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Santander was chosen to become Europe’s test bed for a sensor-based smart city. The Spanish city is embedded with more than 12,000 sensors to help the government operate as efficiently as possible.

The gathering of data collected by the sensors will lead to significant improvements in how city infrastructure is used and to a better understanding of urban issues. This unique experimental facility will be sufficiently large, open and flexible to enable its scaling-up around the world.

The University of Cantabria has coordinated the technical deployment of the infrastructure and services, being responsible for technically guiding the digital transformation.

On the one hand, the research community gets benefit from deploying such a unique infrastructure which allows true field experiments while, on the other hand, different applications serving citizens’ needs will be deployed – typical applications and services for a smart city, including experimental advanced research on IoT (Internet of Things) technologies and realistic assessment of users’ acceptability tests.

Since 2010, 12,500 sensors have been measuring the amount of trash in containers, the number of parking spaces available, and the size of crowds on the sidewalks. Besides, sensors were also installed in vehicles, such as police cars and taxicabs, measuring air pollution levels and traffic conditions.

The data from these sensors flows to banks of computers that analyse the real-time information and give city officials the big picture, allowing them to adjust the amount of energy they use, the number of trash pickups needed in a given week or the amount of water to sprinkle on the lawns of city parks.

To attract the widest interest and demonstrate the usefulness of the SmartSantander platform, a key aspect is the inclusion of a wide set of applications. Application areas have been selected based on their high potential impact on the citizens as well as to exhibit the diversity, dynamics and scale that are essential in advanced protocol solutions and will be able to be evaluated through the platform. Thus, the platform will be attractive for all the stakeholders, e.g. industries, communities of users, etc. that are willing to use the experimental facility for deploying and assessing new services and applications, and Internet researchers to validate their cutting-edge technologies, including protocols, algorithms, radio interfaces, etc.

A scalable, heterogeneous and trustable large-scale real-world experimental facility

The main goals of the SmartSantander are to be a test bed for a sensor-based smart city, to lead to a better understanding of urban issues, to fuel the use of the Experimentation Facility among the scientific community, end users and service providers in order to reduce the technical and societal barriers that prevent the IoT concept to become an everyday reality, to develop new applications by users of various types, to validate approaches to the architectural model of the IOT, to evaluate social acceptance of IoT technologies and services and to develop a data market place, according to the Digital Single Market principles.

Some of the activities performed are environmental monitoring, outdoor parking management and driver guidance, parks and gardens precision irrigation, augmented reality, participatory sensing and joint R&D (university & industry cooperation). The ultimate impact is to improve the city efficiency using the real data driven from the sensors.

Awards and recognition

Awards received by the initiative include:

  • Computerworld & Cio Iberoamericano 2012
  • ENERTIC 2015
  • Future Internet Award
  • Gobierno Abierto
  • Google Ciudad Digital
  • Impuls@ TIC
  • Innovación +Sostenibilidad+Red
  • Innovation Hub 2017: Premio a la Innovación Transformadora
  • Premio “Ciudad de la Ciencia y la Innovación”
  • Premio Ciudadanos 2015
  • RFID & Wireless IoT tomorrow’ 2017: Modelo innovador en la aplicación de la tecnología a los servicios urbanos
  • Smart Cities 2013

Partners

University of Cantabria
Municipality of Santander

Master Program in Management, Policy Analysis and Entrepreneurship in Health & Life Sciences (further MPA) is a two-year interdisciplinary program taught at the VU University, Amsterdam. Like many other Master programs, it requires students to undertake internships, and submit a Master thesis upon the program completion. MPA seeks to instil multi perspective thinking into a new generation of researchers, policy makers and entrepreneurs who are willing to pursue their careers in the field of health and life sciences. The programme hosts around 110 students every year, and the courses are taught in English.

To provide context, the MPA is taught at the Athena Institute, Faculty of Science, VU University Amsterdam,  Athena’s research focuses on the interface between science and technology (in the field of health and life sciences) and society. Athena’s mission is to realise excellence in transdisciplinary research on innovation and communication in the health and life sciences, with a specific focus on processes of social inclusion and diversity. The reason behind the development of MPA is in the complexity of societal problems that also require complex solutions with an application of rigorous scientific principles. Such solutions have to be based on the integrated knowledge from numerous scientific disciplines and cooperation between a wide variety of stakeholders in society – starting from the government, industry and societal organizations to ultimate consumers.

