Distilling the System of Systems report

Last week a report describing Newcastle's System of Systems was published. Brett Cherry, an accomplished Science Communicator at Newcastle University has written his interpretation of the report's findings.

The Newcastle System of Systems report prepared by Urban Foresight, addresses how to embed smart city initiatives and outcomes into public services, governance and much more.

Smart cities make business sense as they could be worth over £200 million to Newcastle’s economy by 2020 – this is significant, but the gains are not merely financial.

What is core to smart city developments?

One word: collaboration. Linking together academic expertise with industry, small to medium enterprises, the public sector and communities is the backbone of how cities will advance in the future. Indeed it could be argued that it always has been, but in an increasingly interconnected world is collaboration even more essential to the sustainable progress of cities?

While the environmental, social and economic pressures facing cities are numerous so are smart digital and technological developments that will aid cities in meeting these challenges. The future of cities is likely digital, but what are the opportunities available that need to be taken? How do we really make cities smart and socially inclusive?

Addressing our long-term urban living needs will not be done by single sectors or single organisations, but possibly through collaborative working that stretches across different sectors and policies. Newcastle has a long history of initiating and embracing scientific and technological advancement. It also has a great track record in intelligence (data sensing), innovation and inclusivity.

The North East itself is evidence for this as it bolsters two of the fastest growing sectors outside of London: digital and tech. Both are necessary to the future of cities in making them inclusive, resilient and sustainable, but they could also mean much more than this. The city of Newcastle itself is a ‘living lab’ for generating transformative new ideas and game changing innovations, some of which are or will be catalysed at Newcastle Helix. What are the sectors that will thrive in a smart city? Ageing, smart data, energy, water, mobility, to name a few. Computing and digital technology run through all of them as does industrial and social engagement and entrepreneurship that will make possible their success.

The report provides a toolkit for Newcastle's smart city ecosystem. Identifying and defining the city’s systems is the first step, reviewing how they work, analysing gaps are the next, and finally recommending future action to implement new systems, scale-up existing investments and prioritise opportunities.

The report includes an exciting series of case studies that are addressing urban challenges, from manging traffic congestion with talking traffic lights, to monitoring home energy use to improve services, managing data to enhance medicine adherence, bots for insulating social housing and intelligent conversation apps.

To invent the future it may help to imagine the one we want to live in first, to prioritise the desired outcomes and make sure they align closely with planning to make them a reality for cities. Careful planning is required to ‘translate challenges into meaningful solutions’.

The report’s recommendations note that initiatives going forward are not about technology and data itself but how we use them to make cities ‘smart’. In many cases it starts with us as individuals to make the systems ‘work’ together.

We are living longer lives. The long-term benefits of what we do today cannot be underestimated for the future.

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