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Workshop: (Un)Plugging Data in Smart City-Regions

14 November 2016 , 09:00-16:00h, SMIT, VUB, Pleinlaan 9 / Boulevard de la Plaine 9, Brussels

First workshop within the Bridging European Urban Transformations series. Co-organised by the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies (VUB), Urban Transformations (University of Oxford) and Brussels Academy. Supported by the ESRC and the Regional Studies Association


Attention to the application of new information flows and the development of the so-called ‘smart cities’ paradigm is increasing; however, there is still limited understanding of the interconnections between ‘hard,’ ‘smart’ infrastructures and economic, political and social systems on metropolitan and regional scales. Furthermore, this paradigm has often failed to deliver practical tools that can help us to better understand and intervene in our daily realities, while also engaging with the various stakeholders that are important for our cities and regions.

The workshop aims to rethink the dominant technocratic and technology-centric smart city discourse: not by imagining cities beyond or before technologies, but by accepting that city-regions are already fundamentally shaped by networked and mobile ICTs and by critically thinking through the governance consequences of the promises and realities of smart cities. For example, many argue that smart city-regions will inevitably revolve around generating large amounts of data and that this in itself will lead to new insights and governance strategies. But in reality, city-regions are much more complex and shaped by a large variety of different actors and organisations with often conflicting positions. Another strand of debate emphasizes the impact of near-universal uptake of smartphones and other hand-held devices as well as the impact of the Internet of Things i.e. networks of data-gathering sensors and cloud computing. Many use these devices and networks on a daily basis, but what this means for city-regional governance and the power-laden relationships between citizens, governments and companies remains an open question. All this makes truly ‘smart’ city-regional governance exceedingly difficult, but at the same time a fascinating and rewarding scale for investigating the various meanings and usages of ‘smartness’.

Over the last years, various research projects across Europe have started investigating these issues. Most seek to develop not just critical analyses, but also practical suggestions to tackle urban problems such as pollution, health, safety or mobility through the development and use of various types of mobile and networked data. Building on this emerging body of research, the workshop (Un)Plugging Data in Smart City-Regions will bring together a group of European academics and policymakers in order to unpack and question: 

  1. the kinds of knowledge gained through the production, distribution and use of ‘smart’ data;
  2. the role data plays in the constitution of urban expertise and in mediating and transforming the relationships between citizens, governments and companies; and
  3. the ways in which data-driven knowledge and expertise tackles and/or reproduces inequalities in city-regions.

More broadly, we aim to explore how new strategies of data collection, storage, and usage harness urban and regional smart governance models to guide city-regional decision-making processes.


The one-day workshop commences with a welcoming introduction from Prof. Michael Keith, co-ordinator of the Urban Transformations ESRC portfolio, and Prof. Bas van Heur, co-ordinator of the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies as host institution. It will be followed by six slots and some speakers who are experts in the field: three from the Urban Transformations ESRC portfolio projects and seven from the VUB. The workshop will also include small debate groups led by each section. Each small group will deliver some conclusions at the end of the workshop.

The workshop wants to emphasize an interdisciplinary dialogue, bridge the gap between theory and practice, and encourage knowledge exchange between academics, policymakers, citizens, and activists.

If you are interested in participating in the workshop please register to the workshop via Eventbrite:

Alternatively, please contact coordinators directly via:

Preliminary Agenda:

9:00-9:20 Welcome: Prof Michael Keith (UT-UOxf) & Prof Bas van Heur (BCUS-VUB).

9:20:9:40 Introduction: Mr Richard Tuffs (Director of ERRIN (European Regions Research and Innovation Network)

9:40-10:40 New Sources For Data Collection, Storage And Usage (Section 1/3)

  • Dr Paul Cowie (Newcastle University &  ESRC / Future Cities Catapult)

10:40-11:10 Debate: New Sources For Data Collection, Storage And Usage

11:10-11:40 Coffee-break and Networking

11:40-12:55 Urban Expertise for Citizen/Users Involvement (Section 2/3)

  • 11:40-12:10 Carina Veeckman & Paulien Coppens (SMIT-VUB / HackAIR (Collective Awareness for Air Quality)

12:55-13:15 Debate: Citizen/Users Involvement

13:15-14:00 Lunchtime

14:00-15:00  Smart Knowledge and Expertise to Tackle Urban Inequalities (Section 3/3)

15:00-15:30 Debate: Urban Inequalities

15:30-16:00 Wrapping-Up and Conclusions

In cooperation with: RSA – Smart City Regional Governance for Sustainability Research Network