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Case Study - Future Belfast

Future Cities Catapult is helping Belfast City Council to develop innovative solutions to maximise business rates and improve city services.

Business rates provide more than half of the Council’s annual revenue which is used to fund services from bin collections to leisure facilities. With the help of Future Cities Catapult, the Government-backed global centre of excellence in urban innovation, Belfast is now enlisting the help of UK SMEs to come up with new ways to boost revenue from rates.  This allows the Council to address opportunities that it would otherwise have not been well placed to address, such as innovative procurement and smarter collaborative working.

The city has opened the challenge of developing innovative ways to maximise the income from rate-paying businesses to data analytics companies through a Small Business Research Innovative (SBRI) competition. The Catapult brought an objective, human-centred approach to defining the challenge, encouraging innovative solutions without overly defining the eventual solution – leaving room for innovation.

“There’s a lot of data out there that could be used by the Council to gain insights on businesses across the city, such as data from internet and telephone service providers,” says Matthew Fox, Project Manager at Future Cities Catapult. “We are helping Belfast to harness data analytics expertise from SMEs across the UK in order to boost revenue for the city,” says Fox.

Improving services

Future Cities Catapult has used its UK-wide network to help Belfast City Council and Northern Ireland’s Land & Property Services (LPS), part of the devolved government’s Department of Finance, attract small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that can make this kind of big data innovation a reality for the city. The work is part of Future Cities Catapult’s broader mandate to create a Smart Belfast Framework to help the Council in Northern Ireland’s largest city adopt more market-based innovations to work in a smarter, more collaborative way.

In addition to increasing rates revenue, smarter use of data is also helping Belfast improve its long-term planning capability. Future Cities Catapult took a concept that was originally conceived for Manchester and developed it to create an innovative digital planning prototype for Belfast. The Catapult designed a detailed concept for the tool, and brought in the SMEs Spotless and BMT to develop and test the application. The resulting tool, named GrowthPlanner, helps city planners to review the infrastructural capacity across Belfast now and up to 15 years into the future. The tool combines data ranging from electricity networks to wastewater management and transport provision, and helps planners to make informed decisions around potential development sites.

Future Cities Catapult has also conducted user-centred research to create a design specification for a new application that makes data more accessible for citizens and businesses in the city. Named the Belfast City Dashboard, the tool will help Belfast engage with citizens and monitor the performance of the services provided to the public.  The Council is looking to the market to find a data visualisation SME to create the dashboard.

User-centred research

A theme of Future Cities Catapult’s approach to the various projects within the Future Belfast programme has been to begin with understanding the issues and potential solutions by convening and engaging directly with the people involved.

“Future Cities Catapult’s collaborative approach to conducting people-centred research to understand the issues and define the challenge has been fundamental in sourcing innovative and exciting potential solutions to maximising business rates in Belfast,” says Deirdre Ferguson, Senior Consultant, Smart Cities Team, Belfast City Council.

To create the Belfast Smart Framework, Future Cities Catapult has engaged with a range of council departments, universities, businesses of various sizes and other public organisations in Belfast. The resulting strategy is set to be implemented by Belfast City Council in 2017.

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