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

CORE Smart & Sustainable Cities