OxFutures starts 3.2m project to boost innovative low carbon businesses

By: Low Carbon Hub


Oxford’s Low Carbon Hub has led a winning bid for £1.6m of European Regional Development funding that will be used to foster low carbon economic development in the county over the next three years. This funding will be matched with another £1.6m, the majority of which will come from six partners, which were also involved in the bid. The partners will work together to implement the project.

The low carbon sector is already an important part of Oxfordshire’s economy. Annually it accounts for 7% of Oxfordshire’s revenue, with 570 businesses earning over £1bn in sales. Through the project, known as OxFutures, the partners will increase the number of innovative low carbon businesses, ensuring that even more of the £1.5 billion that Oxfordshire spends annually on energy stays in the county.

OxFutures will increase renewable energy generation by facilitating the sharing of knowledge between academics, local authorities and small / medium enterprises (SMEs); encouraging networking between SMEs; and offering grants for new products, new start-ups and energy-efficiency measures. The result will be an improvement in air quality in the city, a reduction in energy bills and CO2 emissions and a boost to the local economy.

The project will build on the success of the first phase of OxFutures which originated as a partnership between Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, and the Low Carbon Hub. During the first phase, a four-year EU-funded programme, £18 million of investments were leveraged into local renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

The project partners will each play a vital role in OxFutures and have a strong history of working together:

The Low Carbon Hub is a social enterprise that develops community-owned renewable energy projects and supports low carbon groups in Oxfordshire. The Hub will manage the project funding and will be the first point of contact for local SMEs that want to apply for start-up funding or grants. Working alongside Bioregional, via a new networking centre called Oxfordshire GreenTech, it will also coordinate knowledge sharing between SMEs and the two universities with the goal of connecting more renewable energy across Oxfordshire.

Oxford City Council has ambitious plans to reduce the City’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2020. Its role in OxFutures will be to collaborate with SMEs and the two universities on Oxford’s transition to Electric Vehicles (EVs). Chargers will soon be installed across the city and the introduction of EVs will drastically improve air quality while encouraging renewables through providing a means of storing and utilising locally generated green energy.

Cherwell District Council is working with Bioregional, a charity and social enterprise that works with partners to create better places for people to live, work and do business within the natural limits of the planet – this is called One Planet Living. Together, they will be developing Oxfordshire GreenTech, a countywide business network which will support its members to create sustainable workplaces, logistics, products and services for a stronger, greener economy. Members will share knowledge, form partnerships and potentially work together on joint funding bids, and will have access to research from both universities.

Oxford Brookes University (OBU) will offer SMEs free energy audits; with any recommendations that come out of the audits being part-funded through grants accessed via the Low Carbon Hub. Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development in OBU will build on work already done in Bicester by developing a region-wide case study of its LEMUR energy demand model using the acclaimed DECoRuM carbon mapping model, which identifies areas with high levels of energy inefficient housing and retrofits homes to reduce household energy consumption. OISD will also share learning from its research on smart energy technologies (Project ERIC) with SMEs via GreenTech.

Oxford University’s ‘Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy’ project investigates methods of integrating modern renewable energy technologies into national, regional and local grids. Through OxFutures, the university will use Oxfordshire as the first regional case study for this work with the goal of SMEs making this research a reality for the county.

SMEs wanting to register interest in joining Oxfordshire GreenTech, applying for grant funding and / or applying for a free energy audit should contact the Low Carbon Hub.


We are reaching a tipping point where the growth of renewables and advances in technology are combining to make green energy the most economically sensible choice as well as the right choice for the future of our planet. Through OxFutures we are bringing together some of the most important low carbon players in Oxfordshire to ensure the county benefits both financially and environmentally from this energy revolution.

Dr Barbara Hammond, MBE – Chief Executive, Low Carbon Hub

European Regional Development Fund: The project is receiving up to £1.6m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for ERDF. Established by the European Union, ERDF funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations.  For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding 


This article first appeared on 14th July 2017 on the website of the Low Carbon Hub.

Smart Oxford Playable City Commission – give us your input

By: Smart Oxford & Playable City

The Smart Oxford Playable City Commission shortlist reveals six innovative projects placing shared experience at the heart of the future city.  Help us choose a winner.


Watershed and Smart Oxford are delighted to announce the shortlist for the very first Smart Oxford Playable City Commission 2017.

