Another edition of QS in conversation concluded successfully in Singapore on Friday 5 October 2018. Organised in collaboration with Singapore Management University (SMU), the international seminar, which aims to encourage discussions between presenters and audience members, was organised under the theme “University-Public Sector Partnerships: Smart Cities”. This is the first time QS has organized an event that specifically addresses university-public sector collaboration.
Attended by more than 200 participants from across the ASEAN region and beyond, the event combined insight into global best-practices from the United States, Canada, Japan Australia and Singapore and SMU’s own efforts in smart cities. QS in conversation also included a special panel session on the emerging ASEAN Smart Cities network which was only founded earlier this year.
Keynote speakers included Professor Ramayya Krishnan, Dean of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA; Professor Mark Fox, Associate Director for Research of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, Canada and Professor Hiroshi Esaki of the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, Japan as well as Professor Steven Miller, Vice Provost for Research at SMU, who was also the program chair.
Aside from these academic heavyweights, the event was graced by a number of important public sector leaders, including Councillor Nuatali Nelmes, Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Australia, Mr. Tan Kok Yam, Deputry Secretary of the Singapore Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and Mr. Vannak Seng, Chief of Administration, City Hall of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to name but a few high level expert practitioners. Also present as a panellist was Ms. Jyoti Shukla, Director of the World Bank’s Singapore Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub, representing a key inter-governmental organisation.
While the discussions at QS in conversation were varied and diverse, the human dimension of the smart city was frequently raised, and in particular the challenges in integrating technical and social disciplines into a single research project. Aside from the potential benefits of synthesizing new interdisciplinary knowledge, interdisciplinarity is not always easily rewarded or supported within the university bureaucracy. A second major challenge was the implementation of projects with government partners, with researchers not only facing a different working culture, but at times also facing political issues and a trust deficit. While a university may perceive itself as a relevant and honest knowledge broker, to fulfil that role requires adaptability to changing political needs and the nurturing of strong relationships with stakeholders located throughout the public sector.
Many of the issues raised in the context of smart cities however appear to have broader implications for academic research in general and research collaborations in particular. While universities are well known for their research, this is just the first step. The next steps: development, deployment and scaling, are often afterthoughts, yet they are critical for social impact. Running through these steps is the difference between research only creating an interesting scientific publication, and research leading to real-world impacts, the formation of new enterprises and actively contributing to the knowledge economy.
In terms of research collaborations, their success rests on converting passion into action, creating greater value from the collaboration than the effort that needs to be invested in them, and ensuring their value to society is greater than that of the value created for individual partners.
With an excellent speaker line-up, and engaging and interactive seminar format and being organized in one of the world’s smartest cities, Singapore, this edition of QS in conversation has been another great success.