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The Scottish Data Cluster Project: an interview with Doug Young, project manager at the Scottish Cities Alliance

6 min

Perth, Scotland. c. William Murphy, Flickr

Ahead of Quadrant Scotland on 12 November, we speak to Doug Young! Demystifying the world of data, getting top-down ‘buy-in’, and revitalising the high street. The world of data can unlock major opportunities for local authorities, and the Scottish Cities Alliance’s (SCA) project manager Doug Young is there to do it. Quadrant Smart speaks to Doug about his role and data usage in Scotland

Tell us a little about your job as a Data Cluster Project Manager, and what your role in the SCA looks like day to day?

DY: As the 8th City Programme started, there was a quick realisation that there was going to be a lot of collaborative working happening within those projects. After a while, it was recognised that there was a need to coordinate those things together, which is how my role came about.

Doug Young, data cluster project manager, Scottish Cities Alliance

I sit on the SCA, but I coordinate some of the various open data projects that cities have as part of the city programme. What was found quite early on was that there were four distinct themes for collaboration: data standards; the actual publication of data, and to what formats; data skills in terms of what capacity allows our local authorities to continue the work they’re doing and to meet the challenges they need to meet, using data.

Finally, there is a community capacity piece to this that we thought was key. We can do all of the work we can, but we don’t understand how our data is being used, and how we can foster those internal and external communities of data users – all of our work would come to nought.

What was found quite early on was that there were four distinct themes for collaboration

The key thing I do is coordinate the collaborative elements of work. Each city has its own distinct goals, and the key common thread here is that everyone is publishing open data, but what I do is identify and help bring together the collaborative elements of all of the work.

Doug will be a keynote speaker at Quadrant Smart Scotland on 12 November. Click here to register for free!

You previously worked at a more micro level at Perth & Kinross – what challenges/learnings could you take from the local authority role to apply to the nationwide scheme?

DY: You work with other places, and even in my current role, you’ll see a lot of the challenges are not identical. There’s always local differences. A lot of it is geography, a lot of it is demographics. But generally, it’s the same issues: councils in general have challenging times in terms of funding and capacity, and yet there’s an ever-increasing demand on services.

c. Scottish Cities Alliance

This is where the smart cities side of things comes in. Those innovative approaches, making the best use of technology. It’s about training, it’s how it’s being used to kind of apply to those challenges, and data is a key component to that.

Glasgow, for example is quite far ahead of everyone else – and that’s certainly still the case. We’re at an interesting period where we’re getting to publishing as usual, and other cities are looking now as to how we’ll take that forward, what is the next step in how they can make the best use of that data.

Perth and Kinross have conducted an interesting project utilising data to understand changes to the high street. Looking at high streets in towns and cities across Scotland, what is the potential for data in revitalising retail?

DY:  I don’t have all the answers around that, but I think there’s an element of capacity that comes in. I’ve worked a lot with economic and business development team officers in local authorities. They are absolutely incredible, just in terms of the local knowledge they have in terms of business.

They’ve been doing that, despite lacking really good quality concrete data. I think often times it has just been the lack of an effective method for measuring things like footfall. I think that’s where, when you look at the opportunity of IoT, there is a very cost-effective way of measuring footfall.

I think that’s where, when you look at the opportunity of IoT, there is a very cost-effective way of measuring footfall

I think you look at the rollout of IoT Scotland as one example, the low-power, wide-area networks getting rolled out in various places. Some of the projects measure things like footfall as well: for example, Dundee and Perth, one of the data projects is to upgrade the capabilities of the public safety camera networks.

We’re just getting to the point now in Dundee and Perth where we can get very granular safe data in terms of where people are and they aren’t. Once we had that and the skills and capacity in place to make full use of that, you’re going to have your city-centre business development officers having a bevvy of information. Not to mention, local businesses and traders and Chambers of Commerce are going to have access to fascinating data on where people are, where they aren’t, footfall, and the like.

A previous interview with COSLA had Cllr Gail Macgregor noting how cross-sector buy-in from management down to officers is critical for delivering services – do you see the same in your role?

DY: Absolutely – that stakeholder engagement is key to not just this project, but smart cities more generally. I can guess why, having worked in smart cities for a number of years now.

It can often feel like a very abstract concept. This is where having good quality use cases is helpful.  There’s a proof there, in terms of what the benefits and the capabilities are. People can start to grasp that.

That’s on our level – that’s what senior management, that’s down to officer level as well, just in terms of what the opportunities there are. A big part for me, and this is a big part in terms of data cluster work is that stakeholder engagement. It’s key to have an effective strategy for approaching people of all levels, and tailoring the message to ensure that it’s relevant to what people are doing. That’s a key part of it.

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