Alan Munro: Beyond ‘Smart Cities’ theme workshop and funding call

Beyond ‘Smart Cities’ theme workshop and funding call

Date: Thursday 20th June 2019, 10.00–16.00
Location: Royal Society of Edinburgh

Organisers: Matthew Chalmers (University of Glasgow), Nora Ní Loideain (Director and Lecturer in Law, Information Law & Policy Centre, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies),  Dan Hill (Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, Visiting Prof at Bartlett IIPP, and Adjunct Prof at RMIT, Mayor of London’s Design Advocate), Alan J Munro, Coordinator, HDI Network Plus, University of Glasgow.

Aim of the workshop: We wish to build connections between people from academia, industry and the third sector, and develop research issues within the framework of Human-Data Interaction—which involves three tenets: legibility, agency and negotiability. (For an introduction to HDI, see This will help us define the goals for a call for funded projects. We aim for a group of projects to cover theoretical, technical and practice-based work. We do not want this to be (only) a theoretical talking shop, but rather a practical engagement with all levels of system design. Therefore we welcome those who are engaged in systems design, and/or machine learning, as well as those from other areas.

Is the ‘future city’ a thing of the past? As a research concept, is this topic already dying? Is it repeating the disasters of the bulldozing, motorway–building 60s and 70s, in digital form? Too often, it has involved a centralised approach to data, emphasising institutional efficiency and profiling via personal data. This has led to concerns about the ‘black box’ society, the dominance of existing authority, a stifling of innovation and conviviality, and citizens’ loss of control over data describing them. Such projects are often top-down, concerned with making city services such as policing, traffic control and refuse collection more efficient, but with little choice, agency or negotiability for the individual citizen. City and civic digital services grind on in the background, often ignored by citizens who prefer to use individualistic commercial apps and services—provided by a small number of multinationals. Stark exceptions occur when civic services are only available digitally, and then issues of social inclusion rear their head. For example, roughly 10% of adults in the city of Glasgow cannot use an alphanumeric keyboard, let alone a web-based service for benefits—as the film I, Daniel Blake evoked eloquently. We also note that the topic of smart cities is (of course) biased towards metropolitan life; it tends to ignore extension of its ideas to suit rural areas, and the interdependence of urban and rural, to its own detriment.

We therefore seek new approaches—especially those that can drive new forms of analytics and system design—to a rising tide of new infrastructures, services and applications. These will, in turn, involve new institutional forms and new forms of citizenship, and gives rise to questions such as:

• Which data and services should we trust, choose or combine?
• What civic institutions or traditions can be used to inspire better (instead of merely novel) forms of digital activity?
• What control over personal data should one retain, and what should one cede to community, city, government, or commercial players?
• What becomes of ‘local’ civic technologies when there are global commercial services available?
• How do law, policy and ethics allow us to better support the transformation of cities via AI, Machine Learning, and similar technologies?
We will use a far-reaching and inclusive approach: requiring that project proposals are assessed not only on technical goals and HDI relevance, but on factors such as their ethical and/or social impact, and their strategy for sustainability beyond the term of the NetworkPlus. To allow applicants flexibility of scope, we will offer three levels of funding: £50k, £10k and £2.5k. In order to stimulate genuine co-production, we will work with public and third sector partners directly, to shape theme goals, project topics, and problem/benefit statements, actively matching them to people from other sectors.

We encourage projects that make use of the University of Edinburgh’s IoT Testbed (, which has offered technological resources to projects within this call. (Briefly: a LoRaWAN testbed, and a real-time data visualisation and analytics platform for sensor data from that testbed.) Also, we note the technical resources offered by IBM to HDI network projects, giving access to and no-charge use of IBM Cloud software products under the terms of IBM’s Academic Initiative.

Apply to attend: If you’d like to attend, or have any questions, please contact us by email at (hdi-network {at}, setting out why you would like to attend the workshop, and what you might bring to it. Places are limited, and will be selected to encourage diversity and sectoral spread.

Attendance is free, and lunch is provided. The Network will reimburse your travel (within the UK) to this event.

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