages and interests, with each of our venues getting curious about something different, and activities spilling out onto the streets of Oxford – with bite-size talks, music, walking tours, live demonstrations and the Marvellous Mathemagicians.

Planned as part of the EU-wide initiative European Researchers Night, the carnival was all about celebrating, debating and questioning the way that research and innovation affects the lives of Oxford citizens, and was estimated to engage 200 researchers and 10,000 citizens and members of the public through live activities, as well as 250,000 people via a digital engagement campaign.

The event provided opportunities to interact directly with researchers, and to stimulate interest in and awareness of research, with dance, art, talks, demonstrations and a living library of researchers on loan.

The event I’m a Researcher Get Me Out of Here gave secondary school students in Oxfordshire the chance to connect with 15 researchers from a range of disciplines, with a live final in Oxford’s Weston Library seeing the final five battle for people’s votes to become the I’m a Researcher champion.


Oxplore is an innovative digital outreach portal from the University of Oxford. As the ‘Home of Big Questions’ it aims to engage those from 11 to 18 years with debates and ideas that go beyond what is covered in the school classroom.

Big questions tackle complex ideas across a wide range of subjects and draw on the latest research undertaken at Oxford. Oxplore aims to raise aspirations, promote broad thinking and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

Oxplore went live in early 2017, with a national launch scheduled for September.

   Oxford University Community Fair & Grants

A 2016 development in the University’s engagement with the people of Oxford was its first-ever Community Fair, to showcase the range of ways people can benefit from the University, including free lectures and concerts throughout the year, the opportunity to take part in scientific activities like rooftop stargazing sessions and medical trials, and green spaces like Wytham Woods and the University Parks.

Building on the success of last year’s event, this year’s fair will be held at Barton Neighbourhood Centre.

The University also supports local groups by providing community grants to increase engagement between the University and the community, promote knowledge exchange and widening participation, and to support the
uptake of ideas that benefit the communities of Oxford.

   Oxford for Oxford

Through the University’s Oxford for Oxford project, it works with local state schools to support pupil attainment and promote connections between teachers, students, families and the University, by organising school visits, trips and workshops, plus public-facing Family Fun Day and festival activities, a summer camp for Year 7 and 8 pupils at The Oxford Academy, and a Museum Club for Year 5 pupils.

The University also has has a thriving learning centre in one of the city’s most deprived regions, enabling city children to aim high via its intoUniversity programme. The University also runs a programme of free summer schools for schoolchildren.

   Science Oxford

Run by the Oxford Trust, Smart Oxford partner Science Oxford aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators through our schools programmes.

Science Oxford makes connections between researchers, educators, business people and the public; to inspire, engage and inform them and therefore catalyse innovation and support for science in our region.

Through its team of education professionals it delivers innovative education programmes that enrich the primary and secondary curricula in schools,
15-20,000 pupils in over 200 schools annually.

Over 100 primary schools participate in its BIG Science Event annually and 40 secondary schools participate in our Young Scientists of the Year awards.

Through Science Oxford Live, it encourages people of all ages to engage with how scientific research and discoveries impact on us and the world around us through interactive activities for families and informative and thought-provoking events for adults.

It runs networking events and shows such as FameLab and LIVE Science Cabaret,
Saturday Science Clubs, holiday science clubs and workshops, with a year-round LIVE programme for adults, reaching some 50007000 adults and children every year through the SO LIVE programme.

Through Science Oxford LIVE’s SO Talented programme, it trains and support scientists interested in science ‘performance’ activities.

   Oxford Green Week

Oxford Green Week is a city-wide summer festival that uses culture, creativity and community to inspire local people to take action on climate change.

It’s a celebration of all things good and green in our city and aims to show local people how they can save money, get fit and be happy whilst being kind to the environment.

The festival involved a series of pop-up events across the city, such as Test Drive the Future, where members of the public were invited to see and test drive a range of new electric cars and vans, and bikes and learn from electric vehicle experts.

Our City Council coordinates the week-long event in partnership with Good Food Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, the University of Oxford, Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, Lady Margaret Hall and Community Action Groups Oxfordshire (CAG).

   City Reps

In March 2017, Oxford City Council launched City Reps, a scheme to encourage young people to get involved in Oxford’s international links activities.

The initative is giving ten young people aged 18-25 from Oxford the opportunity to represent our twin cities and get involved with Oxford’s international links.

Our young reps are going on trips to their chosen twin city – to discover the city, meet some people there and collect photos, videos, words, sounds and ideas.

Then, with training from professional web developers, they’ll get together with the other reps and make a website to show the rest of Oxford why people should get out there and see the twin cities.

We’ll help them run their website launch event as part of Christmas Light Festival in November 2017 and, from there, encourage them to feel empowered to design their own events and projects.

   Digital Transport Exchange

Hosted by Oxford partner organisations, the Digital Transport Exchange was a recent two-day event bringing together key influencers, innovators and experts to shape the future of mobility services.

