It’s about laying solid foundations, upon which the city can harness its rich pool of talent, to address public policy challenges, adopting a smart, outward-looking, futuristic approach.

What is it?

The Smart Belfast Framework we refer to is all about promoting Belfast as a ‘living laboratory’ for businesses, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and researchers, enabling them to design, test and build advanced digital solutions for sophisticated, twenty-first-century cities. By tapping into Belfast’s amazing pool of talent, creativity, and technical infrastructure, the framework supports the development of new, smart solutions that will not only address Belfast’s urban public policy challenges but also have the potential to be exportable to other cities.

Belfast City Council has begun to lead the way in urban innovation by implementing this ‘smart’ approach, working collaboratively with agencies, entrepreneurs, and industry experts to address some of the key challenges. It is doing this by accessing funding streams, opening its data, and inviting large private sector companies, SMEs, universities, and researchers to co-create and co-design solutions that will benefit the lives of all our citizens.

The Benefits of Collaboration

In September 2016, working in collaboration with Invest NI, Belfast City Council launched the ‘Smart Belfast Collaborative Network’ programme, inviting groups of SMEs to work together to explore new commercial opportunities in the areas of active living, tourism, transport and the circular economy.

Participating SMEs receive funding to pay experts to help develop initial ideas, explore the art of the possible, and identify new commercial ventures.

Together with Land & Property services, Belfast City Council has also made funding available to SMEs via the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).  As a direct result of this programme, two companies have successfully created innovative, commercially viable products which could be further developed to address a host of urban issues.

A further successful application for SBRI funding will support Council, Department for Justice and a range of other partners to work with SMEs to find new ways of managing open spaces more effectively during the 2018-2019 financial year.

Belfast City Council is also collaborating with 8 other Northern Ireland councils in the ‘Things Connected NI’ project, led by Ulster University. Funded by the Digital Catapult, this project will pay for the installation of equipment throughout Northern Ireland to allow sensors to gather information via a low powered wide area network.

It’s important to note that sensors will not collect personal data but rather much broader data relating to air quality, pollution levels, noise, movement etc. This data will then be accessed freely by SMEs and researchers, to support smart tech challenges in Belfast and other council areas.

The Result

By embracing a ‘smart’ approach, Belfast City Council has begun to promote the city as a ‘living laboratory’. Belfast is now a place where SMEs and researchers can come together to explore and co-create, benefiting our citizens by addressing urban problems, creating new commercial opportunities and growing the economy. The result is that Belfast is now taking its place at the table of ‘smart cities’, and is leading the way in urban innovation.