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 transform the site at Springfield, Wolverhampton, into a 21st century learning campus.

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.

Guided by specialists in technology, marketing and learning & development, it’s a mental as well as a physical journey and will take him outside his comfort zone and challenge his thinking.

He signs up for an introductory workshop.

Chapter 3: Assistance

It's a meeting place for businesses and academices 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 - with room for the unexpected.

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 intrepid researchers and hear about their interests: Jay, Paul, David and Iain.

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. What time does that office take siesta? Hey, does anyone have pen and paper?

Chapter 6: The Oracle

At one of the world's top business schools, we compare with ESADE's director our creative approaches to encouraging new business; at Barcelona FC, the 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 record meetings on smart phones to share later.  

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 apprenticeships.

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.