Building a Digital Coalition for Sheffield

Mark Gannon
Sep 19, 2017 · 9 min read
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This is a call to action for anyone interested in helping to make Sheffield a Smarter City.

Over the summer, Sheffield City Council joined Sheffield Digital, the association for the people and businesses of Sheffield’s digital industries as a Regional Partner. The Council has also been drafting its Digital Inclusion Strategy and developing a strong relationship with Google — you might be aware of the Digital Garage or the world’s first Google Digital Bus.


There is a strong ambition for Sheffield to be a leading Digital City which supports individuals and business to thrive in the Information Economy.

BUT, there is no agreed narrative about what this means, what Sheffield’s focus on Digital or a Smart City is or a city-wide coordination (that’s not just the Council) on this agenda. This puts Sheffield at a potential disadvantage when competing with other UK Smart Cities who have a more coherent and well-rehearsed narrative.


The ‘we’ is everyone in the city who wants to contribute to building a Digital Sheffield — we are calling it the Sheffield Digital Coalition.

Our conversations with stakeholders right across the city over the past few months have now begun to solidify around the concept of a ‘Digital Coalition’ for Sheffield — a broad group of people and organisations, representing different areas of expertise and interest, who share collective desire, and some responsibility, for developing the city’s digital capabilities in particular domains.


The work of the Sheffield Digital Coalition will be built around seven domain areas.

The Smart Sheffield Report (2015) identified a number of domain areas that could form part of an approach to developing a Smart Sheffield. We have borrowed and further developed these to fit the context of Sheffield today. The domains are basically agreed areas of focus with each domain covering a number of specific subject areas, or sub-domains and a number of key challenge questions to be addressed. We believe that it is important for the people and organisations involved in each of the domain groups to come to some consensus on what these challenge questions should be.Using these domains, an initial domain model has been constructed (Figure 1) which serves a number of purposes:

  • Amplifying the good stuff — you only know what you know. Seeing what other people are doing may generate inspiration in others;
  • Identifying the gaps (opportunities) — without know what is happening we can’t really be sure what isn’t;
  • Measuring impact — what is the ‘health’ of each domain and therefore of Sheffield as a Smart City?; and
  • Telling our story — an important part of this will be helping us to tell our story, both within Sheffield and outside of the City. The ultimate goal is that we have a Smart Sheffield ‘brand’ that has currency and can attract interest and investment into the City.
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Figure 1: Draft Domain Model for Smart Sheffield
  1. Developing: Some initiatives established and delivering with more planned.
  2. Strengthening: Strong initiative activity with a growing sub-domain community.
  3. Thriving: Thriving community with significant numbers of initiatives.

  1. Governance — “How can digital reform Sheffield’s public sector?”
  2. Infrastructure — “How do we make Sheffield the most connected UK city?”
  3. Living — “How do we create homes that are future proofed?”
  4. Mobility — “How do we create a transport offer that reduces car ownership?”
  5. People — “How do we use digital to increase well-being and happiness?”
  6. Resources — “How do we improve Sheffield’s air quality without implementing a low emission charging zone?”
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Figure 2: Behaviours and Capabilities to drive the Digital Coalition.

Process should not become the proxy for progress — why governance must be nimble.

We do need some organising capability to make this happen but the focus should be on lightness and agility. When governance becomes the focus or prevents action, it’s too heavy and we should seek to resolve it.

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Figure 3: Components of the Coalition

So what’s next?

  • September 21st: We are hosting a Digital Policy Conflab to bring in opinions and encourage discussion on this concept, approach and how it’s articulated.
  • October: We will use the feedback from the Conflab and the other conversations we are having to firm up the narrative and build coalitions in the city domains.
  • November 15th: We are going to run a city-wide Digital Conference to bring the Coalition and sub-communities together to meet and present the current initiatives and progress across the domains. Further information to follow.
  • End of the Year: We hope to have the Digital Coalition, its operating parameters and narrative fully formalised and in place.

Thanks to Chris Dymond

Mark Gannon

Written by

Currently leading business change, tech and digital for Sheffield City Council and working to build a city-wide Digital Coalition to drive a Smart Sheffield.

Mark Gannon

Written by

Currently leading business change, tech and digital for Sheffield City Council and working to build a city-wide Digital Coalition to drive a Smart Sheffield.

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