From mysterious creatures appearing on city streets eager to make new friends, to forbidden buttons that connect the curious of Oxford, each of the shortlisted projects has found creative ways to celebrate the Shared City theme.

Artists, designers, technologists and creative practitioners were challenged to propose distinctive ideas that put people and play at the heart of Oxford. Responding to the theme of Shared City, applicants proposed using smart city technology in innovative ways to create opportunities for connection between the diverse populations who live, visit and work within Oxford.

This is the first time the Playable City model has been used in the UK outside of the annual Award and over 80 entries were received from 28 countries around the world.

The six shortlisted ideas are now available to view online and the public are invited to submit comments and questions via the Playable City website until 18 July. All  feedback will be shared with the judging panel and the winner will be announced on 01 August 2017.

In addition to the £30,000 award, the R&D commission offers the winner dedicated practical support and guidance to realize their ideas. The winning idea will be unveiled in Oxford in November.

The six shortlisted projects are:

Show Us Your City | Thomas Buchanan and Gavin Strange, UK

Oxford could be set to adopt a new family. Three connected, cheerful yet nomadic characters – that look somewhere between robots and cartoon characters – will ask questions and suggest challenges to the people of Oxford creating unexpected interactions, as well as asking friendly locals to show them around their newly adopted home by moving, lifting or rolling them between the city’s public spaces. Each character’s location will be openly available through Oxfordshire Open Data and the public will be able to keep up with their movements via their very own website.

Star Light, Star Bright | Guerilla Dance Project, UK

Star Light, Star Bright brings to life dark, gloomy streets via mounted, push activated lights. Placed in clusters across the city, the lights encourage players to come together to map star constellations from the night sky above Oxford onto the city’s surfaces. Connecting strangers for a shared serendipitous moment, each Star Bright beacon will shine brighter as more are activated, until the final beacon cues the whole cluster to mark the night with bright beams of light bathing those beneath in a constellation of stars.

Do Not Press | Playful Anywhere CIC, UK

Imagine if a button pressed on the outskirts of town could blow up a balloon in the city centre? What if a button on the Bridge of Sighs could send a poem to your friends phone? Do Not Press is an accessible, playful game to connect the curious across the various areas and communities of Oxford and reward them for playing together. Those who dare to press the apparently forbidden buttons will open the door to a myriad of digital adventures that have been woven into the fabric of the city.

Knock Knock | Bottle, UK  

Overnight, two brightly coloured doors magically appear on the streets of Oxford. A plaque invites passers-by to knock on them. Connecting two separate parts of the city, a knock on one door will mysteriously be heard on the other, creating a surprising conversation. Small video peepholes will allow viewers to teleport themselves to the mysterious alternate location to create a connection of their new friend on the other side of town.

LitKNIT Gateways | Graf + Tobier, Vienna & USA

LitKNIT Gateways constructs and plays a walkable programmable light show across Oxford. This smart version of “urban knitting” weaves programmable LED stripes into neighborhood gateways, knitting disparate demographics into an interactive illuminated metropolis. While street level participants activate individual segments through movement, the cross-town sequence of micro local landmarks is playable via smart phone/internet.

Love Thy Neighbourhood | Bimble ,UK

Weaving a web of micro adventures or ‘Bimbles’, Love Thy Neighbour invites residents to experience the true, diverse character of the city, offering a myriad of journeys incorporating celebrated, popular landmarks and hidden gems in the lesser known parts of the city’s nooks and crannies. The people of Oxford will also be invited to create their very own ‘Bimble’, providing residents with the opportunity to truly walk in one another’s footsteps and share favourite parts of the city with each other.


The panel will comprise industry judges at the forefront of art, society, and technology.

It will chaired by Lord Heseltine who will be joined Clare Reddington, Usman Haque, Sharna Jackson, Cigdem Sengul, Llewelyn Morgan, Sebastian Johnson, Asima Qayyum and Francesa Perry.

Hilary O’Shaughnessy , Lead Producer, Playable City, says, “The breadth of ideas and vision in the shortlist shows the strength and reach of the Playable City theme across all creative sectors. We are excited to choose and produce a project of global ambition that begins in the unique city of Oxford.”

