Tag Archives: Smart City


Digital Birmingham’s Heike Schuster-James discusses her observations following a year working on the Future Council programme.

I have recently returned from a year-long secondment to the Future Council programme, where I helped initiate change in the organisation. In this post, I’m going to share some of my observations and in particular why digital culture matters.Future Council

For those that have not heard of the Future Council before, here is a summary of what it aims to achieve.  In brief, it’s about change on a major scale to make the council fit for the future because of external pressures such as diminishing budgets, changing demographics and growing expectations of citizens about what councils can do. And of course there have been a number of critical government reviews of the council’s activities (e.g. Kerslake Report) recommending improvements.

In response, Birmingham City Council brought together a range of activities to develop a new organisational culture, improve how we work in partnership with other organisations, develop neighbourhoods and change how we deliver frontline services and back-office functions.

DigitalWhy then is digital culture so important? Firstly, let me clarify what digital is about, because it is NOT about hardware or software or simply using social media.   A quote from one of my favourites, the Government Digital Services (GDS) blog (quoting Tom Loosemore) says: “Digital means applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations”

To make this statement a bit more tangible, think about:

  • social media and the direct communications they offer to anybody and how it promotes sharing of good ideas
  • open data and how it promotes transparency
  • how the internet empowers people because anybody can find information or set up a trade
  • agile development that promotes taking quick small steps, fail fast and improve.

Here are some examples of how digital culture could become a powerful tool to support the objectives of the Future Council:

Evidence based decisions and service design

Frontline services as different as social care, housing or waste management aim to work differently based on:

  • Understanding citizens and their needs better
  • Designing services based on citizens’ needs and demand for the service

This means getting the data, digesting it and talking to more citizens to qualify analysis results where necessary; sharing our ideas early and seeking feedback. Online media are an easy way to do this.


Frontline services aim to work differently based on:

  • Seeing people as bringing their own strengths i.e. everybody can be an asset
  • Enabling people to be independent and resilient
  • Learning from other organisations and seeing them as equal partners

This means talking to people at eye level and listening to them like we do in the hierarchy free world of social media.  It means to look outward and be curious like picking up suggestions from your favourite blog or Twitter stream.


Frontline and back-office services are due to undergo major changes to reduce costs through better response to customer needs and a lean approach. Thus improving customer satisfaction by focusing on what’s most important and at the same time cutting out unnecessary offers.

Most activities could benefit from an agile approach and it could be done at a really small scale. To resolve one problem in one team at the time, change one behaviour or communication when dealing with one group of citizens and see if it has the desired effect. If it doesn’t work, take note and try something different. If it does, try and apply in a wider context.


With so many changes planned that affect citizens and staff good communication becomes paramount. It means listening to others and the world wide web is a great tool to gain local insight by individually following the communities we serve online (web, blog, twitter, instragram… you name it) or by processing social media trends large scale for the organisation.

It means sharing and keeping people up-to-date for example through blog posts and tweets rather than press releases and the willingness to be challenged and engage in dialogue, with anybody.

Personally, my most exciting experiences last year were, when I got the chance to have a conversation with people, going out to meet the public at District Community Workshops and then turning things on their head by having a ‘listening post’ at TEDx Brum.

To contact Heike Schuster-James, please click here.

Developing intelligent and sustainable mobility

Vision of New Street Station and planned Metro
Vision of New Street Station and planned Metro (bigcityplan.birmingham.gov.uk)

Digital Birmingham attended the New Journey workshop at the end of June to help shape a shared vision for the New Journey – a new way of thinking about connecting places and people. This takes a smart approach on a journey towards individual, integrated and seamless mobility solutions, making public transport the natural choice for people’s journeys across the West Midlands. Ultimately the aim is to make the West Midlands a leader in developing and delivering intelligent sustainable mobility providing combined improved access to public and private transport movement across networks with wider ‘big data’ product solutions. Some great thinking and ideas flowed during the day and these were captured and presented by Centro in this brilliant New Journey Conference Mindmap – which has perfectly captured the discussion strands and themes of the day – certainly worth dipping in and out of to absorb all of the information presented here and great contributor to progressing the Smart City Roadmap actions



Birmingham, the smarter, greener city

British Science Festival, Birmingham 2014
British Science Festival, Birmingham 2014

Wednesday 10 September 2014, 2.30pm-8pm
Millennium Point, Birmingham

As part of British Science Festival 2014, this event will showcase research and innovation in the theme of smarter and greener cities.

The need for cities to work smarter and in more environmentally efficient ways is essential to ensure the wellbeing of citizens, and to help businesses reduce their impact on global warming.

