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. 

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 today’s blog post, we asked Gregor Cerinsek (IRI UL) on his perspectives how University of Ljubljana aims to expand its role in the urban community through the UCITYLAB project. 

We live in the age of turbulence. The world is changing and it changes faster and faster, especially due to the exponential growth of technology. The digital transformation is happening so fast that human brains are not even capable to understand it. This rapid progress produces serious challenges which demand action from all of us. The fact is that the majority of people is not against the technological development. However, we should think about and discuss what could happen if we do not think about the consequences of this exponential growth on our society and humanity.

These challenges should affect our education system on all levels and demand for new interactive forms of teaching and learning. Problem is that university education is still mainly based on ex-cathedra lectures and one-directional knowledge passing where students have passive roles. Different faculties are furthermore focusing solely on their narrow academic fields, which leads to lack of communication and cooperation, especially between engineering and natural sciences on one hand side and social sciences and humanities on the other.

With this picture in mind, the Institute for Innovation and Development of University of Ljubljana (IRI UL) aims to foster university-business collaboration addressing real-life challenges of Slovenian industry and society in general. The UniverCity Action Lab project provides an ideal platform to enrich our model by enhancing university-city engagement through interdisciplinary students’ project-based learning. The established platform will serve for exchanging ideas, for identifying pressing societal and environmental challenges, and for co-creating innovative solutions for urban challenges with all key stakeholders involved. Students will work together with wide variety of key urban actors, including the representatives from governmental and non-governmental spheres, public bodies and agencies, educational institutions, all pursuing a common goal – to promote and enhance urban development strategies and inter-connectivity in the Ljubljana city.

We anticipate that the collaboration and intensive learning experience will provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate and apply the knowledge and skills they have gained through the existing university curriculum and to contribute to professional practice as discipline experts. In addition, academics (teachers, professors) will become aware of the multidisciplinary complexity of technology and urban development and will be furthermore challenged to modify their way of teaching to these new circumstances. Industry and all other stakeholders involved will get a fresh perspective in relation to product and service development – especially how to assess, understand and incorporate users/citizens and their needs. The project will provide valuable insights into “wicked problems” and “big unknowns” that the city and society is facing (such as climate change or urban development). It will contribute towards understanding of human dynamics and will uncover the surprising and complex ways in which people and citizens make decisions. Finally, when it comes to solving the city challenges, we will try to question the “taken for granted” by looking at it from an “outside-the-box” perspective and encouraging creative, trans-disciplinary insights.

Exciting times ahead!

In today’s post we asked Rui Coutinho and Catarina Reis about the involvement of the Porto Business School (PBS) in the UCITYLAB project, the vision of PBS in their engagement with urban stakeholders, and the potential impact of these collaborations on the city.

Porto Business School (PBS) was founded 30 years ago to address a common challenge: the gap between the levels of qualification and skills that Higher Education Institutions (HEI) delivered to young professionals and the level of expectations and demand companies requested to their workers. PBS was born out of the will and the passion of a few business people and the vision and boldness of the University of Porto. Still today, PBS’s governance model displays this unique DNA: academia and companies are shareholders, with equal decision power, and the educational offer is fully aligned with identified market needs.

Today, however, we are witnessing new collaboration models and new untapped opportunities: HEI’s are not taking full advantage (nor being active problem solvers) of the urban ecosystems they are based in. We know for quite some time that universities don’t have only the mission of teaching and researching, but in fact they are progressively getting involved with their surroundings, which means having an active role in their communities’ progress. It is not enough for universities to create knowledge, it is mandatory that that knowledge results in real economic value, but also social, cultural and environmental value. This goal can only be achieved if everyone is involved with a true triple-helix approach: universities, companies and cities working side by side to identify and co-create new solutions for collective urban problems, aiming at a sustainable economic, social, cultural and environmental added value. PBS aims at being on the edge of this co-creation, which motivated its participation on UCITYLAB.

Entrepreneurship is part of PBS’s DNA. That’s why we believe that, in order to truly co-create new solutions for the cities, we need to include technology centres and incubators, to support startups and spin-offs creation or to organise new open innovation challenges. These actions will only be successful if we identify the problems and needs the city presents, if the potential new products or services are able to solve them, if they are able to exploit the city’s resources, if they have a strong business case and also if they take advantage of the upstream and downstream synergies in its value chain. In conclusion, it is crucial to know if the potential new solutions and business models fit the city’s characteristics.

Besides that, we believe that looking into the city we are based in and detecting the challenges it faces, as well as the biggest tendencies, it’s the best way to be innovative in our education portfolio, developing learning methodologies and programs that enable the improvement of the needed skills for the city progress.

Furthermore, we are a collaborative school, differentiated due to the knowledge sharing and value co-creation, so the establishment of partnerships with city stakeholders is perfectly aligned with our modus operandi, being potentially beneficial not only for this specific project, but also for future opportunities. Therefore, we expect that UCITYLAB will enable PBS to help solving some societal challenges in Porto, in partnership with the city government and all the urban stakeholders and will inspire our students to the topic of co-creation for urban development.

By learning with other cities’ good practices and by testing new co-creation practices and solutions, we aim at helping the city of Porto’s endeavours to become a smarter city by creating a new course on urban co-creation that remains beyond the project lifetime, reinforcing the constant connection between PBS and the city and, therefore, having a positive impact on its citizens lives.

Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Project University-City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) kick-off meeting has been held in Porto on 29-30 October, bringing together 5 consortium partners with representatives from Porto Business School, (Portugal); Institute for Innovation and Development of University of Ljubljana(Slovenia); Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain), Institut Mines-Télécom (France); and University Industry Innovation Network (Netherlands).

To be coordinated by Porto Business School (PBS) over the next 30 months, the UCITYLAB consortium will aim to embed Europe’s education and knowledge institutions into their urban environment to unlock their innovation potential and address metropolitan challenges. To achieve this, the project will first (i) map the status-quo of HEI practices involving city engagement at the national and international level, (ii) launch UCITYLAB Networks in the partner countries to start conversations with regional stakeholders for collaborative innovation, (iii) prepare the UCITY Challenge course program, and (iv) implement the program in two phases of theory and real-life projects the students will undertake together with city stakeholders.

The efforts will be put forward to strengthen the relationships between HEIs and their urban communities, build the understanding and practice of social innovation, entrepreneurship and urban development among HEI students, and in the long term to foster economic and social development in the cities where the partner institution are located. The role of the UIIN in the consortium will be prominent in the development of the knowledge base, supporting the development of University-City networks, as well as in the dissemination of the project outputs through its diverse range of channels.