The Master programme comprises the compulsory courses, electives (linked to specialization), science courses, and two internships. In total, students are expected to complete 120 ECTS within 2 years. Students can choose among the five specializations: Health & Life Sciences-based Management and Entrepreneurship; Health & Life Sciences-based Policy; Health & Life Sciences-based Policy; International Public Health; and Community-based Health Technologies. The purpose of the two internships is to get students exposed to work experiences in multi-stakeholder organisations and they learn to apply the core elements of the programme in a real-world setting.

Quality employment after graduation

The programme is successful in broadening the outlook of students and facilitating their development into multi-stakeholder problem-solvers in order to address complex societal issues. After the programme students have the knowledge, attitudes and skills to analyse complex societal issues, formulate and implement strategies to deal with them and to effectively cooperate and communicate both with societal actors and with researchers from different disciplines. Another important element for success is the structure of the MPA program that combines classroom learning with two practical experiences via internships that allow plenty of opportunities for the students for growth, and integration into the professional network. In addition, the enabling nature of the local policies, fostering collaborative innovation, and consideration of the innovation in health sciences as a priority, coupled with the institutional culture that fosters interdisciplinary research can be considered as two major supporting mechanisms for the successful implementation of the programme.

The programme thus has a strong impact on the employability of its students, which also contributes to the fostering of innovation in the regional health sector. According to the MPA programme representatives, the 95% of the students find employment within the first year of graduation. The professional field strongly appreciates with the quality of MPA students and graduates. Students find their way to the job market, and of the last two cohorts of students (n=189) only six alumni do not have a formal position.

Over the years MPA established itself as a robust and mature programme. It has a sustainable number of students, it fulfils the expectations and learning requirements, the teaching team is well established, highly motivated and the prospect for graduates is very promising.

This blog article is written with reference to the MPA Masters good practice case study report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project.

The UCITYLAB Project consortium greets the autumn season with a new issue of its biannual e-zine, dedicated to highlight project outputs and further explore the university-city engagement landscape in Europe.

Since our last publication in April, great progress has been made from the finalisation of the case study reports, to the development of the first draft of the UCITYLAB Challenge Teaching Toolkit. The project partners have also initiated conversations with their urban stakeholders to set up their regional networks, and ensure commitment during the time of pilot implementation of the teaching toolkit.

This issue of the UCITYLAB e-zine hosts a collection of articles developed from the good practice case study reports, featuring examples of university-city collaborations from Finland, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, and Australia, as well as an international collaborative initiative between the Municipality of Valencia in Spain and the Western Sydney University in Australia. Our selection of articles does not only give insights into the nature of the collaborations, but also provides a sneak peek into the type of activities and impact of the efforts made so far.

Our first impressions into the cases are that the type of collaborations and stakeholder constellations are diverse depending on their targets. The types of engagement range from urban policy research, facilitation of user engagement to public service innovation, and a graduate study programme to the development and testing of technologies for smart cities.

While our selection of articles represents only a fraction of our case study collection, we trust they will give you new perspectives into understanding the current landscape of the university-city collaboration.

We wish you all a pleasant reading.

UCITYLAB CONSORTIUM

La Marina Living Lab is an urban laboratory, which seeks to engage citizens in the transformation of “La Marina de Valencia”: the historic harbour of the city of Valencia. The Lab is based on a user-oriented process, in which public space is adjusted to the preferences of those who work, study and play in La Marina. Furthermore, it follows a multi-stakeholder approach, counting on the support of research organisations, public administrations, civic associations as well as the private sector.

La Marina is managed by Consorcio València 2007 (CV07) – a public institution, formed as an alliance between the Government of Spain, the Regional Government of Valencia and Valencia City Council.

La Marina Living Lab does not have its own physical building or laboratory. It is rather an initiative of co-creation and co-design in which CV07 commits to letting the entire urban space of Valencia´s harbour be used as a testbed for trying out new innovative projects. La Marina Living Lab is a vast and ambitious project fuelled by the conviction that bringing all relevant stakeholders on board is the only way public spaces can be designed in a way that truly work for everybody.

A huge example of university-city collaboration

La Marina was born in collaboration with Western Sydney University (WSU), which had an important role in the formulation of the its theoretical backbone.

The Polytechnic University of Valencia also helped in the development of the sustainability strategy.

