IoT, data analytics and the public sector

IoT, data analytics and the public sector
Many cities are currently at the stage of urban experimentation that aims to transform the way they work with and for their citizens

Tally Hatzakis and Rachel Finn of Trilateral Research Ltd discuss the role of innovation management services in Internet of Things (IoT) adoption by the public sector

Many cities are currently at the stage of urban experimentation that aims to transform the way they work with and for their citizens. Smart city experiments envision turning cities into open, programmable, urban systems. Core to this idea is that data about people, city assets, and the interaction between the two will be collected via sensors and fed into complex urban models to make urban planning and city management responsive, agile and efficient.

In a public service context, such innovations can allow cities to respond more flexibly to address everyday matters such as congestion, waste management, event management, and energy supply.

Many cities are interested, or have already invested, in the necessary hyper-fast computing capabilities and infrastructure (fibre optics, wireless networks, routers and computer servers) necessary to make IoT happen. However, in order to make these innovations viable, they require further investments to increase the effective use of all these new tools.

Insights from the CLARITY project

The CLARITY project, co-ordinated by Trilateral Research, seeks to motivate the uptake and impact of open eGovernment solutions; transforming technological innovation into useful public services.

Our research has found that while it is natural for technologists and aspiring politicians to make the Internet of Things a focal topic of discussion, for many citizens and civil servants the IoT is an unfamiliar term. With the exception of environmental sensors for measuring CO2 emissions, the political will to exploit IoT technologies and their increased availability has not translated into effective uptake.

Thus, the CLARITY project argues that attention to three aspects is essential to increase the impact of IoT in the public sector:

  • Data analytics capabilities;
  • Business case development; and
  • Societal acceptance.

Social innovation

Companies like Trilateral Research that combine data analytics and social science disciplines are leading the way. New ways of generating information in the public sector can drive social innovation in public service management, policymaking, and economic development. Taking a systems approach to our innovation management and data support services brings together the capabilities needed to address a wide range of challenges. From infrastructure and environment to crime and social inclusion, health and wellbeing to heritage and culture, and economy to employment, the potential contribution of innovation management services is immense.

Transforming IoT research into innovation and sustainable impact

Innovation management services join social science insights and engagement methodologies with a deep understanding of technological capabilities, to guide the design, development and implementation of new tools and systems to support uptake and acceptability. We anticipate that innovation management services in relation to IoT can provide maximum benefits by focusing on three main areas:

Business case development

In an era of budget cuts, the public sector is keen to make investments that generate substantial returns. Thus, it is difficult to get stakeholders to agree to the implementation of new IoT systems without a clear understanding of their return on investment and a plan for managing associated operational risks.

The development of specific business cases that leverage IoT to generate demonstrable value for cities is essential to get the required stakeholder buy-in. Companies and institutions that understand the challenges that cities are facing can work with citizens, technology developers and public decision-makers to link IoT capabilities to urgent public service requirements. They can also develop a relevant framework for the evaluation of IoT technologies and gather the necessary evidence to support uptake.

Data analytics capabilities

Investment in data analytics skills is essential to turn smart infrastructure into the smart public services that cities and members of the public want. While there is a potential market for SMEs providing sensors that can turn assets into smart objects for IoT applications, ‘hacking’ existing sensors for other uses is an emerging trend. Companies can also leverage the Internet of Things to develop new applications on top of existing infrastructure.

For example, Trilateral Research has developed an application that turns smart phones into mobile air pollution sensors. Specifically, using open data, noise pollution measurements have been correlated with air pollution, and noise measurements by smartphones are being used as a predictor for air pollution. The tool therefore provides cities with more granular pollution maps. At the same time, it enhances social acceptability by involving citizens in the co-creation of innovative services and demonstrating immediate, visible value for them in terms of personalised pollution predictions.

Societal acceptance

Analysing large quantities of data gathered from sensors, social media and databases not only requires advanced computerised analytics, but also meaningful frameworks within an organisation and its cultural mores to make sense of it and generate progress.

Innovation management services can help make the case for the adoption of technology and facilitate interactions between parties to ensure that the IoT is put to good use while minimising negative externalities and operational risks. They can also help design and evaluate smart city initiatives against social impact and identify any areas of concern.

Working closely with civil servants, as domain experts in the public sector, in the gathering and interpretation of insights generated is paramount, as is engaging citizens in meaningful ways. For example, installing traffic monitoring or noise or air pollution sensors in residential neighbourhoods sometimes results in misunderstandings about their purpose, with residents expressing concern that cameras or microphones are monitoring them. Civil servants are often suspicious of (yet another) new technology system, despite being frustrated with the capabilities of legacy systems.

Trilateral Research’s unique blend of social science and technical science expertise enables us to work with partners on any or all of these innovation management tasks. Similarly, close work with cities provides excellent use cases for R&D organisations looking to trial new systems or accelerate implementation of new tools.

The CLARITY project is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 framework – Grant Agreement number: 693881.


Tally Hatzakis

CLARITY Project Manager

Senior Research Analyst

Rachel Finn

CLARITY Project Co-ordinator

Trilateral Research Ltd

+44 (0)207 559 3550


This article will appear in SciTech Europa issue 26, which will be published in March, 2018. 

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