Governing the future city

Governing the future city

Assessing big data practices in the UK municipal context.

A multitude of towns and cities across the UK have embraced digital governance under the banner of ‘future city’ or ‘smart city’, echoing similar developments internationally. With a strong steer from both the UK government and devolved administrations, local authorities are seeking new ways to mobilise big data to facilitate and improve infrastructure planning, public service delivery and political decision-making. As much as this involves technological innovations (IoT applications, open data platforms etc.), it also encompasses efforts to forge new ways of collaborating among diverse stakeholders.

This project explores two intersecting dimensions of urban governance shaped by big data:

  1. the emergence of new forms of governance within specialist innovation niches, for example through data intermediaries and collectives
  2. the wider application of big data in mainstream municipal planning, service delivery and decision-making.

This combined approach will provide critical insight into the opportunities and challenges of digital governance within both specialist and everyday settings. Moreover, it will shed new light on the potential, as well as limitations, of upscaling novel data practices into mainstream governance.

Aims and Objectives

The overall goal of this research is to identify and analyse new municipal governance practices that have arisen in connection with big data innovations. In doing so, the project assesses these practices in terms of key governance criteria, including the quality and effectiveness of policy coordination and implementation, stakeholder engagement, and public accountability. The research entails the following steps:

  • Identifying UK cities at the forefront of ‘smart city’ and similar data-centred innovations, as a basis for case study selection
  • Carrying out an in-depth analysis of particular governance practices found both within specialist innovation spaces and in wider mainstream municipal policy and decision-making
  • Evaluating the observed practices against key governance criteria
  • Discussing the theoretical implications of the research, especially concerning the conceptualisation of the ‘new digital governance of the urban’
  • Discussing the practical implications of the research, including opportunities to strengthen the transparency and inclusivity of big data governance processes.


The project is expected to generate public benefit by informing professional practice – concerning the design of inclusive and transparent data-centred governance processes – as well as wider public discourse. This will be facilitated by targeted engagement with relevant stakeholders (e.g. planners, policy-makers) and with contributions to public debate (e.g. blogs, articles) throughout the project period.


Lead: Professor Simon Joss

Jointly funded by