Smart People

Smart People

So Beyond the Smart City 2015 is over and it’s time to say a big thank you to everyone who gave their time, support and insights over the three days. You can check the #btsc15 hashtag for some of the participant thoughts on the event, but this post is a collection of our thoughts and gratitude, plus a little bit about what’s next.

Thursday Conversations

We kicked off on Thursday with tea, scones and conversation at Exeter Library. We asked what people’s favourite places were and why. This prompted a couple of hours of discussion, which Lucy captured as a Wordle for the opening slide of day two. This beginning, an exploration of people and places, set the human tone for the remainder of the three days.


Friday Insights

The following day we gathered at the Met Office to hear talks on everything from age-friendly smart cities to digital cows, along with data of every kind: open, big and personal. Open Data Institute International Director Richard Stirling’s overview of open data and the role of ODI Nodes was followed by Charlie Ewen’s talk about the Met Office, climate and the challenge of really big data.

Dr. Sian Thomas from the Food Standards Agency brought us back to human needs with a talk on data and the food supply while Professor Toby Mottram’s insights into his business, which captures digestion and disease data from cows through a bolus sensor, gave the audience a crash course in some serious agritech.

Audience on laptops

These two very different perspectives on data and food were followed by a look at the wider environment, particularly the coastline. Tom Guilbert’s talk on bathing waters and open data showed how the Environment Agency was making its information accessible. He also talked a little about how Defra, of which the Environment Agency is a part, was in the process of releasing the largest collection of open data sets ever in the UK.

From rural data to rural engineering. Ann Cousins’ talk on what we might mean by “Smart Rural” showed how Arup is exploring the challenges of digital infrastructure outside of cities, giving examples from recent projects, including one in Cornwall. Rupert Green of WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff followed up with another engineering perspective, this time outlining how his company sets out to build sustainable cities and communities through stakeholder participation in the design process.


Having covered a lot of data and infrastructure topics it was time for some discussion. Our brilliant MC for the day, Carl Haggerty, engaged the room in a relaxed conversation around what we’d heard so far and drew out some key themes, getting people in the mood for some lunchtime chat.

Panel 1

After lunch we started getting into some wider data issues such as meaning, storytelling and inclusion. Anne McCrossan started us off with her insights drawn from work with data in key sectors such as housing and food and went on to talk about what happens when we participate in data. Antonio Acuña, head of, talked about National Information Infrastructure and the importance of thinking about smart citizens rather than smart cities.


Julie Hawker who runs local social enterprise, Cosmic, rounded off the human data thread of the afternoon by talking about her own company’s work around digital inclusion and how this role is expanding to encompass data inclusion.

The final two talks of the day brought us back to smart cities, but with a focus on the very human aspects. Abhay Adhikari talked about his work in making smart cities age-friendly, and also cited some lovely examples from around the world which showed how simple interventions can humanise the city. Our final talk of the day came Tom Saunders, Senior Researcher at Nesta, who recently published the report he co-authored around how to rethink smart cities from the bottom-up.

After a brief presentation from Korash Sanjideh of EEN around the support opportunities for data and technology businesses it was time for our final panel of the day, bringing together the day’s talk and conversation, and providing us with some great perspectives on where the key issues were for people.

Saturday Workshops

After the intensive discussions of Friday it was good to move to the Generator in central Exeter and participate in some very enjoyable hands-on workshops. Pete McCann ran a SQL Saturday technical taster session while Alastair Somerville’s wearables workshop explored user experience in the city with a very practical and engaging session.

Sensory UX

Overall, we were delighted with the feedback and we’ve gathered a huge amount of information for the next stage. Planning for 2016 has already started so if you’re interested in being part of the next event then please do sign up to the ODI Devon mailing list.

You can also download Friday conference presentations from our Google Drive. If you have any thoughts or feedback please leave them in the comments below this post.