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City Verve: Co-creating a Smart City blueprint

Delivering the CityVerve project in Manchester

CityVerve was a two-year project funded by InnovateUK to develop and test new IoT services. FutureEverything led the project’s Culture and Public Realm strand, introducing art, human-centred design and community forums as a way to allow ordinary citizens to contribute to the conversation around new and emerging technologies.


Drew Hemment
Feimatta Conteh
Ali Rome
Tom Rowlands
Callum Kirkwood
Daniel Santos
Vimla Appadoo
Mahnaz Yusaf
Sarah Unwin

How can we put citizen voices, art and human-centred design at the heart of smart city development?

Smart city initiatives across the UK are generating new technology capable of solving big challenges in areas like health, social care, energy and the environment. But to make sure we solve the right challenges in the right way, we need to make sure ordinary people are part of the design process. Our ambition in CityVerve was to introduce principles and methods we had used successfully at a smaller scale – in cultural and community projects – to this large scale, industrial demonstrator.

The language of the “citizen-centred smart city” has now entered the mainstream. You might hear it in most European smart city programmes, or in urban development and city service design. But the jury is still out on how to best involve citizens in the development of IoT (Internet of Things) applications for cities.

We made the case for a human-centred, community-minded approach, and to involve art and artists centrally in the project. Doing so meant that CityVerve had art and culture as one of its four core themes, alongside the more conventional themes you might expect from city demonstrators: transport, health and energy. It also meant that CityVerve placed human-centred design and citizen engagement at the heart of the project narrative and delivered this across all themes.

Engaging the community through workshops and forums

Harnessing human-centred design to map people’s experiences

Commissioning art to make invisible IoT networks visible

Human Centred Design

We initially introduced human-centred design tools and methods to “use case teams” who were working to develop technology solutions across the themes of health and social care, travel and transportation. We delivered design interventions targeted on particular IoT technologies and services to help the use case teams scope and specify requirements, enhance understanding of users and capture feedback. The insights and ideas generated then informed the development of the technologies and services in CityVerve.

The tools we used included things like user journey mapping, persona development and interviews.

Art in the Public Ream

When it comes to smart city initiatives, it can be a real challenge to bring complex and invisible IoT networks into focus. One way to overcome this is through art.

Art can enable us to reach out and touch, or interact with, systems and ideas that are otherwise remote and hard to access. Art can engage the imagination in the future of technology, and ask big questions about the potential consequences. And, by engaging the public in concepts and technologies that are not usually easily accessible, art can bridge the gap between engineers (the makers) and citizens (the users).

Many artists are technologists too. Often working at the forefront of technology innovation, these artists can bring a fresh perspective. We developed and produced two art commissions within CityVerve: every thing every time (Naho Matsuda) and SUPERGESTURES (Ling Tan). Both artworks directly contribute to the dialogue between technology, innovation, culture and society.

In every thing every time, artist Naho Matsuda transforms Manchester’s invisible data streams into ephemeral data poetry displayed around the city for citizens to observe and reflect upon. While in SUPERGESTURES, Ling Tan invited the young people of Manchester to express – through body gestures using wearable technology – their relationship to smart city visions of the future. Observing how people respond to these kinds of artistic experiments in advanced technologies can provide insights about what people need and will accept from a smart city. These insights can then feed into the design and development of those technologies into smart city services.

Innovative Community Engagement

In developing community engagement with CityVerve, we worked with a team from Contact Theatre. These “Community Champions” were experts in creative facilitation methods and able to reach out to specific communities across the city. In collaboration with the Community Champions, we developed a series of Community Forums. These informal meetings were designed to engage citizens with technology concepts and their possible consequences, as well as building literacy and shared understanding around critical issues in the IoT in an engaging, non-threatening way.

Hosted by FutureEverything, the very first community forum kick-started a dialogue with Manchester residents and communities to define a set of project-level goals and indicators. This was a pilot implementation of Community KPIs, which led to the inclusion of Community KPIs in the overall measurements and indicators of CityVerve.

Other early forums explored broad themes such as data and privacy, lifestyle, necessity and accessibility of smart city technology, exploring each theme through discussion of different fictional smart city futures. Each “design fiction” had a potential CityVerve technology at the centre of the story. By exploring technology through storytelling, the group could more easily debate and analyse how that technology might impact society.

The second phase of community forums was led by the Community Champions. We devised the Community Champions’ role and framework, building on the cohort’s expertise to support citizen engagement in innovative ways. Community Champions were provided with briefs for delivering community forums and given the freedom to respond to in creative ways.

“Well done to everyone involved in the planning, preparation and delivery of the Smart City Live event last week. What a fantastic showcase it was of the work we are doing here in Manchester and it went so smoothly thanks to everyone’s hard work and planning. Everyone I spoke to from the European guests, senior DCMS officials, Innovate UK, MCC, GM and UK delegates were hugely impressed with what we had to show and the overall quality of the event itself.”

— Mark Duncan, Strategic Lead – Resources & Programmes, Manchester City Council


1,000 workshop and event attendees
11,300 people reached with art and performance
95 number of different cities from which attendees travelled