June 20th, 2019. It was a great night. A fantastic celebration of digital transformation across the public, private and third sector at the DL100 Awards, with inspirational acceptance speeches galore. And for Newcastle, the cherry on the cake, beating off impressive competition to scoop the award for Smart City of the Year 2019. An achievement I’ll be personally proud of for some time; and a prestigious recognition of the excellent collaboration and forward thinking in our ambitious City.
Newcastle has a strong history of innovation. In my role as lead for Newcastle Council’s Digital Transformation Programme, I’ve seen how over the last 24months, the ‘smart city’ agenda has broadened our view of digital transformation; away from internal digitisation, chatbots and mobile working, towards a stronger focus on using technology and innovation to improve outcomes to make life more liveable – like cleaner air, better transport, more responsive local services and increasing independence for people in their own homes.
Within Newcastle we are blessed with fantastic assets which have laid strong foundations for our smart ambitions – including Newcastle University’s National Innovation Centre for Data and Urban Observatory on the Newcastle Helix innovation site; a thriving tech and digital sector, as recognised in Tech Nation and fantastic connectivity networks.
But far from resting on our laurels, the recognition has fuelled our drive for more. How can we work together to deliver more evidence of positive change and impact, more engagement with our local tech sector, more co-creation with local people? And what more can the Local Authority do to lead this charge, in addition to championing the use of innovation and smart tech, choreographing a range of different actors to work towards a greater good, and continuing to demonstrate effective consumption of its own data to inform decision making.
These are just some of the challenges we’re tackling with our newly appointed Innovation Partner, Urban Foresight. Based in Newcastle, they’re currently working with the Council, City partners and the local tech sector to understand City scale opportunities within mobility, data and connectivity and assisted living, alongside developing appropriate city governance structures which ensure that the City is maximising benefits for all. Building on their impressive work in Dundee, we’re in the final stages of some significant business cases which will further stretch our ambition.
We’ve also reached out to other new partners. Having made a connection at the DL Awards, we’re now having constructive conversations with Northumbrian Water about how we might share infrastructure and tackle common problems. Similarly with locally based Home Group, one of the UK’s largest housing providers, with a clear focus on innovation to solve the housing crisis. We also dedicated a 5day innovation sprint with Newcastle residents Orangebus to understanding how we make Newcastle the most attractive place to deploy connectivity and innovation. I never knew there was so much to learn about wayleaves! On top of this, we’ve made new links with other Smart Cities – London, Bristol, Leeds – and we’re all committed to working together more collaboratively where we can. And we’re teaming up with our local DL Champion, Shaun Allan, on a DL Salon in October looking at “XR for Good” – I can’t wait (and watch this space for more details!).
They say time flies when you’re having fun, and certainly the two months since the Awards night in June has passed in the blink of an eye. But the time for reflection on previous successes is over. The time for action; new projects, new partners, new opportunities, is now.