Sebastian Johnson, Vice-Chair of Smart Oxford and Principal Economic Development Officer at Oxford City Council, says,A Playable City approach will start new conversations, imagine new futures and make new connections – it is a way of thinking differently about Oxford; as a shared city that links our diverse communities.”

Lord Michael Heseltine says, “I am delighted to be chairing the judging panel of the Smart Oxford Playable City Commission.  I’m looking forward to working with my fellow judges to review the innovative and creative ideas the competition has generated and am excited to see the winning entry delivered in the iconic city of Oxford.”

Full details of the shortlist are here.


What maths does: building a perfect metropolis

By: University of Oxford


Oxford Mathematician Neave O’Clery works with mathematical models to describe the processes behind industrial diversification and economic growth. Here she discusses her work in Oxford and previously at Harvard to explain how network science can help us understand why some cities thrive and grow, and others decline, and how they can offer useful, practical tools for policy-makers looking for the formula for success.

No man is an island. English poet John Donne’s words have new meaning in a 21st century context as network and peer effects, often amplified by modern technologies, have been acknowledged as central to understanding human behaviour and development. Network analysis provides a uniquely powerful tool to describe and quantify complex systems, whose dynamics depend not on individual agents but on the underlying interconnection structure. My work focuses on the development of network-based policy tools to describe the economic processes underlying the growth of cities.

Urban centres draw a diverse range of people, attracted by opportunity, amenities, and the energy of crowds. Yet, while benefiting from density and proximity of people, cities also suffer from issues surrounding crime, transport, housing, and education. Fuelled by rapid urbanisation and pressing policy concerns, an unparalleled inter-disciplinary research agenda has emerged that spans the humanities, social and physical sciences. From a quantitative perspective, this agenda embraces the new wave of data emerging from both the private and public sector, and its promise to deliver new insights and transformative detail on how society functions today. The novel application of tools from mathematics, combined with high resolution data, to study social, economic and physical systems transcends traditional domain boundaries and provides opportunities for a uniquely multi-disciplinary and high impact research agenda.

One particular strand of research concerns the fundamental question: how do cities move into new economic activities, providing opportunities for citizens and generating inclusive growth? Cities are naturally constrained by their current resources, and the proximity of their current capabilities to new opportunities. This simple fact gives rise to a notion of path dependence: cities move into new activities that are similar to what they currently produce. In order to describe the similarities between industries, we construct a network model where nodes represent industries and edges represent capability overlap. The capability overlap for industry pairs may be empirically estimated by counting worker transitions between industries. Intuitively, if many workers switch jobs between a pair of industries, then it is likely that these industries share a high degree of know-how.

This network can be seen as modelling the opportunity landscape of cities: where a particular city is located in this network (i.e., its industries) will determine its future diversification potential. In other words, a city has the skills and know-how to move into neighbouring nodes. A city located in a central well connected region has many options, but one with only few peripheral industries has limited opportunities.

Such models aid policy-makers, planners and investors by providing detailed predictions of what types of new activities are likely to be successful in a particular place, information that typically cannot be gleaned from standard economic models. Metrics derived from such networks are in-formative about a range of associated questions concerning the overall growth of formal employment and the optimal size of urban commuting zones.



This article first appeared on the website of the University of Oxford on 7th July 2017.

Digital entrepreneurship

By: Michel Wahome, Oxford Internet Institute

The ‘techie’ archetype is the mascot of our age. Generally imagined and depicted as a youth, most often male, wearing a casual sweat-shirt, and carrying a backpack that contains the tool of his trade—the laptop. The techie dreams of building a software ‘app’ that commands a global following and so ingenious that wealthy investors line up for an opportunity to bankroll it. At the macro-scale, the archetype is cast in a narrative where ‘start-up’ environments inhabited by techies are the economic engines of the present and the future. As a result, any government worth its salt is concerned with establishing this ‘ecosystem’, often modelled on the ultimate exemplar, Silicon Valley. These tropes and ideal types belie the variety of actors and forms of digital entrepreneurship that exist around the world.