Jointly hosted by Birmingham City University, Aston University, Millennium Point and the Smart City Alliance, Birmingham: The Smarter, Greener Science City will include an exhibition, site tours and a series of lectures throughout the day.

Our keynote speaker is Dr Rick Robinson, Executive Architect of Smarter Cities, IBM.

Registration is free, with an option to attend a drinks reception at the end of the day. Please note that limited places are available for the drinks reception. Tickets for the event available here



Boost for Health Care Innovation in the Midlands

Creative England has announced a new £1million fund for regional based SMEs, designed to stimulate creative and digital innovation in UK healthcare. The first of four programmes to open as part of this fund is the West Midlands Interactive Healthcare Fund, in partnership with Nominet Trust and the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. The fund aims to encourage small creative and digital businesses in the North, Midlands and South West regions to develop innovative concepts or prototypes using digital technology to improve patient care and health services…

…The West Midlands Interactive Healthcare Fund offers local businesses a unique opportunity to work directly with the Health Trust to develop their concepts. “This partnership provides an extremely exciting opportunity for all involved,” explains Bethan Bishop, Head of Innovation & Industry Engagement at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. “It enables us to give insight into the areas of healthcare which will benefit from existing & new technology sitting within creative businesses. Importantly the fund will deliver the vital investment required to enable these developments to be used and make a real difference across healthcare services and the health & wellbeing of patients and the community.”

More about how to apply here

Mobilising for Action

Bull Ring at night (Creative Commons www.photoeverywhere.co.uk/)
Bull Ring at night (Creative Commons http://www.photoeverywhere.co.uk/)

The Birmingham Smart City Commission has established a number of thematic working groups, based on discussions with its members, with the aim of establishing a programme of strategic priorities and activity that will support delivery of Birmingham’s Smart City Roadmap. All activity aims to embed the principles of and address the strategic aims set out in the Roadmap:

  • Use of digital technologies and information to increase capacity of existing infrastructure and services
  • A joined up, integrated approach to service delivery across all sectors
  • Release and access to data
  • Citizen involvement, cooperation and citizen focused service delivery

Each working group is chaired by a lead representative from the Smart City Commission who is responsible for progressing the Smart City principles alongside the needs of the sector / area and its membership focused on practical actions that deliver real outcomes.

Working Groups and leads are as follows:

Benchmarking and Progress – Mark Barber, KPMG
Civic Economy – Jas Bains, Ashram Moseley Housing
Education, Skills & Innovation – David Hardman, Innovation Birmingham Ltd
Energy – TBC
Health – Tim Jones, UHB
Mobility – Nick Gregg, Amey
Open and Big Data – Bjorn Birgisson, Aston University

We are holding a meeting at the end of September to bring together the leads above with the Chair of the Commission (Cllr. Lisa Trickett – Cabinet Member – Green, Smart and Sustainable City) to agree the framework and collective vision that will ensure an integrated  approach across the themed areas.

You can read more about the results from the stakeholder analysis, undertaken with the Commission members and supported by Mark Barber from KPMG that helped to inform the development of the working groups and the timeplan for next steps here

Can Birmingham become a global leader of new transport technologies?

The event, organised by Innovation Birmingham and Transport Systems Catapult brought together speakers from a start-up, major IT company and the public sector, to try and establish whether Birmingham had the potential to become a global leader in new transport technologies.

Over the course of the afternoon, there were several strands of thought on the link between the institutions and characteristics of Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region and its suitability as a ‘living lab’ for new transport technologies.

Birmingham sits at the heart of England, giving it a geographical advantage as a transport hub – and by extension, a logical location to develop a smart, low carbon transport system. Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) Andy Street highlighted how this could feed into the city region’s ambitions for the HS2 project: not to be “the end of the line”, but the centre. This was not solely about location, but also a challenge to make Birmingham the home of the associated engineering and technological support, research and development that accompanies such a key infrastructure project.

An associated point to location is size: Birmingham is a large city, the largest local authority in Europe: solutions that work here will be applicable to other large conurbations. And as Paul Zanelli, Chief Technology Officer for the Transport Systems Catapult noted, these solutions are as much about identifying what you no longer need to travel for – for example, if high speed internet is regionally available, homeworking (or working in other spaces closer to home) becomes more viable.

Read full blog post here>> 

Birmingham’s top decision-makers to launch Making a Difference with Data programme on 26 June

Some of the top policy and decision-makers for Birmingham’s public services will be getting together in the city on 26 June to launch Making a Difference with Data – a new programme about the role of data in creating social and economic wellbeing.

