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Joint Doctorate in Geoinformatics - Enabling Open Cities

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - GEO-C (Joint Doctorate in Geoinformatics - Enabling Open Cities)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

Cities have been getting bigger for many years now, and this trend is expected to continue throughout the 21st century. This creates many challenges for cities that want to provide a sustainable, safe and liveable environment for their ever-increasing population. In recent years, the vision of ‘smart cities’ has been proposed as one way to tackle these challenges, where various technologies are deployed to monitor and analyse different aspects of urban life, and to manage the provision of urban services. While being a promising solution, smart cities can be very complex, difficult to understand and closed-off, which can make citizens feel powerless, excluded and controlled by the complex technologies, hard-to-grasp processes and opaque services in a smart city. The overall goal of GEO-C (Joint Doctorate in Geoinformatics – Enabling Open Cities) was therefore to train a group of young researchers so that they could tackle these problems in academia, industry and society. In addition, the project aimed 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. More specifically, GEO-C focussed on investigating new approaches for smart and open cities that
• that enable transparent participation on equal footing for all citizens,
• that facilitate data analysis to determine the quality of life for individuals and cities, and
• that deliver useful services for smart cities based on the principle of openness.

Three research institutions with a proven track record of complementary research areas in Geoinformatics worked together with city councils and companies from three European countries: The academic partners consisted of the University of Münster (WWU), Institute for Geoinformatics (ifgi), Germany, the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (UNL), NOVA Information Management School (NOVA IMS), Portugal and the Universitat Jaume I (UJI), Institute for New Imaging Technologies (iNIT), Spain. They were joined by 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.). Together all partners engaged with different stakeholders, shaped the underlying research and supported fifteen early-stage researchers (ESRs) in their research and career development.
During the four-year period of the project, more than thirty researchers with specific expertise in Geoinformatics and smart city research collaborated in three complementary research strands: deep participation, analysis and fusion and services. In the deep participation strand, research focussed on how to enable all citizens to participate and benefit from smart cities. The analysis and fusion strand investigated the question how quality of life and key performance indicators of smart cities can be determined using open data. Finally, the services strand focussed on how to realise fundamental services in a smart city in a transparent way so that citizens and stakeholders can understand what data is used by which service.

A key milestone at the beginning of the project was the timely recruitment of excellent early-stage researchers (ESR). We received 195 applications for 15 PhD topics. The quality of the work done and the outputs as well as the very high successful completion rate within the three year time limit confirmed that the selected ESRs were well-suited to carry out the project.

All ESRs received extensive and targeted training while employed by the project. This included a 30 CP course program, a one-month internship with an associated partner (city council or company) and an external semester at one of the partner universities. GEO-C organised 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. All ESRs benefitted from multiple supervisors (one from each university partner), support by post-doctoral researchers and access to excellent research infrastructures.

All key research outputs were not only published in high-profile academic journals and conferences but the underlying data, software and ideas were made openly available as well. For this purpose, the project developed the Open City Toolkit ( – an open source platform that incorporates the key outputs and insights from all ESRs and makes them opening available. In addition, key results have also been published on Github ( and Zenodo ( Furthermore, representatives from GEO-C organised and participated in many local and international events for further dissemination.
GEO-C has pushed the boundaries of smart city research in several ways and on several levels. One key innovation is to apply the principle of openness to as many elements of smart cities as possible. Following the principles underpinning the “open movement” (e.g. Open Public Data initiatives led by some city councils, Open Source projects, Open Access publications), GEO-C extended the idea of openness to also include participation as well as all groups of society. In addition, the project also developed an open source software platform that can be used by various stakeholders to realise smart and open cities. The prototypical open city toolkit - OCT (see fig. 1 and 3) contains – free and open - guidelines, apps, services, data, and transparency tools that target different stakeholders and helps them in transforming cities.

The OCT also includes the key results obtained by the ESRs who tackled different topics in the smart city context. These topics include, for example, participation across all ages and groups of society, how to deal with location privacy, the assessment of the quality of life, and fundamental urban services. The focus on openness and the OCT 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 fig. 2: Overview on GEO-C innovations).

On a scientific level, GEO-C has advanced the state of the art in various areas related to smart and open cities, which has resulted in more than 65 publications in reputable academic outlets. In the past, smart cities have been investigated from different perspectives but 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 questions of transparency and openness at all levels and participation by all citizens has attracted considerably less attention in smart cities research. GEO-C has gone beyond previous research by bringing this issue to the centre of attention. Similarly, while citizen science, open data and open access have been looked at by various projects, GEO-C has innovated 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.

Overall, GEO-C has thus laid the scientific and practical foundations to investigate and create open cities that enable all citizens to participate in and benefit from smart cities.