New support network for Oxford businesses and startups

By: Isis Innovation

Oxford businesses who wish to share their expertise and resources now have a network through which to engage with entrepreneurs and new Oxford startup ventures. The network is managed and run by the University’s Isis Startup Incubator.

The first member of this network is Summertown-based creative design agency One Ltd. One will run several sessions themed as a competition during the Startup Incubator summer accelerator programme. They also plan to award a prize of several studio days to one venture and hold design surgery sessions for startups throughout the programme.

Roy Azoulay, who heads up the Isis Startup Incubator said: “We often encourage the startups we support to think global from day one. But while doing this, they can also benefit from the diverse set of skills and expertise available in such abundance in the Oxfordshire area. For local businesses who are interested in engaging with our members, we’d like to encourage them to contribute to the startup ecosystem by working with us through the Oxford Startup Support Network.”

Ben Mumby-Croft of One said: “We’re delighted to have this opportunity to work with the Isis Startup Incubator and support some of the amazing entrepreneurial talent coming through Oxford University. There’s a real buzz around the Oxford startup scene at the moment and, through this collaboration, we’re committed to doing our bit to help the local ecosystem thrive and grow.”

Oxford Startup Support Network members will commit to offering several workshops or events for startups throughout the year. They will have the opportunity to provide services and support that is relevant and useful for startups.

They will also have the chance to engage with some of Oxford’s most exciting new businesses, for which they’ll gain recognition on social media, events, press releases and other platforms.


This article first appeared on the Isis Innovation website on 31st March 2016

Smart cities: from buzzword to transformative implementation

By: Katherine Tobias, University of Oxford

Graduate student Katherine Tobias shares how the ODI’s Open Data for Smart Cities course helped her look beyond tech to citizens’ roles in city design and governance


picture of city street

Amsterdam, where the Smart Citizen environmental sensing network helps citizens capture and interpret data within their communities. CC BY 2.0, uploaded by Moyan Brenn.

I was keen to attend the ODI’s Open Data for Smart Cities course as I chose smart cities as the topic for my dissertation, as part of my Master’s degree in Global Governance and Diplomacy at the University of Oxford.

The recent hype surrounding smart cities has been accompanied by a proliferation of attempts to define them. However, most of the definitions fail to capture the concept’s complexity as well as its transformative potential. The ODI’s course unpacked the buzzword and then helped us to reimagine how a city can become ‘smart’ through the ‘3 Cs’ framework: communication, convenience and consciousness. This framework shifts away from the narrow focus on technology dominating the smart cities landscape in order to understand the role of the citizen in the design and governance of smart cities.

‘Smart’ is flexible, networked and decentralised

One of the crucial things I took away from the course was that flexibility is a key ingredient for effective smart cities. Instead of relying on predetermined grand visions and trajectories, smart cities that embrace network thinking are more responsive and adaptable to the unpredictable events and interactions that characterise urban life. Rather than importing one-size-fits-all technology ‘solutions’ – in which cities merely become linear connections between services and people – smart cities are increasingly decentralising their organisational structure to spur multi-level experimentation.

For example, Amsterdam and Barcelona have deployed the Smart Citizen environmental sensing network to enable citizens to capture and interpret data within their communities. Through an open source data platform, the cities are encouraging citizens and entrepreneurs to build data-apps and tools to help improve quality of life within their cities.

Embedding citizen happiness into city design

In my opinion, the predominant perception of smart cities as efficient, technological hubs overlooks the potential for smart cities to help people interact with places and each other however they like, rather than in ways prescribed by policymakers or city planners. A key message I learnt from the course was that for cities to become smart, they need to put people back at the heart of planning and governance, embedding citizen happiness and satisfaction as design principles. Successful smart cities are engaging in desire-path planning, by tailoring city design to human decision making rather than seeking to anticipate it. For example, Transport for London is currently analysing data collected from people’s Tube journeys in order to re-examine distances between stations and, consequently, improve access to the city and the human experience of it. By contrast, the prioritisation of efficiency over choice in urban planning and the failure to create opportunities for collaboration have created citizen resentment in the supposedly smart city of Songdo, South Korea.

In smart cities, data is a universal translator for interpreting and responding to desire paths. The sharing of open data allows for interoperability within and between smart cities, overcoming the silos that have traditionally hindered policymaking. Making data more open and accessible creates opportunities for businesses to align their own incentives with city goals in order to take advantage of the $1.5tr market opportunity that smart cities represent.

Leveraging the open city value loop

In the last part of the Open Data for Smart Cities course, we participants became policymakers, tasked with designing a successful smart city by leveraging the ‘open city value loop’ to support citizens’ choices and enhance urban life.

The open city value loop consists of four nodes: data publishers, discovery service providers, app or service developers and communities of interest. When the value loop is operating optimally, data is transformed from mere numbers and statistics into meaningful information with practical utility. Smart city living labs, such as in Kansas City, are open innovation ecosystems that facilitate this conversion by opening up rich sources of data within cities and enabling citizens to become co-creators in their design and governance.

It is through such collaboration that the transformative potential of smart cities can be unlocked.


This article was first published on the Open Data Institute website on 16 March 2016.

Oxford’s Barton Park named as NHS Healthy New Town


Oxford’s Barton Park development has been selected as one of ten NHS Healthy New Town demonstrator sites. 