Several other educational institutions have also collaborated with La Marina. Rice School of Architecture developed a workshop in which 9 students designed solutions to activate old buildings from the south area of La Marina. Escuela de Empresarios launched “Marina Challenge” to develop a strategy for La Marina focused on 3 areas: nautical; leisure, culture and tourism; innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. The faculty of biological sciences of Valencia University also established a project in which students developed ideas to improve the accessibility and use of the space. Polytechnic of Valencia hosted a workshop in which La Marina has been involved, discussing with 3 foreign students the possible and sustainable use for the Base Alinghi de la America’s Cup. This University has also contributed to the ideas’ exchange between La Marina and universities from Vietnam.

Besides, La Marina has recently realized collaborations with the Scientific Park of the University of Valencia and the Faculty of Geography and History of Valencia University.

La Marina has a new vision for the future whereby both tradition and inventiveness drive the transformation of the economy

The main goals of the Living Lab can be described as converting La Marina into the city’s engine for economic development through innovation, promote economic activation of the space, creating a sustainable, inclusive and dynamic public space, and foster citizen appropriation.

The activities performed include events, brainstorming activities, training sessions, leisure activities, workshops and projects, often with the collaboration of universities from the city and beyond.

The project attempts to respond to various challenges

First of all, at the urban level, La Marina aspires to reactivate economically an abandoned public space with a big potential for social use. It is recognized that such impact will not be limited to La Marina itself but will be expanded to the seaside area and its adjacent neighbourhoods, which were largely overlooked in past decades.

Secondly, La Marina aspires to create a “new story” and re-brand a “new and modern Valencia” as a differentiation to the previous vision defined by short-sighted construction projects, economic overspend and international events. So, this new vision will be oriented towards people, innovation and creativity.

Thirdly, La Marina seeks non-speculative development. Instead of the model dominated by large-scale investment of capital and infrastructure, the new model proposed is based on values – inclusivity, open public space, and activities or initiatives for all citizens. Hence, the project aims to strengthen the connection between neighbourhood associations, and the cultural and artistic vibe, as well as other social entities, in a participative and open way. 

Partners

Consorcio València 2007

Western Sydney University (WSU)

Municipality of Valencia

This blog article is written with reference to the La Marina Living Lab Good Practice Case Study Report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project. 

 

Porto has been witnessing a remarkable shift in its business profile: its innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem has been able to create innovative companies with high employability rates. Porto can now be considered an aggregator of innovation and entrepreneurship. In this ecosystem, collaborative initiatives become even more important, especially when they gather the elements of the quadruple helix.

Therefore, the emergence of the Porto Living Lab was a natural outcome of this new context we are living in and a result of a long-term partnership between the Academia and the Municipality.

Context

In October 2012, the University of Porto kicked-off the Future Cities project (a European-funded project) to expand the Center of Competence for Future Cities of the University of Porto. The goals were to unlock the full potential of interdisciplinary research in urban technologies, and to strength knowledge transfer activities in close cooperation with local and global industrial partners. Hence, the Center of Competence for Future Cities serves as an agile collaboration platform for a critical mass of scientists and engineers based at various schools of the University of Porto.

In 2013 Porto Digital, the Municipality of Porto and the University of Porto joined efforts towards the creation of the Porto Living Lab. Porto Digital is a private non-profit association, aiming at promoting ICT projects within the context of the city of Porto and its metropolitan area.

Porto Living lab strongly contributed to turning the city of Porto into a smart city and to raising its national and international awareness in the smart cities’ domains

This living lab has allowed urban-scale experimentation and testing by the R&D community, has enabled a free Wi-Fi service to be provided to the public bus users in the city of Porto, engaged with end-users, and has empowered a local start-up company to scale-up to global markets: Veniam.

Project Goals 

Porto Living Lab aims to turn the city of Porto into a lab for urban sciences and technologies for smarter cities, by providing different test beds with a wide range of sensors and communication infrastructures. It, indeed, comprises a network of wireless sensing and communication nodes that is interoperable with the city’s optical fiber and Wi-Fi networks.

The living lab is creating the conditions for present and future research and development using advanced technologies for data collection through mobile platforms, wireless communication and large-scale information processing.

It enables the development of research in areas such as sustainability, mobility, urban planning and information and communication technology.

