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Joint Doctorate in Geoinformatics - Enabling Open Cities

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GEO-C (Joint Doctorate in Geoinformatics - Enabling Open Cities)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Urbanisation has been a strong trend for centuries that is expected to continue throughout the 21st century. Cities are thus continuously challenged to provide a sustainable, safe and liveable environment for their ever-increasing population. In recent years, the term ‘smart cities’ has been coined for initiatives that monitor and analyse different aspects of urban life, and manage service provision intelligently. However not many people can understand the processes driving smart cities and their services. Therefore, rather than gaining a sense of control and ownership of their city, many citizens feel powerless, excluded and controlled by intransparent services provided by a smart city. The overall objective of GEO-C (Joint Doctorate in Geoinformatics – Enabling Open Cities) is to develop methods and tools to realise smart and open cities, which empower all groups of society to participate on all levels and to benefit in many ways.

The project GEO-C (2015-2018) brings together three research institutions that have a proven track record in complementary research areas of Geoinformatics with city councils and companies from three European countries. The universities/research institutes are:
• University of Münster (WWU), Institute for Geoinformatics (ifgi), Germany
• Universidade Nova de Lisboa (UNL), NOVA Information Management School (NOVA-IMS), Portugal
• Universitat Jaume I (UJI), Institute for New Imaging Technologies (iNIT), Spain

Three city councils (Münster, Lisbon, Castellón) and six local companies (Hansa Luftbild, 52 North GmbH, ESRI Portugal, SAS Portugal, Urbiotica S.L. Prodevelop S.L.) play a key role in shaping the underlying research and in supporting fourteen early-stage researchers (ESRs) in their research and career development.
The complementary strands of research in GEO-C will lead to an improved understanding of how to build open cities and will produce a prototypical open city toolkit OCT (see figure 1). The toolkit will contain guidelines, apps, services and data that enable cities to become smart and open. The ESRs will tackle different topics in this context, including, for example, participation across all ages and groups of society, the assessment of the quality of life, and fundamental urban services. Their results will become part of the OCT.
During the first two years of the project, several milestones were reached and a number of results were produced.
The recruitment of early-stage researchers started with substantial marketing activities already before the start of the GEO-C project. We received 195 applications for 15 PhD topics, which has been an excellent result. 45 candidates were invited to a physical „selection workshop“ in Lisbon, where 15 candidates were selected based on a weighted set of criteria. Ten ESRs started on September 1, 2015, while four candidates did so slightly later due to visa problems.

The education and training concept includes several milestones and a 30 CP course program. Most ESRs finished their one-month internship with the associated partners. Several already started their „external semesters“ at one of the partner universities. The most important milestone was the „public defence of the updated dissertation proposal“: all ESRs defended it successfully in July 2016. The project held several training events such as an orientation camp, an interdisciplinary block course by the 13 supervisors, a doctoral retreat, a workshop on the open city toolkit, and an ongoing monthly virtual seminar across the three sites.

Key outputs so far in the research and dissemination domain include 12 academic publications, 12 submissions currently under review, and many more currently in progress. In addition, all ESRs contributed ideas and concepts to the open city toolkit, resulting in an initial „OCT outline“. An early prototype exists and is being further developed, see Several external parties were contacted and several dissemination events were organised. For example, project representatives participated in local and international events related to urban planning and city partnerships, and engaged with refugees and organisations supporting this group. First results have been published on Github ( and Zenodo (
GEO-C applies the principles underpinning the “open movement” (e.g. Open Public Data initiatives led by some city councils, Open Source projects, Open Access publications) to address key challenges in building smart cities. This approach also provides substantial opportunities to create new services for smart and open cities that have the potential to permeate other socio-economic, environmental and cultural aspects (see figure 2: Overview on GEO-C innovations).

GEO-C will have impact on different levels:
1. On the ESRs of the program and doctoral education in general: Qualification will be on the highest level (level 8) of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) with the learning outcomes of knowledge at the most advanced frontier of Geoinformatics and at the interface between fields like computer science, information systems, and geosciences. The qualification concept provides specialized knowledge, interdisciplinary expertise, soft skills, career development support, and the establishment of professional networks. The doctoral researchers will have excellent career chances in a field where experts are urgently needed economically and societally. Furthermore, this program supports the establishment of joint doctoral degrees across Europe.

2. On scientific progress in methods and tools for open smart cities: Smart cities have been investigated from different perspectives in the past. A strong emphasis has been on the technology, answering questions such as how to sense data, how to cope with large amounts of the data and how to model various urban functions. Unlike research on open governance, the question of transparency at all levels and participation by all citizens has attracted considerably less attention in smart cities research. GEO-C goes beyond previous research by bringing this issue to the centre of attention and by investigating it on three essential levels (deep participation, analysis and fusion, services). Similarly, while citizen science, open data and open access have been looked at by various projects, GEO-C innovates by investigating how the openness principle can be successfully applied to ensure that all citizens benefit from and participate in smart cities on all levels.

3. On usage of open city tools by citizens, cities, and companies: All open city tools will be provided open source, free of charge. This assures the further usage of the project results by the targeted user groups:
a. Citizens and citizens’ initiatives can adapt the tools for their activities.
b. City Council can use the tools for providing additional (smart city) services to their citizens.
c. Companies can adapt the tools for the development of commercial smart city products.
fig. 2: Overview: GEO-C innovations
fig. 1: Overview: The Open City Toolkit, its core components and the 3 main research work packages
fig. 3: Photo: Kick-off meeting, Valencia, March 2015 – partners and associated partners
fig. 4: Photo: Doctoral retreat, Sesimbra, May 2016 – ESRs and faculties