The Making a Difference with Data programme is being developed and run by Birmingham-based Boilerhouse Media in collaboration with England’s core cities and is being supported by Digital Birmingham as part of Birmingham’s Smart City Roadmap.

Cllr James McKay,Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe and Smart City, who will be opening the event and talking about the central role of data in Birmingham’s plans to become a ‘smart city’ said:

I welcome the Making a Difference with Data programme with its emphasis on communicating the benefits of using data and open data for better decision-making. There needs to be much greater awareness among leaders locally and nationally about the volume and value of data they can access to inform everything they are doing to improve cities, regions and neighbourhoods. This programme will help make that happen.

The launch is an invitation-only event bringing the city’s leaders in health, social care, housing, economic development and policing, together with representatives from transport, education and the third sector.

Speakers who will be presenting their ideas about how data can contribute to improved pubic services, more sustainable economic development and greater citizen involvement in their city and neighbourhoods include:

  • Emer Coleman, data entrepreneur and former deputy director of the Government Digital Service
  • Jas Bains MBE, Chief Executive of Ashram Housing Association
  • Shane O’Neill, chairman, roadworks.org
  • David Frost CBE – First Chairman, LEP Network (event chair)

Birmingham Community Healthcare Trust will be fielding one of their top team to speak, and there will also be presentations on the data programmes at Manchester, Sheffield, and Leeds.

Further information can be found at http://www.madwdata.org.uk and also via @madwdata and the #smartbrum hashtag.


Brum’s young digital makers in the making

YRS Focus group meeting

A couple of weeks ago Digital Birmingham, Lara Ratnaraja, BBC, Birmingham City University and Arts Council West Midlands ran a focus group that brought together some of the local young people and mentors that have been involved in Young Rewired State (YRS)– National Festival of Code. The aim was to see how we could build on the exciting work that had started through YRS and run more regular activities and events throughout the year (you can take a look at the summary of the feedback here). Following on from this, the BBC held its first regular get together in the public space of the Mailbox bringing together young local coders and designers, in fact anyone under the age of 18 keen to learn new digital skills, supported by mentors to look at how they can make use of open data and their creative skills to solve real world challenges, through the development of apps etc. There are now regular meetings planned the last Saturday of the month and though it’s early days yet in the long term, we would like to see how we can help the young people take some of these products to market through crowdfunding schemes and also help broker relationships with prospective employers that will help foster and hold on to the regions talent. This is driving forward the Smart City roadmap action under skills, which aims to strengthen the network of self-taught coders, programmers & digital designers. For more information email: nicola.bryant@birmingham.gov.uk


Birmingham Smart City Commission – Terms of Reference

These are the terms of reference for the Birmingham Smart City Commission
Statement of Ambition 
Birmingham is acknowledged for its industrial heritage and as a powerhouse of the  industrial revolution that was borne out of a dynamic spirit of entrepreneurial collaboration with strong civic leadership to provide for its citizens.
Cities everywhere are now finding themselves challenged on many levels: a slow economy, a growing but also ageing population putting existing services under strain, partly legacy infrastructure that is no longer fit for purpose and rapid technological change that has raised citizen’s expectations about how services are being delivered (e.g. real-time information, instant communication and ‘always on’
society). With these challenges comes the momentum and exciting opportunity to  redefine our city that will secure our sustainability and prosperity for decades to come.
Our ambition is to create a city that can deal with these challenges and address future city needs by:
  • making it adaptable and knowledgeable about itself
  • having the means to assign scarce resources in the most beneficial way
  • creating a future-proof city that is attractive to citizens, business, visitors and investors alike
  • enabling a culture of innovation and collaboration.
Birmingham has started its journey towards addressing many of  these challenges, and is putting in place the governance, infrastructure and enabling activities to establish Birmingham as a leading smart city.
Birmingham is recognised by National Government as a strategic leader in its approach and has been working with BIS and the British Standards Institution (BSI) to shape national policy and create frameworks for smart city implementation. It is working with the Technology Strategy Board, the Catapults and other organisations
to drive innovation and accelerate transformational change within the City. Under the leadership of Councillor McKay, Cabinet Member for Green, Safe and Smart City, we published the Smart City Vision setting out the challenges and the strategic and collaborative approaches the City will take in order to enable Birmingham to stand out as a truly smart city, one that meets its future needs.
A task and finish group was put in place to further develop the vision into a roadmap and action plan. It was recognised that the Commission going forward must demonstrate strong leadership, be outward looking, bring together expertise and strategic thinkers from key fields to direct and deliver the longer term strategic  vision for the city.