Having city-scale digital communication infrastructures, knowledge and technologies on advanced sensing and communication technologies and political will available, Porto Living Lab performs multidisciplinary research and development, deployment of advanced sensing and communication technologies, technology and proof-of-concept testing and demonstration at a city-scale, technology transfer from academia to business, new services exploitation and end-user engagement.

Impacts

Porto Living Lab was instrumental in placing, not only the University of Porto, but also the city of Porto on the map of smart cities in Europe and worldwide. The project has proven the viability of a city-scale mesh network of connected vehicles that become part of the city infrastructure to expand wireless coverage for a wide range of smart city applications. In addition, Porto Living Lab led to the creation and growth of a university spin-off company, which is successfully translating the results of the basic and applied research into products, services, qualified jobs and export opportunities.

This blog article is written with reference to the Porto Living Lab Good Practice Case Study Report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project. 

The potential of Living Labs as research tools have been of interest for the UAB since 2014 when the university actively joined the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) and got further exposure to the wide variety of application and experiences initiated on a European and International level. This exposure fortified the initial faith that living labs could provide the adequate platforms for setting up local ecosystems of innovation around thematic axes and for implementing the strategic vision of the university with respect to its territorial mission and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) policies. The case of the Library Living Lab is a demonstrative example of how collaboration among different societal agents can produce initiatives rich in innovation and potential social impact.

In trying to describe what the Library Living Lab really is, it can be described essentially as a space of experiences. It is a place where one can explore how technology transforms the way we enjoy and experience culture and cultural content in general. This question is addressed within the frame of open social innovation, where the Public Library provides the context of a meeting point for diverse users with different perspectives. In this sense, the Library Living Lab sought to transform a library space into a place in which all the stakeholders, and most-importantly the end-users, the Library users, are invited and encouraged to participate in the definition and design cycle of new services and of an innovative experience. The outcome is a laboratory where it is possible to co-design prototypes of new tools and services, but also a social innovation laboratory where active research and observation is carried out on the dynamics and processes that lead to such innovation to take place. In the specific case of the Library Living Lab, there are two fundamental pillars, namely: i) The exploration of technology as a disruptive factor that makes possible new experiences and adds transformative value to existing services. ii) An on-going research on the role of public space in contemporary society, as a stage for open innovation where all citizens are potential actors.

A new model of inter-institutional collaboration with all relevant stakeholders

The launch of the Library Living Lab has involved the definition of its own dynamics around a permanent working group, in which several mechanisms of inter-institutional collaboration have been deployed. The aim of the working group was the alignment of all these various objectives for the definition of the master lines of work. The group was gathered during three years in bimonthly meetings and its first task, and perhaps the most important one, was the definition of a common language between all institutions, by learning to talk between all members, fixing terminology and procedures, and defining a new field of common knowledge. The Permanent Working Group (Figure 1) has been the engine of the specific definition of the project, and it brought together representatives of the five participating institutions, each one with different roles, plans of action and objectives and interests in participating:

  1. City of Sant Cugat del Vallès: The City of Sant Cugat del Vallès won a new innovative space for its residents, a meeting place and a space where cultural projects with the participation of all the social segments of the city can occur. It allows the city government to experiment and advance on the design of new models of governance with a special focus on citizen participation.
  2. Provincial Council of Barcelona (Manager of the Network of Libraries):  The LLL endows the Library Network of Provincial Council of Barcelona with a testbed  to locate and identify the challenges that arise on a day-to-day basis, to explore fitted solutions, to test prototype proposals and to propose answers and solutions, all by-with-and-for the users. The scalability of the solutions produced is guaranteed by transferring the validated ones obtained in the LLL to the rest of the libraries of the network.
  3. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB): The LLL serves as a physical extension of the university to its adjacent territory. The Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona implements through the LLL its own policy of RRI in the territory, and at the same time provides its scientific community with a space to work with citizen science.
  4. Computer Vision Center (CVC-UAB): (Research Center) The Computer Vision Centre gets a place of experimentation and validation of technologies with a high added value, and an implementation space for rapid technology transfer to society though fast prototyping.
  5. Association of Neighbours of Volpelleres: Are the final recipients of services and the instigators of the initiative. The Association achieves a strong revitalization and dynamization of the neighbourhood, a collection of innovative activities, and a place to enjoy culture through the latest technological tools.