Barton Park - artists impression

The head of NHS England will today announced plans to create ten NHS-supported ‘healthy new towns’ across the country, covering more than 76,000 new homes with potential capacity for approximately 170,000 residents.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England said:

“The much-needed push to kick start affordable housing across England creates a golden opportunity for the NHS to help promote health and keep people independent. As these new neighbourhoods and towns are built, we’ll kick ourselves if in ten years time we look back having missed the opportunity to ‘design out’ the obesogenic environment, and ‘design in’ health and wellbeing.

“We want children to have places where they want to play with friends and can safely walk or cycle to school – rather than just exercising their fingers on video games. We want to see neighbourhoods and adaptable home designs that make it easier for older people to continue to live independently wherever possible. And we want new ways of providing new types of digitally-enabled local health services that share physical infrastructure and staff with schools and community groups.”

The NHS will help shape the way the new site develops, so as to test creative solutions for the health and care challenges of the 21st century, including obesity, dementia and community cohesion. NHS England is bringing together renowned clinicians, designers and technology experts to reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places, to showcase what’s possible by joining up design of the built environment with modern health and care services, and to deploy new models of technology-enabled primary care.

Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, said:

“There is a shocking 10-year difference in average life expectancy across different parts of the city.

“The City Council has prioritised work with Public Health to tackle health deprivation in those areas for many years and I am  delighted that Barton Park has been chosen as a demonstrator site for the NHS England Healthy New Towns project.

“The scheme will investigate and then lead the way in improving the links between good housing, healthy living and how local services can be designed to put health improvement at the heart of our communities.”

Barton Park aims to be an exemplary garden suburb designed for the needs of the 21st century; a blend of high quality, healthy, urban living that is in harmony with its natural surroundings. It will provide up to 885 new homes, 40% of which will be social rented affordable housing and all will be designed to a minimum code for sustainable homes level 4.

Healthy living is at the heart of the design at Barton Park. There is a strong green infrastructure network, including greenways and a linear park with cycling and walking actively promoted through the careful design of the primary street and masterplan. The scheme will include new community facilities such as a primary school, a community hub, new sports pitches, pavilion and a 3G pitch for use of the school and community. There will also be two civic squares along the primary street to create natural gathering points and encourage social inclusion and community engagement.

As an NHS Healthy New Town, Barton Park will be able to add value through providing a controlled environment to monitor how the built environment can impact health and wellbeing. This will offer useful learnings and design principles for future Healthy New Towns. There are also opportunities to improve the health care delivery for the current Barton community which is considered to be an area of relative social and economic deprivation when compared to the rest of Oxfordshire. The scheme already provides for the redevelopment of the existing GP Bury Knowle surgery but further there is scope for further innovation on how health care technology and partnership with the John Radcliffe University could improve health care provision in the area.

Comparing the social structure of different cities

By: Dyrol Lumbard, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford

city street

People make a city. Each city is as unique as the combination of its inhabitants. Currently, cities are generally categorised by size, but research by Oxford Mathematicians Peter Grindrod and Tamsin Lee on the social networks of different cities shows that City A, which is twice the size of City B, may not necessarily be accurately represented as an amalgamation of two City Bs.

The researchers use Twitter data from ten different UK cities, showing reciprocal tweets within each city. By defining cities in terms of these social network structures, they break each city into its comprising modular communities. Next, they build virtual cities from the actual cities. For example, Bristol has 74 communities. Randomly sampling (with replacement) from these communities 145 times builds a virtual city the same size as Manchester – but made up of modular communities actually observed in Bristol. How much does our virtual Manchester network resemble the true Manchester network? The answer is very closely. So if one was trying to spread a message via Twitter through Manchester, or make other social interventions, it may prove beneficial to test the same activity in Bristol first.

However, sampling the Bristol communities to create a virtual city the same size as Leeds, which is smaller than Manchester, does not create a network of similar structure to the ‘real’ Leeds. This highlights that the relationship between social structures of cities is not immediately obvious, and requires further analysis. Furthermore, this relationship is not symmetrical: a virtual city created by randomly sampling 74 communities from the Leeds network, does in fact resemble the true Bristol social network. So Bristol could learn from Leeds but not vice versa.

In summary, we may sometimes replicate one city using the communities from another. However, some cities have a very diverse range of communities, making them difficult to replicate – Leeds is a good example of this. Perhaps cities can be put into classes where those cities in the same class are socially similar and so any experience of social phenomena or reactions to interventions in one such city may be relevant to another.


This article was first published on the website of the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, on 11 March 2016.

Social and Open Data Sources and Visualisation Methods for Urban Decision Making

By: Jonathan Bright, Oxford Internet Institute

One of the deliverables from the UrbanData2Decide project has just been published on the project website. It’s a report on social and open data sources and visualisation methods for urban decision makers, and was jointly authored by ourselves at the OII, SYNYO and the ODI. The main aim was to gather existing knowledge on what data could be used in the UD2D project, as well as producing a kind of catalogue of visualisation types, such as the infographic produced by the ODI below

or this kernel density map of Tweets in Vienna made by Stefano.

Vienna Tweets

The report was largely for internal consumption but we decided to publish it as well, as a potential useful starting point for other projects of the same nature. One of the things it brought home to me was the preliminary, exploratory feel of most work in this area, something we (tentatively) hope to improve on in our projects.


This article was first published in February 2016 in the Smart Cities Research Blog of the Oxford Internet Institute.