Chapter 1: Status Quo

A derelict brewery marks a grim entrance to the British industrial midlands, as it has done for more than a decade. The 135-year-old Mitchells & Butler enterprise was burned out in 2004.

David, a business consultant, passes the architectural eyesore each time he travels to lecture at the local faculty of engineering.

Now his university boss has challenged him to lead businesses in transforming the site at Springfield, Wolverhampton, into a 21st century learning campus to help drive a future 'midlands engine'.
Click through to the local newspaper archives.

Click through to the local newspaper archives.

Chapter 2: Call to Adventure

David receives an intriguing email from his team. It’s a chance to join a ‘smart’ study tour to one of the world’s most futuristic cities. With thousands of exhibitors, and taking in project demonstrators around the city, he realises it’s a chance to talk to leading thinkers on urban design and construction and to develop his ideas for the old brewery. He might even discover an existing modern learning campus.

The innovation adventure aims to help participants:
- Tell stories of a cross-sector journey of discovery and innovation;
- Design and facilitate a 5-day tour of a visionary world city;
- Tailor small group and individual excursions to strategic interests of academics and business managers;
- Time to share insights with each other and prospective partners;
- Support from a professional digital production team and business coach.

Guided by specialists in technology, marketing and learning & development, it’s clearly going to be a mental as well as a physical journey, taking him outside his comfort zone and challenging his thinking.

The boss approves and David signs up for the introductory workshop.

Chapter 3: Assistance

It's a meeting place for businesses and academics who want to take to market innovative products and services to create the cities of tomorrow. The day is creative and highly participative, led by a specialist in Clean Technology. Participants explore multiple models of urban development: smart, intelligent, green, eco- and future cities, and how they generate finance from international governments.

From this 'co-creation' emerges a joint vision for the trip. We create a wish-list and start thinking about audiences and ways of communicating our insights to markets and teams back home. After a couple of weeks of research, using online collaborative tools, we come up with a schedule - leaving space to allow for the unexpected.
Our co-creation design process is based on whole-systems thinking.
We learn why the Smart Expos are important for business growth:
- They are opportunities to showcase work and open up investment discussions across both industry and government. By 2020, the 'smart' market is valued at $13 billion (London) and $1.3 trillion worldwide;
- With typically 70% private sector, and 30% public sector from cities around the world, they offer strong networking and learning opportunities. High profile cities include New York, Barcelona, Berlin, Tel Aviv and Tallinn.

The Barcelona event, usually in November, is generally recognised as the biggest and the best of the Smart City events, with 1400 delegates, 400 exhibitors, 400 speakers, 500 cities, 100 countries and 400 media representatives. There are similar opportunities in Istanbul, Puebla, Casablanca, Sofia, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, Singapore and London, to name just a few.

Co-creating the study tour
We use a permaculture process based on whole-systems thinking that combines ethics and design principles. Permaculture guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics. Delegates develop a series of enquiries to guide their learning journey:

Chapter 4: Commitment

It's touch and go for some people. Last-minute challenges come from competing commitments to attend planning meetings, organise cover and complete paperwork, but eventually everyone's confirmed, with booked flights, insurance and accommodation.

Meanwhile, our media and learning crew assembles in Barcelona.

On the day of departure, someone gets stuck in traffic and nearly misses the plane.

Finally, everyone's heading for the destination.
Meet some of our other travellers and hear about their interests: Jay specialises in inward investment, business growth and economic development; Paul is an expert in IT security, using technology to help businesses grow; Iain is developing artificial intelligence to support disadvantaged people such as those with special educational needs.

Chapter 5: Trials

Seeing things from a different perspective gives us the chance to expand our possibilities for business and personal growth. We step into an unknown world where the rules we are used to no longer apply. These differences highlight our own assumptions about the way the world should work. Understanding and appreciating those viewpoints is a powerful step towards creativity and innovation.

After an adventurous transition, our fellowship of intrepid urban researchers immediately sense there's something different about this 'smart' city. It's clear that this is a very holistic approach to development. At the same time, we're all beginning to learn that, despite the inspiring potentional, the concept of a smart city is still very much work in progress.
Keeping in touch is quite a challenge, in spite of the free street wifi points and an assortment of digital devices, international adapters, roaming bundles and local SIM cards. There's a daunting sense of a looming crisis as the group grapples with time differences, sketchy street maps and a dirth of power points. (Try counting the number of powerpoints available next time you're at a trade-show or in a cafe.) What time does that office take siesta? Hey, does anyone have pen and paper?

