The Urban Innovation Toolkit helps you plan urban technology projects by methodically organising and joining up problems, stakeholders, methods, evidence and impact

We were commissioned by the Future Cities Catapult to develop a toolkit and proven methodology that helps guide urban innovation managers and organisations in designing urban technology projects.

These kinds of projects tend to be complex and risky, using unproven technology to deliver outcomes that are not well defined. In such a context it is all too often the technology (or funding opportunity) that dictates the project goals rather than the other way round, and ordinary people that are impacted (or unintentionally affected) by technology deployments can too easily be forgotten. The purpose of the Urban Innovation Toolkit and methodology is therefore to make it easier to be rigorous in making sense of and defining a shared understanding of an urban technology project, particularly in terms of its problems, stakeholders, methods, evidence and impact.

Using the Toolkit provides a framework for a conversation around project development by concentrating on these five components (problems, stakeholders, methods, evidence, impact – because these are the core parts of a project that often miss deep consideration in project development processes since they seem obvious) and exploring how they are all interconnected. Urban technology innovation all too often starts from the perspective of the technology rather than the problems, forgets to include some stakeholders in the conversation, uses methods without understanding (or even having) evidence, and fails to plan for specific impact, let alone evaluation of that impact. The Toolkit enables project organisers to be more rigorous about exploring each of these.

There are four main aspects to using the Toolkit:

  • Use it to frame discussion around five core project concepts and create a common understanding between participants: problems, stakeholders, methods, evidence, impact
  • Use it to explore how these elements join up, or identify gaps (e.g. methods that don’t have evidence, or stakeholders that are not involved in project development, or impact that cannot be evaluated)
  • Use it to discover Case Studies that are related to the project you are working on (matched by topic tags)
  • Use it to generate collateral that you can distribute to others:
    • Project Landscape diagram (that summarises all the content you have entered)
    • Project Brief (text version of the same)
    • Project mid-stream evaluation
    • Final project evaluation
    • Project Risk, Uncertainty and Complexity score

Development of the Toolkit was iterative and continuous, and we worked with 6 different early-stage and mid-stream urban technology project teams in cities across the UK (including Bradford, Cambridge and Kingston-upon-Thames) to design and ‘stress-test’ it against real-world projects.

Walkthrough of Urban Innovation Toolkit

We recommend that the Toolkit is used by an informed facilitator to take a group of people through a project development workshop, since they will be aware of the complexities of the Toolkit and can also help mediate between all the parties that are discussing the project. A facilitator doesn’t need any domain expertise, but does need to be aware of how all the Toolkit questions operate together.

A software application is not sufficient on its own to pull together people that don’t already recognise a need to work together behind a project. So, much like the Business Model Canvas, rather than providing answers in and of itself, instead the Toolkit provides a useful framework through which people working on urban innovation projects can structure conversations in order to define, refine and derisk those projects. By stress testing it on a range of project scales (small to large, early to mid-stream) and project types (health, air quality, commercial, civic) we have shown that it can be applied in many different contexts. Furthermore, the Toolkit does not replace or automate project design development, but instead helps to structure it and augment it. Its most important function is to provide a framework for a shared understanding of both the benefits and the gaps of a project under discussion.

If you are involved in an urban technology project and would like to explore how it could help your development process, please get in touch.

The Toolkit takes you through four rounds of examining its problems, stakeholders, methods, evidence and impact in ever greater detail.

You will start at a very high level, rapidly mapping out concepts. In subsequent rounds you will look at how these join up, expose inconsistencies or identify missing parts. By the end of the fourth round you will have explored both the bigger picture and its details, and be able to articulate both within and outside your core team what the project is, who it will involve and what it aims to achieve.

Your project will be scored for Risk, Uncertainty and Complexity in order for you to plan for next steps. You will also be able to generate a Project Landscape (a diagram of all its moving parts), a Project Description (text version of the landscape), a Project Mid-stream Project Evaluation Form and a Final Project Evaluation Form.

By using the Urban Innovation Toolkit you can:

  • Design, test and evaluate 'smart city' initiatives
  • Derisk experimentation with technology
  • Understand barriers to innovation before wide deployment
  • Help innovative solutions to succeed
  • Articulate a business case for change
  • Demonstrate a commitment to impact

The Urban Innovation Toolkit, created by Umbrellium, commissioned by Future Cities Catapult.