The transformative value of the Living Lab within a public library

The existence of the Living Lab enriches the day-to-day activity of the library. The continued presence of people with various profiles -scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, … all of them also “new” library users- provide novel entry points of knowledge and potential opportunities for multidisciplinary interchange among all participants, starting by the library users and finishing with the professionals who provide the services. On the other hand, there is a direct impact in terms of inclusion: the new range of experiences broadens the scope of the library users, even by attracting people who otherwise would not visit the library, and by increasing the possibility of user interaction and active participation in joint projects with diverse and qualified profiles.

At an institutional level, the articulation of a genuine innovation ecosystem helps to effectively advocate the role of public spaces (such as a Public Library) as an open meeting place for all societal stakeholders. This fosters the attraction of small and larger companies to the public and cultural sphere and promotes their participation in public-led initiatives. On another level, the local library expands its area of ​​action and activity and this allows multiple projects of not only local but also regional and international reach to occur within its premises. The library is thus transformed into a place where many things can happen, not as a result of abstract improvisation but because of a collaborative work and open and flexible models of organization.

One example of how the LLL experience has served as inspiration, and a catalyst at the same time, for new initiatives to emerge is the recent initiative promoted by the UAB named “ISC2: BiblioLab of social innovation and citizen participation”. In this case, the UAB, the CVC-UAB and three public libraries from towns within the campus’ vicinity (Vapor Badia in Sabadell, the Cerdanyola Main Library and the Miquel Batllori Library in Sant Cugat) have come together to launch this project, with the objective of adapting public libraries to the cultural and social changes brought about digital social innovation, thus favouring the creation of collaborative and participative environments open to everyone (Labs ISC2). The project is part of the Barcelona Provincial Council’s initiative BiblioLabs, which seeks to promote the role of libraries as drivers of social transformations. The pilot programme will be applied with a first initiative involving secondary school students and how to incorporate concepts of responsible research and innovation (RRI) into their research projects, a subject around which many transformation processes can be conducted through the library labs. Later, other initiatives such as encouraging a vocation of science and digital skills in young people will also be offered with the aim of transforming libraries into spaces which foster learning, science, innovation and technology.

Future Challenges

The Library Living Lab implementation approach has also permitted us to identify and highlight some of the most relevant near-future challenges arising in the context such innovation endeavours. These challenges serve as a starting point for a reflexion on the “Library of the Future” and they have been selected to be part of the white book for the main directives on Future Public Libraries of the Barcelona Provincial Council:

  1. The Library of Living Lab was a result of citizen initiative. It will be important to implement social adequate monitoring tools to identify such kind of initiatives, and to accompany them with dynamic policy instruments. The current processes of public administrations are not adapted to the flexibility needed and it is necessary to develop new methodologies of inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional character, with an obligatory citizen participation and this needs to be revised / updated.
  2. In the medium term, the design of public spaces should be tackled as community projects: social actors must be able to participate in the design process in order to make it their own. Participation in the process of defining spaces not only guarantees a technical optimization based on a good design, but also fundamentally integrates a project space within the community.
  3. New paradigms of collaboration among all actors of society necessarily imply the need for specific models of economic sustainability. Novel instruments for co-financing /patronage / sponsorship in the quadruple helix scheme must be investigated to enable quick response at the budgetary action level for innovation projects.
  4. Citizen participation in innovation processes opens up many questions related to the management of intellectual property rights and the potential exploitation of emerging innovations. These issues can only be solved, given its high complexities and peculiarities, on a case-to-case base. We must therefore identify monitoring and protection mechanisms of the innovation outcomes, which must play a paramount role in the innovation processes.

In short, one of the key challenges for innovation spaces such as the Library Living Lab is to facilitate an efficient way for citizens to have a direct contribution in the processes of defining and implementing new services and activities. This added value can only be achieved through the participation of all stakeholders, and through the meticulous definition of processes and effective policy-making. In the upcoming future technology will undeniably play a very strong role as an enabling and disruptive factor, so it lays upon society -and respective mechanisms of individual and inter-institutional collaboration- to face successfully the most significant societal challenges that will be emerging in the following years. Only in this way, the society will be able to obtain a positive transformative socio-economic impact from the innovative contributions arising from collaborative innovation processes such as the ones proposed by the Library Living Lab and the emerging technological paradigm.

This blog article is written with reference to the Library Living Lab Good Practice Case Study Report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project. 