Designed to share knowledge and build networks by bringing the data and digital infrastructure ecosystem together for the first time, it explored ways of delivering the benefits of transport and city data infrastructures for customers, communities and clients.

The event was opened by hosts Oxfordshire County Council, who are responsible for Transport in the city, and the keynote plenary speech was given by the CEO of award-winning Oxbotica our world-leading autonomous vehicle startup.

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

   Oxford AHSN Innovation Portal

The Oxford Academic Health Science Network’s Innovation Portal, is an online service where anyone who would like their healthcare-related ideas to be considered for uptake within the Oxford AHSN region is welcome to submit their idea.

A dedicated team, the Oxford AHSN Clinical Innovation Adoption (CIA) team will then help matching innovations with priorities and needs to help the NHS find sustainable solutions.

The team offers bespoke support to innovators in industry, universities and the NHS to facilitate adoption. The aim is to achieve:

  • continuous improvement in quality and value of care through innovation
  • reduction of unwarranted variation to deliver a high standard of care across our region
  • ultimately, innovation adoption embedded in local NHS planning and contracting for maximum impact.

The programme has evaluated more than 300 innovations, taking account of potential benefits, impact on patient experience, local priorities and ease of adoption. As a result 33 innovations have been implemented covering medicines, devices, digital and diagnostics.

  Social Enterprise

   Oxford Social Enterprise Partnership

Oxfordshire Social Entrepreneurship Partnership (OSEP) has been set up to help existing and prospective social entrepreneurs plan, develop and grow their businesses.

Managed and operated jointly by Oxford Brookes University, University of Oxford – including the internationally renowned Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship – and Student Hubs, OSEP aims to become a “one stop shop” supporting social enterprises operating in any sector across the city and surrounding county.

Having operated award winning social entrepreneurship programmes and run successful social enterprises themselves, the three main partners are uniquely placed to offer a network of high quality support which includes:

  • A programme of learning support provided by both Universities and Student Hubs in the form of workshops and Masterclasses
  • One to one mentoring and support for individual social entrepreneurs
  • Cash awards of various sizes for social enterprises, to support new initiatives, for business set up costs and investment to allow scaling up

In partnership with OxLEP, OSEP set up in 2016 a bespoke learning and development scheme for potential and existing small scale or early stage social entrepreneurs, eleven of which have gone on to start new social enterprises.

   Oxford Brookes Social Enterprise Awards

Oxford Brookes Social Enterprise Awards (OBSEA) is a national-award winning programme to help support the uptake of ideas for students, staff and recent graduates who are interested in social enterprise or social innovation or who wish to set up and run a social enterprise.

The programme continues to provide its “Try It”, “Do It”, and “Grow It” awards for individuals and small groups to try out, set up and grow their social enterprise or social innovation ideas, and in 2017 funded 17 social enterprise and innovation projects.

Hear the contestants stories here.

   Skoll World Forum on Social Enterprise

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is an international platform for advancing entrepreneurial approaches and solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

Each year, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information.

The Forum shines a spotlight on best practices, new innovations and connecting leaders to one another to further global social progress.


An Oxford-based initiative focussing on tackling intractable social and environmental challenges, Marmalade is based on user-centred content, generated by participants, and holds an informal, dynamic, free and open-access event every year to co-incide with Oxford’s Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

In-depth workshop formats, typically one or two days long, foster community, friendship and real-world outcomes.

Building on the changes it made last year, its aim is to provide a place where collaborative working meets intractable social problems; where people come together to accelerate efforts for the uptake of ideas to make Oxford and the world a better place; where problems that were previously stuck are unlocked through collective effort.

Marmalade is open to all, powered by people and their passion for change.

   Low Carbon Hub

Low Carbon Hub is a pioneering social enterprise, working for a massive change in the UK’s energy system. Its aim is to get much more local about our energy system, and much more renewable, so that the benefits of renewable energy generation strengthen local communities.

It develops community-owned renewable energy in Oxfordshire and re-invests 100% of its surplus in the mission to create an energy system we can all feel good about.

Starting with a wave of community-benefit solar PV and hydro schemes, Low Carbon Hub’s ambition is for the whole of Oxfordshire to be powered by an interconnected series of smart micro grids centred around multiple small scale, community-controlled renewable energy schemes.

The Hub creates renewable energy projects with local businesses, schools and communities, and works on the uptake of ideas through Innovation Pilots that move community energy forward and help the community energy sector in Oxfordshire expand more rapidly, by bringing together people who can break through obstacles like grid constraints or technology gaps.

   Student Hubs

Our local student hubs – sister organisations Oxford Hub and Brookes Hub – are student-led groups offering practical volunteering, skilled placements, project incubation and events to help address societal challenges.

Oxford Hub’s Social Enterprise Support Programme is designed to help the uptake of ideas by supporting students and university staff to develop a vague idea for a project or launch a fully fledged social enterprise. The programme consists of support and guidance combined with financial grants to help test ideas and grow ventures.

