Digital Dublin: innovation for economic sustainability

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 09.46.39Sometimes you could be forgiven for thinking that becoming a Smart City was a goal in itself. There is a lot of talk about what technology can do, and how things will work, but not always any consideration of why this is important. The most successful Smart Cities—think Rio de Janeiro or Barcelona—are intent on how technology will serve their citizens, but others are not always so focused.

Dublin appears in no danger of going down that path. City authorities have recently published a Digital Masterplan for Dublin, which sets out a route map for future developments. It outlines a vision of a city that is a world leader in innovation, harnessing, adapting, adopting and creating technology to provide economic competitiveness and a cohesive and sustainable society.

An Open City building practical solutions

Crucially, Dublin is focused on innovation as a facilitator. It is not considering technology in and of itself, but innovation, in whatever form, even while recognising that much innovation at the moment is digital and technology-related. And the first of the principles on which the digital masterplan is founded is that technology is a facilitator of sustainability, competitiveness and cohesion in the city. It is all about making it work for residents and businesses.

In his introduction to the Masterplan, the mayor of Dublin sets out that openness to ideas and people is essential for innovation, describing Dublin as an ‘open city’. This is linked to the processes used to establish the masterplan. Dublin has focused on ‘co-creation’: the involvement of city authorities and other stakeholders, including citizens and businesses, building the Digital Masterplan together.

The Masterplan is an interesting document because it is designed to be flexible and adaptable. It’s not a fixed vision of the future, but rather a roadmap which can be adapted and changed as the future changes. This allows for better future-proofing, and prevents the city from being tied into outdated models.

It defines six areas of city services, Economy & Innovation, Community & Citizenship, Culture & Entertainment, Movement & Transport, Urban Places & Spaces, and Environmental Practices.

Practical tools for action

Digital Dublin has started with two very practical tools. The first is the Digital Maturity Scorecard, which helps the city to benchmark its services against others. It defines six layers of digital activity where the city must raise its game to the best international standards if it is to compete on a global stage. These are:

  • City governance
  • Building ubiquitous city networks
  • Leveraging urban data
  • Fostering digital services capabilities
  • Digital access and skills proficiency
  • City impact realisation

The DMS will be used to assess Dublin’s digital services on a scale of one to five, where best estimates suggest that it is roughly at (2) across the scale at the moment. The six areas in the DMS are applied across the six areas of the Digital Masterplan in a sort of matrix of activity.

The city also plans to use a Beta Projects approach to trialling ideas. This approach will test ideas from all sources, both top-down and bottom-up, to identify the best ones, and find dedicated resources to trial and implement them. It is hoped that this approach will result in more participation and quicker implementation of good and practical ideas that can make a difference.

The masterplan has also grouped actions into logical ‘blocks’, such as ‘organising for action’, ‘creating awareness and building participation’ and ‘shaping a better city’. It has identified Big Ticket Actions, which are considered to have a high impact in terms of their value to the city, and Enabling Actions, which focus on the city and its administration and resourcing.

Big Ticket items include areas like getting fibre broadband to every household by Easter 2016, and developing a Digital Accelerator District to act as an incubator for innovation. Enabling Actions, of which there are rather more, including the establishment of a Digital City Team and Business Accelerator Team, providing digital funding, and setting up a research programme. These actions are set out in detail in the Digital Masterplan, including why they are important, to make the case for change.

Challenging itself and others

Dublin does not pretend to have all the answers. What it does have, and is very clear about, is a roadmap setting out the way towards a digital future, involving citizens, business and public sector. What’s more, that roadmap is flexible and changeable, to fit an uncertain future. It’s a challenging agenda, but it looks like Dubliners are set to rise to the challenge, and challenge others to do so too.

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