Cities and Local Authorities (LAs), already hit hard by a decade of austerity and funding cuts, now face a considerable challenge of managing economic and social recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some have argued that the urgency of the crisis will further accelerate the adoption of smart city technologies, push local councils to rethink how they operate and encourage collaborations with communities. In this context, data intelligence, capabilities and uses, as well as access to real-time big data are seen by many as an important part of managing recovery at the local level. Consequently, it is important to analyse how local governments utilise data, whether they increase their data capabilities, and/or identify new data needs in response to the crisis. This project, which is funded by the ERSC and supported by the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government, sets out to do this.

Given the UK’s devolved approach to managing the COVID-19 crisis, the project focuses on Scotland. The Scottish Government has devised its own route map through, and out of, the crisis as well as a blueprint for economic recovery. Moreover, the Scottish case is of particular interest due to the presence of two local government networks: the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government, which encourages data-related collaboration; and the Scottish Cities Alliance which has a portfolio on smart cities and open data.

Aims and objectives

The research entails the following four objectives:

  • To identify and assess the existing and arising data uses, capabilities and needs of Scottish cities and local authorities in the context of Covid-19;
  • To investigate whether cities and LAs' responses to the crisis have reshaped data governance, strengthened existing collaborations and networks, or/and generated new forms of data collaborations;
  • To explore arising opportunities for public data collaborations and citizen engagement;
  • To examine whether data applications/practices have informed decision- making and improved outcomes related to the management of Covid-19.

In line with our commitment to civic engagement, the project aims to make a constructive contribution to Scottish local governments’ efforts on (post)pandemic governance. This is reflected in the inclusion of stakeholder engagement as part of research implementation, to obtain essential feedback on the preliminary findings and facilitate knowledge transfer. Finally, the project will explore arising opportunities for citizen engagement and data collaborations between citizens and local authorities (e.g. citizens sciences, open data).

Impact

The research will be carried out between September 2020 and April 2021. We will organise a half-day stakeholder event in early spring during which we will present the preliminary findings of the project and discuss key lessons and practical steps to address local authorities’ data needs and to foster data capabilities and collaborations. At the end of the project, we will produce and present a policy briefing  at a webinar for policy-makers and practitioners.

Researchers

Leads: Dr Justine Gangneux, Professor Simon Joss

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