   Case Study: TechPixies

TechPixies is an award winning social enterprise focused on helping Mums upskill and return to work. Founder Joy Foster was highly commended by Social Enterprise UK in the Women’s Champion category, and in 2017, TechPixies won a ‘Grow it’ award from UnLtd and is now scaling up to reach 100 women in the next 12 months.

With the aim of helping women upskill and return to work either for someone else or for themselves, TechPixie currently runs the following programmes: 12 week flagship course covering Branding, Canva, Visual Marketing Plans, Introduction to using WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Social Media Scheduling, Mailchimp, LinkedIn and Google Analytics. All within the supportive TechPixies environment.

Women who have taken part in the programme describe it as a ‘life changer’ and their ‘safe place.’

   Case Study: Cycle.Land

The idea of an Oxford student, Cycle.Land supports a peer-to-peer social marketplace in Oxford by providing a platform for bike sharing, with the option of donating hire fees to charity.

Cycle.Land was set up in 2016 and featured in Forbes, the same year.

To help uptake the idea during its ‘proof-of-concept’ phase, had the support of University of Oxford’s Launchpad centre for innovators and its Entrepreneurship Centre, and other resources such as Oxford Entrepreneurs, the largest Entrepreneurship society in Europe, and organisers of the annual Oxford Inspires conference.

It was subsequently incubated by Oxford University Innovation, which enabled the launch of a fast growing bike sharing marketplace in Oxford within a few months,
with a crowdfunding round in late 2016 that flew past its target of £100,000 to a total of £400,000.

An innovate aspect of the initiative is its growing Humanitarian bike fleet where a bicycle that is rented through’s bike share community marketplace is designated for raising funds for refugee and migration projects worldwide.

One of the many startups to come out of the University of Oxford, the scheme is now rolling out to other cities.

Cycle.Land, along with our municipal authorities, is currently working with Chinese dockless bike company Ofo, to develop a code of conduct for shared bikes, and is currently working with Ofo in their Oxford roll-out of dockless bikes.

  Social Innovation

We have a range of Oxford initiatives that strive to enable citizens to uptake radical new ideas, solutions and relationships to effectively address social needs and problems. Some examples are:

   The CAG project

The Community Action Group (CAG) Project is a local network funded by Oxfordshire County Council.

The project consists of almost 60 groups across Oxfordshire, at the forefront of community led climate change action, organising events and projects to take action on local societal challenges including waste, transport, food, energy, biodiversity and social justice.

Started in 2001, the network is the largest of its kind in the UK, running around 2,700 events per year, attended by 140,000 local residents and contributing over 36,000 volunteer hours to the county.

   The Oxford Trust

Oxford charity The Oxford Trust has a mission to support economic growth by encouraging innovation, to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and to encourage people of all ages to engage with how scientific research impacts their lives.

It is this year developing a new Science Education and Innovation Centre in East Oxford that aims to engage children with science, technology, engineering and maths.

As well as running Enterprise Awards to recognise and celebrate Oxfordshire’s entrepreneurs and innovative businesses, the Trust provides workspace and networking venues, in 2016 opening two new venues:

  • THE POD, a drop-in service for startups; and
  • THE BASEMENT, a creative area for inventors, innovators, new entrepreneurs and tech groups.

Launched this year with funding from Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire City Council and Cherwell District Council., the Oxfordshire Volunteers platform has been developed by Oxfordshire Community Voluntary Action in conjunction with Volunteer Link-Up and Volunteer Connect as an innovative way to engage people as volunteers in the city and county.

With over 4,000 charities and community groups in Oxfordshire that work with volunteers, the aim is to simplify the process for citizens looking to engage as volunteers with these groups, and to provide groups with a central location online to advertise their opportunities.

   Case Study: Sensing Culture

As part of the Sensing Culture initiative, the Oxford e-Research Centre is this year working with Oxford museums to uptake an idea to improve the museum experience for blind and partially-sighted people through the use of inexpensive, innovative technology such as 3D printers and Raspberry Pis.

Currently solutions such as raised ‘touch tiles’ (right) are both difficult to interpret and miss fine nuances of the piece, often requiring specialist audio description provided by a trained member of staff, with associated cost and logistics issues.

Using the new technologies, the initiative is working to produce a multimodal interface appealing both to the sense of touch and hearing with the challenge of addressing issues of timing.

This approach will let our sight-impaired museum visitors hear timely specific and relevant information about an object as they touch it.

   Case Study: Ami – bringing people together

Launched in 2016, Oxford-based Ami is an online service that makes it easy to find people in the local community who help and support.

Its mission is to reduce loneliness and social isolation by encouraging people to offer support to those around them, whatever their age, who may be lonely.

Developed by Oxford Computer Consultants, the uptake of the idea was enabled using a combination of EU funding, grants, internal funding, and support from Oxford-based Nominet Trust, with the intention that Ami, operating within the voluntary sector, will become an independent, not for profit, social enterprise.

With its pilot stage covering Oxford and the surrounding county, the initiative now aims to roll out across other cities and counties in the UK.