Leicester Smart City

Leicester has ambitions to become a pioneering smart city; however, this ambition is faced with several challenges for those who are residents of the city, and for those who work, study and interact here. Leicester is an ethnically diverse city, but its economy is predominantly low waged. Leicester has high levels of deprivation, and disengagement from the ‘mainstream’, and the high levels of cultural diversity, the wide range of languages that are spoken, and the different expectations that people have about what being a citizen requires, mean that not everyone is included in conversations about the public and business services that support that frame our lives.

The aim of a smart city is to ‘better connect people in Leicester – digitally, physically and socially,’ and to ‘transform neighbourhoods into places that nurture inclusive and resilient communities’. To achieve these aims, this project recognises that it is vital to engage with many people and communities, from across Leicester to inform policy, shape the delivery of the smart city, and explore how people can benefit from the opportunities that a smart city will provide. Otherwise, we risk exacerbating, rather than narrowing, inequality in the city and region.

This project uses the Community Reporter model to engage with people across Leicester on their idea of a smart city. The aim of this approach is to facilitate opportunities to build a positive narrative around having voice that can influence social and economic policy. Leicester Stories is a hub that supports community media storytelling and discussion activities, both online and in person. You can see our latest posts and follow our stories here.

We come together to learn how to investigate, design and create stories that are relevant to peoples lives and experiences. We do this by holding community reporting club sessions, where we learn to create podcasts, videos and news reports. Our goal is to support people from across diverse communities in Leicester to tell their own stories, share their own experiences, and discuss in a respectful and inclusive manner the challenges of helping to understand how a living in a smart city affects them.

By using a community media approach, we hope to reach and engage with a wide audience, especially those who don’t often get their voice heard, and those who are too often easily overlooked. We are supporting and train four community reporters who, in different ways, are getting people talking about what a smart city means for them. The content we will share will span from views on the street to expert commentary, in a way that will engage, inform and provoke discussion.

We have identified two main channels of engagement: community radio and wicked problem-solving.

Community radio is a practical and symbolic space for people to make radio programmes and content in their own way. Community media is typically characterised by community ownership, democratic participation, oriented towards non-profit, and geared towards activities that support community development, civic society provision and mutual engagement.

Community radio provides a tangible opportunity for direct conversations, using typically over-looked platforms for public engagement. Building on work we have already done with Decentered Media (e.g. around the Census and Building Back Better), we will produce a range of content, from short audio clips to hour long podcasts, that can air on local stations (including Leicester Community Radio, Radio2Funky, Kohinoor Radio, Takeover Radio, Radio Seerah, EAVA FM).

A smart city raises complex issues around data privacy and consent. We will be assisted by Solvers Studio, who are a design-led systems change agency, that works to facilitate increased understanding of the role of AI and systems design practices within public policy and resource planning, and the problem-seeking and solving that are needed to ensure public consent. We will put on a series of creative events to explore privacy and consent in a smart city. We have experience of organising related events at Beta-X and LCB Hub, community creative hubs in Leicester.

The audio content and creative events will complement one another, and will provide a bank of media and editorial content that can be used by community radio makers in Leicester. Our aim is to help provide material that represents people’s experiences of the smart city, and which can help to provoke discussion and learning about what a smart city means in practice.

This project is supported by The Alan Turing Institute, whose mission is to promote the understanding of the ethical and social issues arising from the use of data science and artificial intelligence. Professor Edward Cartwright of De Montfort University is leading the project, along with colleagues Dr Swati Virmani and Dr Ruben Martinez Cardenas of the Leicester Castle Business School.