The Council and democracy Manchester Digital Strategy 2021 – 2026

Theme 2: Digital Places

Digital Places is about making sure the city itself, alongside its people, drives us towards a more digitally enabled future.  

In a digital place, high quality and open digital infrastructure is ubiquitous at every level. Its leaders think towards the future and make sure that the changes we make to our physical environment today support the technological demands of tomorrow, and therefore much of Digital Places is about how we plan for and consider these future requirements in everything that we do to create a built environment that is fully digitally enabled.  

Digital Places are also about how public services are delivered. In Digital Places, all services should be accessible digitally regardless of the device used or the bandwidth available. Public services should be operated in such a way that they make use of rich data both to improve how services are delivered and to allow other people to use this data in innovative and creative ways. They should also make sure information is protected and treated with care, especially in terms of data quality, ethics and security. The Eindhoven Principals are a set of principles and guidelines developed by the city of Eindhoven to ensure that its work on smart cities, data, and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) would have a clear framework of ethics and social responsibility underpinning it. The principals are: 

  • Privacy First 
  • Open data and interfaces 
  • Embrace open standards 
  • Share where possible 
  • Support modularity 
  • Accept social responsibility 

Digital places should ensure that a similar set of principles are adopted to ensure that digital and technology are deployed and used in and ethical and responsible way. 

Finally, Digital Places have strong and exciting digital ecosystems that create the space and opportunities for innovation and creativity between people and organisations. The networks of people and organisations within the city are accessible and inclusive, supporting the digital sector itself but also the wider creative and cultural sectors with which it is linked.   

Digital Places case study – Open Data Manchester 

Since 2014 Open Data Manchester has been interested in the potential of co-operative structures that can help communities and organisations to manage and utilise data. Mutually controlled organisations, such as data co-operatives and data collectives offer the opportunity for individuals and communities to have more control over how their data is collected, pooled, processed and shared. Data is playing an increasingly powerful role in people’s lives – through the services they use, the information they access and the decisions made using it that affect them, but often the value isn’t returned and sometimes is used against them.  

In 2020-21, Open Data Manchester worked with the Carbon Co-op - an energy advocacy and services co-operative based in Greater Manchester, its members and the wider community to understand whether data co-operatives can: 

  • empower people to take greater control over their data  
  • offer choice about how data is used  
  • build trust and confidence in the process of sharing data  
  • return social value  

The Carbon Co-op project looked at mechanisms that could give members more control over their energy data, so that it could be used for more ethical and energy efficient purposes and bring value through the creation of reduced bills, help Carbon Co-op develop better services, and benefit wider society through the development of more environmentally responsible energy practices. 

This work is ongoing and has led to the development of a Data Co-operative Working Group co-led by Open Data Manchester and Aapti Institute in Bangalore which comprises practitioners and academics from around the world, to develop data co-operative models that can benefit any community that want to have more control over how its data is used.   

Why Digital Places? 

Technology is constantly changing, and alongside making sure people have the right digital skills and access to opportunities, connectivity in places is a second fundamental component of making a successful digital city. It will enable our residents to access services, to learn, and to work from any location and at any time, while supporting businesses and organisations to take advantage of the opportunities for innovation created by high speed and secure networks. Digital Places will also enable our public services and institutions to operate more effectively, and our businesses to be more productive, especially by making better use of data. 

Firstly, we know that we can improve how we plan for the future by ensuring that digital innovation is included in all aspects of placemaking, including the development of digital and technological assets to support and maximise the benefit of new civic and public spaces. By ensuring that digital facilities and capacities are embedded across all regeneration programmes we can create a smarter public realm using the best wireless networks backed up by the best fibre, enabling wider roll out of internet of things (IoT) devices, sensors and displays, as well as improved connectivity for residents and businesses. 

There is an opportunity to build on our existing successes, such as the concentration of assets and talent along the Oxford Road Corridor, and the developing ecosystems around Circle Square, Enterprise City and ID Manchester. The challenge is to build this capacity out further into neighbourhoods across the city, developing a network of smart places and digital neighbourhoods that will allow people to connect wherever they are and however they want to. Our consultation revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that not all our neighbourhoods have the capabilities and capacity to ensure that everyone has accessible, affordable and equitable access to the digital world. 

Smart Places  

Smart places are places where connectivity is ubiquitous and universal, where people, organisations and smart devices are all connected. They are places where information is collected and shared in a way that allows anyone to understand and interrogate it, coming up with their own solutions to our greatest challenges. Smart places are also climate-resilient and adaptive, supporting our transition to a zero-carbon economy as well as being sustainable, adaptable and future-proofed. 

Connectivity is also of critical importance to Manchester’s creative and cultural industries, which overlap with the digital and tech sectors. Our cultural sector has been reliant on digital to keep operating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a role for Digital Places in supporting the city’s Cultural Recovery Plan. The digital transformation of the sector is likely to continue, and we must support it by making is easier for creators to digitising, distributing and monetising artistic products online. 

Secondly, we know that improved access and technology can enhance access to existing public services. Using the example of health services, digital delivery means that services become more accessible and have wider benefits, for example enabling older people to continue to live in their own homes. Digitisation of health and care records also provides the opportunity to better integrate services as well as offering an opportunity for innovation providing new approaches to tackling embedded health challenges in the City including Health Ageing.   

Thirdly, we understand that data can be a powerful tool in helping us to better understand how our city works and where we can intervene to make improvements or efficiencies to deliver better services. Enhancing the city’s capacity for the collection, analysis and visualisation of data alongside implementing open access principals will allow people and organisations in the city to bring creativity and innovation to the use of data. Enabling access to a broader range of better quality, higher frequency data will allow start-ups, SMEs and social enterprises to help build new applications and provide new insights into city, developing solutions to problems that may not have been previously considered and providing opportunities for commercialisation 

We also understand the importance of ethics, sustainability and security when handling data, and that we need to be pro-active in ensuring systems and process are in place to effectively manage information. Manchester City Council has already committed to “become a data-led organisation and ensure data is central to what we do” with a new Data Management Strategy. 

What will Digital Places achieve? 

Over the life of the Digital Strategy Digital Places aims to:  

  • Ensure that Manchester has excellent and accessible digital infrastructure everywhere.  
  • Ensure that all public services are delivered digitally and are made more successful through the better use of data. 
  • Ensure sure that we grow Manchester’s wider digital ecosystem and connect it to the city’s wider economic and cultural networks. 
  • Ensure that we use data to drive innovation and create new opportunities for growth that are linked to tackling the city’s challenges and building on its strengths. 

By increasing levels of connectivity and access across the city, supporting the digital delivery of public services and making better use of data we will achieve the following outcomes: 

  • Increased availability of high-quality, high-speed and affordable connectivity across Manchester, especially in priority areas. 
  • Fewer businesses and organisations will identify lack of network access and capacity as a barrier to growth. 
  • Increased quality and quantity of data available to people and organisations in Manchester. 
  • Increased capability of the Council’s digital planning, mapping, data management and other services, to support more effective and efficient city planning, management and public engagement. 
  • Growth in Manchester’s digital ecosystem and increased clustering of people and organisations in our innovation areas. 
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