Here are some of the apps we tested. Thinking about a business-oriented city, how many of these are ready for welcoming international trade? Luckily, our hosts spoke great Spanish. A big thanks to Ryan, an erstwhile member of our production crew. He spent a day trekking across the city testing these out. He struggled to find his way to the football stadium, getting lost and having his wallet stolen in the process.

Check out this huge selection of city apps for Barcelona. http://apps4bcn.cat - does your city have such a web page? In what languages are the apps available?

Chapter 6: The Oracle

At one of the world's top business schools, we compare with ESADE's director creative approaches to encouraging new business; at Barcelona FC, the message is 'more than a club': officials want to talk about international corporate responsibility and engagement with a family of fans.

We're learning that smart  cities are much more than technology.

Barcelona's trying to tell us something very important here. It's about values.

Chapter 7: The Approach

It's full-on at the trade fair and world congress, splitting up to cover everyone we want to see.  We use smartphones to record meetings, experiences and insights for sharing later at a 'publishing workshop'.  

David's on with the hard-hat for a tour of the acres of smart campus construction.  There are whole buildings set aside for occupation by partner insitutions abroad. The entire complex has been designed with the needs in mind of a local Romany estate, including an apprenticeship programme.

On the metro system, we see that it's very much work in progress. The plan is for a quarter of the total metro network in Barcelona to run driverless trains thanks to an automated system of controlling trains. Turn up the sound on the video below, and tell me if this is the correct train for the expo. There's some way to go yet, but it's an inspiring vision.

Chapter 8: Crisis

The message from the project demonstrators is clear.  We have fallen into the trap.

While many organisations are working together successfully, to develop fascinating and innovative projects, there's a critical voice that's not being heard: the customer!  It's not just about driving the economy while caring for the environment. We resolve to take back home the message that we need to focus first on sourcing ideas from the citizens.

Our facilitator, Sophia, takes our learning to a deeper level.  We capture our thoughts and discuss with the crew how we will package them. 

Chapter 9: Discovery

A Eureka moment of insight.  We suddenly spot the false assumptions on which we have been building our understanding -- like a city constructed on shaky foundations. We've identified two important sets of data:

1. What has struck us is the importance of community in the city. From the sharing culture of dining, to the city-skaters, and the way children play.

2. Our focus has been on recognising the connections between our work and developing those to co-create a project that fits in with wider strategies of orgnisations and governments. But it's not just about pooling our own interests, but using them to understand and address expressed needs of the communities we serve. 

So our new appreciation is that smart cities are not just about the technology. They are cities where technology supports its people in creating places that are liveable.

Recognising assumptions can help us accept change that others cannot. This is the real treasure, although there's so much more that we've found out on this short week. Our quest is now over -- and the rewards may be even greater than we set out to achieve.

Parting reflections:

Chapter 10: Return

A humbling text arrives from the Ordinary World. It's one of our upgraded heroes of change. "Thank you and the crew for helping us throughout this adventure into the arena of Smart Cities. It has been a fantastic week. Well done to you all. See you soon."

Chapter 11: Integration

Chapter 12: Upgrade

The Springfield Campus is a £65m redevelopment to increase the education infrastructure for economic regeneration within the British midlands. It's intended to become and international centre of excellence for training in the field of construction including the West Midlands Construction University Technical College, a secondary school designed to give teenagers the skills they need to innovate and invent.

The first stages of the development give students from Univeristy of Wolverhampton School of Architecture and the Built Environment the opportunity to gain a practical overview of what is involved in the development of grade 2 listed buildings.

David and his colleagues are working to implement some of the strategies they learned, including a construction apprenticeship programme.

They are developing an innovative stakeholder engagement programme to encourage citizens to voice their needs and create together new services to make the city a great place to live.
Back in Barcelona, the metro's upgraded. They've realised the vision of Europe’s longest driverless subway.
Iain's department has come up with a new way use cutting-edge eye-tracking software to work out how autistic people process what they read. Just as facial cues and body language can be misunderstood by people living with autism, so can words on a page.

Now he is investigating how to use similar approaches to crowdsource ideas from citizens.