In the World Happiness Report 2019, Finland has topped the ranking as the happiest country in the world for the second time in a row. Among various reasons presented in the report, government clearly holds the key to their citizens’ wellbeing. The city of Turku recognizes its responsibility, and, in its current city strategy, Turku 2029, identifies sustainable promotion of its residents’ wellbeing and competitiveness as its primary goal. To achieve the goal, a joint effort of academia representatives and city officials in supporting the Turku Urban Research Program stands out as an effective mechanism to back up the city strategy. The Research Program positions itself as a knowledge brokerage partnership seeking to facilitate research-based policy advice.

What’s it all about?

The Turku Urban Research Program is a flexible network of city officials and universities, i.e. University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, guided by a steering committee and managed by a jointly-appointed research director (a ‘knowledge broker’). The Research Program was launched to tackle urban challenges, make good use of emerging opportunities as well as support the City of Turku in implementing but also constantly critically reviewing its strategy. The City of Turku believes that the city’s growth should be based on an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable foundation.

The Research Program supports the City’s developmental attempts in the following areas:

  1. competitiveness (conditions and factors of economic success, increasing attractiveness, collaboration with other cities and institutions, etc.);
  2. welfare & wellbeing (living conditions, social inclusion, integration of immigrants, etc.);
  3. sustainable development (land use & planning, housing, transport, climate change, etc.);
  4. good governance (public services, local democracy enhancement, etc.).

All in all, research co-operation supports knowledge-based management of the municipality’s development initiatives in all strategic fields.

What is actually being done?

The Research Programme provides grants to research projects that meet both the city’s and the universities’ needs. Projects are either initiated through funding competitions or assigned directly.

In the open funding competitions, applicants have to pass two rounds. During the first round, their projects are reviewed by a panel of representatives from the universities, the city administration and other potential funders. The projects are assessed against scientific merit, applicability, originality of their contributions, etc. In the second round, the applicants are expected to present their final research plan having incorporated the feedback received from the reviewers. For each winning project, the City of Turku nominates a steering group that gets supported by the research director with fostering information exchange.

In 2018, the programme distributed €600.000 research funding through a funding competition. The topics of the granted projects were housing choices, intergenerational social exclusion, transnational networks of Turku as a university town (1640–1828), temporary uses supporting innovation in science park setting, novel urban services enabled by 5G networks, and urban climate policy.

In case of a direct assignment, the knowledge broker helps practitioners to define a reasonable assignment and negotiate the details with the researchers. When an individual/team has an initiative to share, applicants are welcome to approach the research director with their proposal that gets evaluated on its fit for the needs of the city.

In addition, the Research Program holds annual competitions with 10 grants for Master theses in Urban Research, available for students studying at the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University.

What are the interim results?

The Research Program has been in place since 2009, and it has been renewed for the third cycle (2019-2023). The impact, generated by the Research Program, primarily concerns research and policy advice. By 2019, more than 100 research projects – all done in co-operation with the municipality – have been funded or co-funded by the Research Program. City administration applies the research results to improve their decision-making and strengthen the impact of their development initiatives. The Research Program has considerably strengthened co-operation between the city administration and universities.

The Research Program has had an effect on education as well. It has served as a trigger to create Urban Studies Minor (seminars and courses of 25-35 ECTS) offered to students at the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University. The seminars and courses are expected to stimulate students to specialize in urban research within their majors.

This blog article is written with reference to the Turku Urban Research Good Practice Case Study Report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project. 

We are delighted to introduce you the first e-zine issue of our Erasmus+ project UniverCity Action Lab (UCITYLAB), the joint initiative of a European consortium of higher education institutions – Porto Business School, University of Ljubljana, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Institut Mines-Télécom – and UIIN to foster university- city collaborations to tackle urban challenges.

What is in?

Our first issue aims to highlight the motivations and the vision of the project, as well as shedding light into the institutional motivations of the partner organisations in joining this change initiative. The issue is also enriched with input from our supported Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance projects WEXHE & PEOPLE, recent reports and upcoming events relevant to the theme, presented for your attention.

The selected articles from our partner institutions reflect urgency in action, in addressing pressing societal challenges with novel ways of urban engagement, including forming of local stakeholder communities and setting-up relevant educational activities. Universities are called for adopting interdisciplinary models of teaching and research, and incorporating problem-based learning experiences in their curriculum that will require involvement of the city actors to co-create solutions.

