We have helped more than two dozen local authorities and companies around the world to define and plan complex urban technology projects using our Urban Innovation Toolkit, originally commissioned by the Future Cities Catapult.

Overview of Urban Innovation Toolkit

Urban Innovation Toolkit employs a workshop-based methodology for urban technology deployment that enables urban innovation managers and organisations to design, test and evaluate ‘smart city’ initiatives, to derisk experimentation with urban technology and demonstrate a commitment to impact. We have used the Toolkit to initiate and evaluate projects in the UK, USA and Australia.

The real benefit to my line of work (technology strategy for master planning) comes from the subject-agnosticism of the tool. The workflow is applicable to nearly any kind of urban design problem, from street repair to VR for community policing.

— John Tolva, Co-founder CityFi, Former CTO City of Chicago

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.

In a recent workshop with a Local Authority in North London, the Toolkit helped guide participants through several rounds of examining problems, stakeholders, methods, evidence and impact. The discussion drew in stakeholders from a wide range of responsibilities within the council, including both Town Centre managers as well as IT managers and digital teams.

Screenshot of the Urban Innovation Toolkit
Screenshot of the Urban Innovation Toolkit
Screenshot of the Urban Innovation Toolkit

The Council was looking to develop a better understanding around what it wants from pilots of Smart City technology. Before making any decision to pilot any Smart City solutions the Council needed to draw out from services what problems they need to solve and have someone with an understanding of what’s possible to help them to think about the type of solutions that might help them do this. The aim of the engagement was therefore to produce outcomes that could feed into the business case for any Smart Cities pilot.

In order to begin the exercise, participants were asked to contribute ideas for a future VISION, or newspaper headline to summarise a successful outcome to the initiative.

Screenshot of the Urban Innovation Toolkit
Screenshot of the Urban Innovation Toolkit

This was followed by an exercise to help develop have a shared perspective on the PROBLEMS. These were then dissected to understand what lay behind the problems. Participants identified four major problems that needed solving, as well as seven lower-priority problems.

The participants then discussed a series of METHODS for responding to those PROBLEMS. Guided by the Toolkit, they determined specific urban design and technology methods in detail that could help solve the four key problems. For each METHOD participants discussed and decided Short Term Plans, Long Term Vision and Impact assessment metrics.

The Toolkit helped guide a process of gathering EVIDENCE, in order to lend weight or learnings to each of the METHODS. Each evidence was rated by the participants on their level of confidence regarding its relevance in supporting the identified methods.

Finally the Toolkit helped workshop participants to produce a Project Analysis overview of the project in the form of a diagram, as well as risk, complexity and uncertainty scores.

The Workshop and its outcomes and analysis were drawn together by Umbrellium in a 14-page report for the Council Executive to use in making decisions about next steps.