The Director of Neighbourhood Services provided the Committee with an update in regard to the progress of the ‘Amazing Spaces Smart Places’, Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) challenge.
He reminded the Members that funding had previously been secured from the Department of Economy (via the Department of Justice) to facilitate fully funded innovation contracts with a small number of SMEs to support the following objectives:
- to ensure that open spaces were more welcoming environments to be enjoyed by everyone;
- to increase the positive usage and animation of open spaces;
- to empower and involve communities;
- to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour in open spaces in the City; and
- to reduce maintenance and security costs.
The Committee noted that the SBRI process was a ‘pre-procurement’ exercise, designed to enable SMEs with funding for research/design and prototyping to stimulate innovative solutions, services and products to meet public sector needs, it was used widely across both the UK and Ireland. Belfast City Council had previous experience leading on a successful SBIR project - the Rates Maximisation challenge in conjunction with Land and Property Services (LPS).
The Director advised that the Council had been successful in securing funding at both Phase 1 (£120K) and Phase 2 (£225K) to support the work and there was no cost to the Council. He reminded the Members that the Committee had previously identified the implementation of Phase 2 as a priority action in the 20/21 Committee Plan. The number of organisations in receipt of funding had reduced as the feasibility (technical and operational) and commercial viability (condition of the DfE funding) of proposed solutions had been worked through at each stage and Council was now working with two SMEs as part of Phase 2.
The Director then drew the Members’ attention to two technological solutions that remained as potentially feasible and commercially viable, SparoWatch and Civic Dollar. He advised that both solutions had been fully developed and tested in a lab/office environment and on site testing was required for the prototypes in Quarter 4 2020/21 to determine effectiveness against the programme objectives and the technical robustness of the solutions.
SparroWatch was developing a range of technology to be used in Belfast’s parks and open spaces. They were developing a combination of hardware and software that would be used to improve safety and park management and also designing battery-powered cameras that would provide a simple and low cost installation option to monitor parks. The cameras would be located at Ormeau, Falls Park/City Cemetery and Dunville Park. It was anticipated that the prototype would help to address the ongoing issues of vandalism and antisocial behaviour problems at these locations. SparroWatch would send a weekly statistical report to the Council (this would not contain any information that would enable the identification of individuals) but would analyse park usage in Belfast through insights generated by Google Maps.
The Civic Dollar prototype platform would be a unique product which would use a mixture of technology, psychology and gamification to encourage greater use of the parks and open spaces. It was anticipated that, if properly utilized, it would have the desired effect of encouraging people to visit parks, open spaces and attractions as well as affecting behavioral change and driving footfall to local businesses.
The Director explained that it was hoped that the prototype would encourage users to visit tourist areas across Belfast and Northern Ireland by creating geo-fences and earning CivicDollars whilst they visited which could then be traded with local hotels, restaurants and businesses. It would expand the functionality of the platform to allow more business to drive footfall back by trading CivicDollars for a greater range of goods and services and also allow businesses to trade CivicDollars with the government (central/local and with businesses) to encourage the use of the system (the viability of this was being tested as part of Phase 2).
The Committee noted that on site testing was initially planned for the parks/open spaces along the Connswater Community Greenway before a role out to a small number of other parks/open spaces across the North, South, East and West of the City.
The Director advised that concerns about any privacy/data protection issues in relation to the proposed projects had been identified at the initiation stages and a full privacy/data protection screening exercise had been undertaken. He further advised that the Council’s Information Governance Unit (within Legal Services) had been actively engaged in providing support to officers and the successful SME’s in ensuring ongoing and full compliance with legislation and Information Commissioner Officer Guidance. Additionally, based on political and community feedback, proactive community engagement had been undertaken both by Officers and by the SME’s themselves to provide reassurance that no data that would identify any individual would be used.
The Committee noted the update provided.