While the consortium commits to the common goals of the project, our articles show our partner institutions have their local and organisational priorities to achieve over the course of their collaboration as well. These unique elements are stated as e.g. increasing of awareness among the
academics on the complexity of technological and societal change, innovation in service and product development with inclusion of citizens, development of new business models in accordance with the potential new solutions, and formation of sub-thematic urban research groups.

We wish you all a pleasant reading and plenty of inspiration for your own university- city collaboration initiatives.

As much as the cities are considered to be the engines of European economy with extensive job opportunities, and the educated population they attract, they are also places where the social and environmental challenges are concentrated, including mobility, sustainable land and energy use, inclusion of migrants, digital transformation and poverty.  

Without doubt, universities hold great potential to act as key actors in fostering dialogue among regional stakeholders to initiate and sustain joint actions towards creation of smart and sustainable cities. In that, the 2017 renewed Agenda on Higher Education has made clear references to the responsibilities of the HEIs, such as being ‘civic’ and ‘entrepreneurial’, contributing to both social and economic advancements in their regions. This transformation is particularly necessary, given the lack of student exposure to real-life challenges in traditional settings, and skills mismatches experienced upon graduation, with what is demanded by both modern industry and the society.

However, despite efforts, direct links between universities and cities are still weak. Urban engagement is not an inherent component of HE systems, nor are they a part of ongoing academic programs. HEIs lack relevant strategies, tools, resources, and knowledge to apply to engage in city initiatives. This is largely due to the alignment of universities with national policies and funding frameworks, and their increasing efforts for international recognition, rather than adopting a ‘Glocalised’ approach to external engagement. Part of the problem for this weak interconnection between universities and regional authorities can also be attributed to failure in understanding the underlying logics that drive each other’s activities.

Why is the HEI involvement in urban development vital?

Given the significant number of European initiatives supported under the umbrella of Urban Agenda, and Smart and Sustainable Cities, it is crucial to expand the bottom up support for the cities to co-develop, test and implement the solutions, and thus consolidate efforts. The HEIs can support anchoring innovation by raising interest in the urban areas they are based in, offer resources, and facilitate change.

Moreover, universities can exploit cities as living labs incorporating the open spaces, institutions, and local community in their research and teaching programs, while transforming their teaching methods from the ‘traditional’ to more ‘current’ ones, by offering adopting problem-based, experiential learning experiences to their students, and fostering the development of much demanded entrepreneurial skills.

To achieve its goals, the UCITYLAB project will target HEIs located in four major cities in Europe – Porto, Ljubljana, Barcelona, and Paris – with their students and academics, respective city governments, NGOs, urban development authorities and community partners and citizens. We believe by joining forces on this project we will be able to leverage a much greater understanding of the needs and solutions for urban challenges, and the ways that could be achieved on our own, thus producing a much more relevant, high quality, sustainable learning resource. Common challenges with urban innovation experienced by the partner cities will allow cross-border collaboration, and exchange of best practices and experiences for joint action, as well as a leading to a greater understanding of approaches to civic engagement, and entrepreneurial activities designed to facilitate this.

In this blog article, Konstantinos Kourkoutas, Coordinator of the CORE Smart and Sustainable Cities of the UAB and Angela Serrano, Head of the Unit of Strategic Development at UAB discuss how the critical mass of research and innovation institutions at the Autonomous University of Barcelona facilitated the emergence of a number of Strategic Research Networks (COREs), including Smart and Sustainable Cities. The research on the Smart and Sustainable Cities aims to integrate the knowledge generated by disciplines involved in traditional spatial research and planning with new disruptive technologies and methodologies.

The Strategic Research Networks / CORES (Comunitat Adreçada a Repte Estratègic, in Catalan) are interdisciplinary research communities, with a flexible organization   that bring together all the research groups of the different members of the UAB Sphere, in line with the objectives of the challenges outlined in the priority societal challenges of Horizon 2020, the RISCAT, and the local strategic development goals.

The CORE mission is to promote the R & D & I capabilities of the UAB and its Sphere through the support of the coordinated development of research and transfer strategies, with the ultimate goal of increasing the competitiveness of the member groups, both individually and collectively. Their aim is to generate and promote networking, to share resources and to coordinate actions required to effectively boost projects that may advance knowledge in the field and promote transfer of result into society and industry. Each CORE has a Strategic Plan and a community manager.

A Snapshot into the development of Catalonia Regional Innovation Ecosystem

The current challenge for European public universities is to ensure that research excellence translates into an economic, social and cultural growth for the region and that the public research can be accountable not only to the wide scientific world but also to the society and the respective challenges being faced.