The digital entrepreneurship imaginary, for one thing, has a wide reach because it is transmitted by the relatively ubiquitous technologies with which it is associated. Information technology, is also accessible in a different way. Its knowledge, talent and material requirements do not require the heavy investments of other ‘start-up’ generating counterparts like ‘biotech’ or ‘clean tech’. As a result, there is a belief that in this cosmopolitan world of bit and bytes that the ‘next Facebook or Google’ can come from any place and that the digitital realm represents opportunities for everyone, independent of where they are located geographically. ‘Does this belief hold water?’ is an underlying question of my research. ‘How do Silicon Savannah’s arenas of expectation interact with global structures of innovation and entrepreneurship?’ is how it is framed in my thesis.The aim of my research was to consider how a variety of  ‘techpreneurs’  in Nairobi, Kenya envision success and whether those imaginaries and narratives are aligned with empirical reality as evidenced in their practices and outcomes. In a world where the successful are called unicorns, fantasies almost seem inevitable. What are actors willing to do in order to keep the dream alive? I have found that the expectations and imperatives that have developed around the technology start-up concept often lead to unexpected or perverse outcomes as firms enact what they think (or are taught) success looks like.

Interest in these topics stem from a previous life, when I worked for a US-based, science organisation that advised governments and corporations about how to ‘do’ innovation. We aimed to facilitate desirable outcomes such as the adoption of ‘clean’ technologies; a shift towards greener, smarter cities, and the development of vaccines for neglected and rare diseases. Armed with the knowledge of various frameworks such as Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff’s Triple Helix, the OECD’s Freeman and Lundvall inspired Oslo Manual, Stokes’s Pascal’s Quadrant, etc. we conducted extensive research into the ways the cases under our remit differed from the ideal. The advice was always aimed at retro-fitting the context to fit the framework. I always felt that we were not giving full respect to the intractability of contingent factors such as history, place and culture. It seemed to me that they were much more durable, and may be even held more potential, than we could consider given our approach. Meanwhile, in my home town of Nairobi, an emergent digital innovation economy seemed to be providing a case-in-point—it had originated under ‘scarcity’ conditions and without the interventions and inputs that we often regarded as prerequisites. Maybe university-industry linkages were not that important. What if dedicating percentages of GDP to R&D and education in STEM was not a requirement? Then again, perhaps, it was the nature and affordances of digital technologies that had facilitated these organic developments. It could also have been that despite all the hype, Silicon Savannah did not really represent a working exemple of innovation entrepreneurship and was just part of the ‘Africa rising’ media narrative that was in vogue. These musings seemed more at home in an academic setting, which led me to enrol in the Science and Technology Studies program at the University of Edinburgh. Using Biography of Artefacts and Practices’ approach, I traced the history of the ICT industry in Kenya from deregulation and liberalisation in the nineties, to present day Silicon Savannah. A year of fieldwork produced ethnographies of two technology firms, different as night and day, as they navigated towards ‘exit’ and/or profit. Interview data was supplemented by digital archives of blogs, emails and social media in an attempt to capture how and why respondent’s perspectives and practices changed over time.

Geonet’s longitudinal comparison of digital entrepreneurship in several African cities, represents an opportunity to expand this inquiry. I am eager to understand how contingent factors interact over time to produce a variety of scenarios, different from the ones that I am familiar with. I will be involved in developing these explanations based on comparative analysis of the close and distant case studies that we will be building. Evaluating how digital entrepreneurship manifests and is facilitated, in a breadth of places and spaces, supports institutions tasked with making choices about how to best support the generation of digital livelihoods and technologies. It enables them to think beyond replicating the archetype.


This post was originally published on the OII’s Geonet project blog on 

Oxford Conference: Digital Transport Exchange 6-7 July 2017

By: Smart Oxford

Digital Transport Exchange

Digital Transport Exchange: Practical, scalable applications of digital infrastructure to improve the transport experience

Hosted by Smart Oxford in conjunction with the MoBox Foundation and Oxfordshire County Council, Digital Transport Exchange is designed to share knowledge and build networks by bringing the data and digital infrastructure ecosystem together for the first time to explore ways of delivering the benefits of transport and city data infrastructures for customers, communities and clients.

The conference will brings together business leaders, senior public sector representatives, innovators and pioneers from across the transport digital infrastructure ecosystem to begin a ground-breaking conversation on the best ways forward.

It will tackle the unresolved issues which are holding back progress. A highly interactive format will run across two days and include keynotes, marketplace, workshops, interactive sessions and one-to-one meetings, with ‘Meet the Experts’ and lots of networking opportunities built-in.

Speakers include:


Find out more here.