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What on earth is a cluster? A case study in stellar collaboration

by
Alec Walker-Love
27 July 2016
My Smart City District
© My Smart City District

Since starting work with European projects a couple of years ago, the word ‘cluster’ is right up there on my top 5 list of most heard buzz words. But what on earth is one? Where could I see one in action?  The answer lay in My Smart City District (MSCD) - a group of 8 projects representing over 25 demonstration cities and a broad network of expertise and enthusiasm for greener, smarter urban environments.

In astronomy, a cluster is a group of neighboring stars, held together by mutual gravitation, that have essentially the same age and composition and thus supposedly a common origin’. The definition works well for My Smart City District (MSCD). We are 8 projects from the same galaxy of European project calls, we are all enthusiastic about communication and all have tangible insights and experiences to share through our demonstration sites and partner city networks. In addition to the common origin, we also shared a powerful common destination: a desire to create smarter, greener and more efficient towns and cities. So, we joined forces to share contents and promote energy efficient renovation and encourage sound energy efficiency solutions with confidence.

My Smart City District
© My Smart City District

How does it work?

With communication at the centre of our clusters ‘raison d’être’ we immediately set about establishing some proper channels. A LinkedIn group was a natural way to bring the consortiums and interested observers together. The community now has over 360 members – and hope you will join in too! It has been a good way to inform and stay informed about exchange and insightful comment.

A common twitter account has been an effective way for MSCD to stay informed, interact and exchange. It is a one-stop-shop for news and views for all 8 partner projects and currently has 430 followers and a number of stakeholder supporters. Finally, with the emergence and importance of visual content, a YouTube channel hosts some video messages and webinar recordings. Bringing this all together is a common website and visual identity. In terms of governance, youris.com and partner Greenovate! Europe have been at the heart of the cluster, especially given youris.com expertise in communication, graphic 

My Smart City District
© My Smart City District

Joint actions

I am proud to say that CITyFiED has been one of the most proactive projects, along with R2CITIES, ZenN and EU-GUGLE in holding several parallel “Open House” events held during the 2015 European Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW).  These locally organized and promoted gatherings shares and inspire a range of audiences about energy efficient deep renovation, technical objectives, general works in live and face to face event.

In Valladolid, the focus was on local school children, using games and exercises to report on energy and discover the relatively un heard of benefits of biomass and district heating and cooling. At another CITyFiED demonstration site in Lund, Sweden, environmental awareness and support was very high; so the political, technical and financial challenges of renovating a massive volume of 1960s and 70s social housing stock meant activities were more focused on political, technical and financial stakeholders.  Video messages of support for the Open House events were sent from other demonstration cities from around Europe.

The following year this important awareness week saw the MSCD cluster once again sprung into life - delivering five different online seminars in five days on key issues and challenges for smarter, greener towns, cities and districts. Every day of Sustainable Energy Week 2016, experts from MSCD projects and external commentators from leading organisations shared real-life experience and challenges on key topics:  finance, citizen engagement, retrofitting, district heating & cooling and replicating success.

The format of learning at distance from projects with challenging questions from experts attracted 110 participants across the five days and generated plenty of visibility and interest in the projects themselves. It was a very rich and rewarding set of discussions with fellow project experts all bringing their own unique views and experiences. Recordings of the webinars are now available on the My Smart City District YouTube channel.

Increased impact

As a cluster our star has without doubt been able to shine brighter than before, reaching a wide range of ages, profiles and communities. The galaxy keeps growing as well: most recent joiner CELSIUS has community of 57 cities, the CITyFiED community of interest and cluster together are more than 50 more local authorities and energy agencies, SINFONIA has five early adopters and EU-GUGLE a combined total of 15 pilot and companion cities.

Working together has significantly increased our sphere of influence, enriched our exchanges and exposed more target audiences to the work and benefits being undertaken. I hope you can check out some of our webinars, follow us on twitter or even propose your project to join in the group. 

Alec Walker-Love is a communications specialist and Senior Consultant with iCONS a partner company of youris.com. He works in the dissemination and communication of a range of European funded projects in research and development, energy efficiency and smart cities, including CITyFiED.

Twitter: @ac_wlove  

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/alecwalkerlove