The Regional Smart Specialization Strategies set up in 2010 by the European Commission identify priorities in which each region believe it has potential to grow and were set up by the interaction of the quadruple helix (government, industry, academia and society). Universities are key actors in defining and implementing such strategies, thus they had to make an effort to draft strategic plans that enable alignment with these policies. By taking part to the Regional Specialization Strategy (RIS3CAT in Catalonia), the Catalan universities have developed, for the first time, a strategic vision of the region and its key sectors and met new partners and stakeholders in order to be able to participate in the regional strategy programs.

The strength of the UAB proposal comes, not only from its own capabilities, but from the singularity of the UAB Research Hub – the UAB Sphere- in terms of critical mass. The UAB Sphere is an ecosystem of knowledge that aggregates research and innovation institutions contribute to socio-economic development of the territory. Aggregation in terms of increase of critical mass, sharing of resources, synergies, optimizing investments, and improving the sustainability of the system, results in an improved competitiveness of the territory. This definition has played an important role in the development project “Excellence Campus UAB.”

The award of the Campus of International Excellence (CIE) to the UAB by the Spanish Ministry of Science back in 2009, set out the ground for the development of the current RIS3. The UAB-CIE jointly focused on the creation of a regional plan to consolidate the centers on the UAB campus with the technology parks, companies and local municipalities. They aimed to create a vibrant regional hub of knowledge and innovation with a special emphasis on specific areas of specialization that could act as motors for local socio-economic development. The project implied, for the first time strengthening the collaboration among all the research and innovation stakeholders of the campus and the territory, and it represented a major shift in the vision of the university as an integrating and fundamental part of any regional strategy. This undoubtedly made it easier for the UAB to fit its future activities into the Regional Strategy for Intelligent Specialization of Catalonia 2014-2020 (RISCAT) since it coincided with actions that were driven by the spirit of integrating strategies and aggregating the capacities that had emerged from the UAB-CEI project.

It was already demonstrated that the set of institutions that make up the Sphere UAB-CEI had the necessary capabilities, both human and material, to develop successful projects in complex and strategic areas. Also, under the RISCAT instrument called Communities, the creation of thematic partnerships was proposed in order to meet the regional socio-economic demands and challenges in specific sectors. For the UAB in order to respond to these challenges and effectively articulate its own capacities, the Strategic Research Communities (CORE) were launched starting in 2013. The CORE networks were established based on a strategic challenge identified at international, European and territorial level and in which the UAB-CEI had a sufficient critical mass of research groups that covered the entire chain of value of each area. In this sense, the UAB has defined four COREs so far: Smart & Sustainable Cities, Cultural Heritage, Mental Health and Education & Occupability that act in the quadruple helix frame of territorial organization: academic field, productive sector, government sector and civil society.

Smart and Sustainable Cities within the CORE

One of the four COREs created is the one on Smart and Sustainable Cities. The territorial dimension of the City thematic allows for a strong interaction between groups of the network and regional stakeholders and the generation of knowledge and new initiatives / mechanisms that can contribute to the sustainable development of cities in the surrounding territory. In scientific terms, the aim was to integrate the knowledge generated by disciplines involved in traditional spatial research and planning with new disruptive technologies and methodologies that have emerged or are emerging and are changing both the organizational as well as physical aspect of our cities. During the three years in function now, natural sub-thematic groups were formed around topics, such as circular economy and city metabolism, digital governance and technological sovereignty, new models of productions and consumption in the city, connected vehicles and advanced mobility, spatial data and decision making models,  Societal Perception of Technology among others, creating over time a proper structure and self-organization. Another important part of the CORE activity was the articulation and interaction with the local quadriple-helix stakeholders, and the initiation of new projects, such as the UAB OPEN LABS project, which will be described in a subsequent article.

The COREs initiative has provoked the curiosity and interest of many Spanish and European universities that have come contacted us over the years to know more on how they can replicate the model. Thus, we think it is worthwhile to be included and mentioned within the UCITY project, so more people get inspired and start organizing and collaborating around strategic challenges in their territories.

Info COREs

https://www.uab.cat/web/research/cores-uab/uab-strategic-research-communities-cores-1345698259237.html

CORE Smart & Sustainable Cities

https://www.uab.cat/core-ciutats/