Louise Clayton, Head of Transport Operations and Future Connectivity at Staffordshire County Council, explains how the digital revolution in global infrastructure and mobility has provided the opportunity to transform how the council procures and delivers its services.
Staffordshire’s Live Lab, SIMULATE (Smart Infrastructure & Mobility Urban Laboratory and Test Environment) aims to connect ground-breaking advancements in technology from Small and Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs) with real-world challenges faced by local authorities.
Procurement methods for new technology within the transportation market are traditionally quite fragmented, separating SMEs from the KPI and deliverables process, and subsequently acting as a block to innovation. To tackle this, SIMULATE, our ADEPT Smart Place Live Labs programme, is taking a more holistic, outcome led approach. It fundamentally asks questions and seeks technological solutions that can be rolled out, firstly, in Staffordshire and then across the UK.
In order to create an environment that allowed innovation to thrive, the SIMULATE team – Amey, Staffordshire County Council, the Connected Places Catapult and Keele University – worked together to set a simple vision for what the outcomes needed to achieve. Our starting point was to focus on mobility and air quality, two key areas that require rapid change to be successful.
So, how do you set about creating the challenges in the first place, ensuring they truly represent problems that exist across the county and the UK?
The first phase was completed over two months in late 2019, which saw Amey conduct a combination of interviews and workshops with teams from Staffordshire County Council, and local borough and district councils. This collaborative approach gave us a better understanding of the issues faced by citizens and their geographies, ensuring that any proposed solution could be replicated across multiple locations and across the ADEPT network.
We also held a series of ‘challenges creation workshops’ with the core partners of the SIMULATE programme. In what could be considered an industry first, each partner brought a different perspective to identifying the challenges:
• Staffordshire County Council provided local knowledge on the issues and identified how the issues affect its citizens
• Amey provided industry expertise and offered insight into current solutions to address these challenges, why we should be doing things differently and facilitated the discussions
• Keele University provided expert academic perspective into the challenges faced and an excellent understanding into local areas that surround the campus
• Connected Places Catapult brought industry expertise on innovation and SMEs, and shared invaluable knowledge of SME engagement
The combination of partners led to extremely engaging and insightful conversations about the current issues on the road network. Held over four sessions, the workshops were divided into air quality and mobility, with an interval between sessions to allow for reflection, further thinking and a chance to develop our thoughts beyond the scope of the individuals in the room.
Early conversations pointed to mobility challenges that could be addressed by bringing interconnected multi-modal transport to rural and semi-urban areas. To enable this, a network of mobility hubs linking in with existing transport infrastructure would be key. Amey’s Intelligent Mobility team undertook a feasibility study, identifying how best to facilitate the hubs and how to integrate the modes of travel at a single location. Discussions relating to air quality concluded that several test beds would be vital. Current Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) within Staffordshire were considered and three locations were selected to ensure that a number of different proposals could be put forward by SMEs.
To encourage innovative thinking, we released the challenges to the SME market as they were, with no prescriptive type of technological solution sought. By removing limitations, the only ask was to solve or improve the challenges we faced.
What followed was an intense period of marketing, including a launch event in London and an online seminar, both of which attracted high numbers of SMEs. The programme received in excess of 130 applications, all outlining new and exciting ideas. With the 10 winners selected, the programme moves into the incubation and live trial phase, where SMEs get the opportunity to showcase their solutions.
For information on the final 10 SMEs and details on the trials and challenges, please visit the SIMULATE website.