Work to Date
In 2012 the City set up a number of advisory bodies / Commissions to help address  issues ranging from climate change, youth employment, social cohesion and  inclusion, health to economic growth opportunities and the development of skills  and enterprise. In line with this, the interim Smart City Commission was set up in
2012, which created the below vision that was published in January 2013 and the full  document can be downloaded from the Digital Birmingham website.


Many of these advisory bodies have already produced their own actions plans for  and it is clear that there are considerable overlaps in the organisations that need to work together, the technologies and the resources required to deliver the outcomes. The Smart City Commission now has the opportunity to play a central role in bringing together these agendas to maximise their potential.
The Smart City Vision sets out the challenges and opportunities for the city and the wider region. Working collaboratively with industry, business, community and academic leaders the Smart City task and finish group has developed the roadmap and action plan to implement the vision.
This roadmap provides the strategic direction for the city across the 3 pillars of People, Place and Economy. It aims to apply and embed smart principles such as cross-sector cooperation, integrating services and use of data and information for decision making into all city activities in order to deliver better outcomes and quality
of life for its citizens.
The Roadmap is a statement of our aspiration to change the city as much as it documents specific actions that we have identified for the short term; it is meant to be a living document that needs to be reviewed and adapted on a regular basis. This will allow us to continually embrace new opportunities as they emerge.

It is important to note that the speed of change in the technology sector is considerable making it difficult to develop detailed plans beyond a 3-year horizon.  However, where activities relate to infrastructure, organisational or behavioural change they may well span a 5-10 year outlook.

The Smart City Commission
The Smart City task and finish group recognised the high importance of local  leadership and active involvement from strategic organisations that make up a city to be represented on the Commission. Working with local leaders and institutions will provide an opportunity to implement the far reaching vision and strategic
approach that will set the wheels in motion for its delivery.

The Commission therefore needs to:

  • Be strategic and independent in its thinking with the ability to influence the strategic direction of the City and enable close cooperation of leaders and experts across key disciplines
  • Provide strong leadership and citywide governance in order to establish a holistic and integrated approach to city wide planning for Birmingham and the wider Greater Birmingham and Solihull region
  • Have the authority and accountability to ensure the delivery of the Smart City Roadmap and Action Plan, monitor its progress and promote its activities locally, nationally and internationally
  • Be aware of and influence of the development of new standards essential to smart city operations for example in areas of interoperability, data, performance and commissioning

Aims of the Commission:

  • Implement the Smart City vision and change how the future city operates
  • Establish the leadership and governance structure for the future city
  • Identify emerging challenges and strategic opportunities for the city and wider region
  • Put in place the drivers and enablers that will provide opportunities for ICT  advancement in the city
  • Create the conditions for attracting and accelerating investment in the city

What the Commission will do:

  • Endorse the roadmap and action plan and ensure they continue to evolve and reflect the need of the city, its citizens and businesses
  • Review and advise on the best use of changing technologies, suitability of existing infrastructure and processes to maximise benefits for citizens and the economy
  • Work with other commissions and create partnerships where appropriate to address synergies and ensure an integrated city approach
  • Liaise, influence and advise on the delivery plans of own and other
  • organisations to secure resources for the delivery of the roadmap and action plan and identify funding and investment opportunities
  • Evaluate results and existing work undertaken in the field

Commission membership:
The commission needs to include local representation from a range of fields (ICT, Health, Environment, Transport, Education, Skills, Economy) to facilitate an understanding of the societal issues in conjunction with technological advancement to deliver the future city vision. As this is an evolving topic, it is important that that a
number of external experts are included to ensure that the City benefits from the latest developments and opportunities.
In addition to the Birmingham Smart City Commission a wider stakeholder group (both internal to BCC and external) will be sought to ensure wider challenge and peer review around the city’s vision and priorities.

These terms of reference can all be downloads in the Smart City Commission Terms of Reference Draft PDF

Smart payments – the way of the future for transport in Birmingham.

Stephenson St Tram. Creative Commons BirminghamNewsRoom
Stephenson St Tram. Creative Commons BirminghamNewsRoom

The Birmingham Mobility Action Plan already outlines the vision for a fully integrated public transport network, where a ‘whole of journey’ pricing and payment mechanism based on travel zones will be available.

At its best such a system will allow travellers to use any mode of transport (train, bus, bicycle or car hire) and will include contactless payment card linked to a personal travel account and through debit or credit cards, mobile phone applications. Traditional payment such as smart card and season passes will still be on offer.

Transport for London’s extension of the Oyster card demonstrates the ease of moving from tube to bus. Since end of 2012 travellers can use the contactless payment card linked to MasterCard, Visa and American Express instead of an Oyster card to pay for bus fares and get the cheaper Oyster tariff.