20 years’ smart city research marching on – what’s next?

Professor Fang Zhao, Associate Dean Research and Enterprise, Staffordshire Business School


By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in towns and cities, resulting in the consumption of over 70% of energy, and the emission of an equal amount of greenhouse gases (European Commission, 2019). The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating the challenges that cities have already been facing from multiple fronts such as rapid urbanisation, digital disruptions, demographic, climate and environmental changes, economic restructuring and reforms. Covid-19 is changing how urban residents live, work and commute and reshaping economic structures and business models. In the current global battle against Covid-19, smart cities have a pivotal role to play in responding to the crisis in terms of track-and-trace of coronavirus cases using smart technologies, enforcing social distancing rules, getting homeless people off the streets, and special emergency measures for care homes, to give just a few examples.

The concept of a smart city has been seen as a strategy to tackle the grand challenges facing urban planning and development. Smart city is a fuzzy word with various terms being used – intelligent city, digital city, green city, knowledge city, and smart sustainable city. Research on smart city can be traced back to the 1990s, taking on many perspectives, mostly in four aspects: the technological aspect including the technological infrastructure and support network for building smart cities, the socio-cultural aspect, or citizen engagement, the political-institutional aspect, such as government support and policies, and the economic-business aspect, namely business models and profitability.

A team of researchers (Prof Zhao, Dr Olushola Fashola, Dr Tolulope Olarewaju and Dr Ijeoma Onwumere) at Staffordshire Business School have been investigating what has been done in smart city research over the past 20 years. After a systematic and comprehensive literature review, the research team found that smart city research tends to revolve around six key areas: digital technology diffusion, smart city strategy and implementation, supply chains and logistics, urban planning and governance, smart city entrepreneurship and innovation, and Smart city evaluation and measurement. The team also identified four major challenges for small city research: (a) smart city research is often fragmented and technology-driven; (b) many studies are on perceived benefits of smart cities and fewer on the downsides of the effect of technologies and failure projects; (c) there is a need to build new theories for smart city research; and (d) there is a lack of empirical testing of the conceptual frameworks developed in smart city research. Furthermore, the team found that there was very limited research on crisis management in smart city before 2020. However, the research landscape is changing with emerging literature investigating how smart cities respond to crises and pandemics, and exploring strategies that can be used to tackle swiftly the crisis effectively at both strategic and operational levels.

Directions for future research and practice in smart cities are proposed.  If you want to know more and/or seeking for collaboration, please contact Prof Fang Zhao – Associate Dean Research and Enterprise at fang.zhao@staffs.ac.uk.

How COVID-19 Exposed The Ethnic Poverty and Enterprise Rift (Participate in Our Research)

Dr Tolu Olarewaju, Lecturer, Staffordshire business School


The British Academy (the United Kingdom’s national academy for the humanities and the social sciences) has tasked us with investigating the specific challenges that UK business owners faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the strategies that they used to keep their businesses afloat, and how they engaged with financial and regional support.

We are also interested in how best to support members of the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) business community.

To participate in our study, kindly fill the survey below and/or please share the URL with your networks if you know any other business owners:

URL: http://staffordshire.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_50kNUNYOKJFFQNM

Photograph: benjamin lehman | URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/gkZ-k3xf25w | Unsplash

Ethnic minorities were particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and US, as in some other countries. In particular, the risk of death for some ethnic minority individuals who contracted COVID-19 in these countries was two to three times more compared to white individuals.

This disparity was a result of the underlying social and economic risk factors that ethnic minorities face, such as living in overcrowded and urban accommodation, being employed in riskier lower-skilled jobs, reduced access to healthcare, and structural racism. In other words, ethnic poverty in developed countries is driving higher infection and consequently death rates for ethnic minorities.

Drivers of Ethnic Poverty

Underlying the drivers of poverty for ethnic minorities in many developed countries are several socio-economic factors which include historical factors, discrimination, educational and entrepreneurial variations, and employment and pay disparities between ethnic groups.

Despite facsimile policies that emphasize equal access to education and employment in many developed countries, discrimination remains a critical barrier to equal employment. Several studies have found that both ethnic minorities are called back for interviews 50% less frequently than comparable whites, hired less often for high-skill jobs, and once hired are paid less. Thus, despite the increasing educational gains made by ethnic minority individuals, many are overqualified for the jobs that they do. Ethnic minority workers also often report not being given pay rises and being passed over for promotion.

Another very important driver for the disproportionately high poverty rates among ethnic minority groups is the concentration of such workers in low-paid work. Ethnic minority workers are more likely to work in low-paid sectors with limited progression opportunities and lower wages. Lack of movement out of low-paid work increases the risk of poverty among ethnic groups. In addition, there is generally a lower percentage of ethnic minority workers who are managers, directors, and senior officials.

Photograph: Maria Oswalt URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/qFkVFe9_d38 | Unsplash

Business Ownership Disparities

Before the pandemic, BAME business owners were less likely than non-BAME business owners to obtain mainstream business support and in the early days of coronavirus, nearly two-thirds of BAME business owners felt unable to access state-backed loans and grants, leaving many on the brink of financial ruin.

BAME-owned businesses are traditionally concentrated in the sectors worst hit by lockdown such as retail, health and social care, education, restaurants and accommodation.

The economic crisis facing these businesses is aggravated by the fact that they are more likely to hire a considerable number of BAME employees and attract more BAME customers. The significantly higher risk among such groups from COVID-19 implies that these businesses would have had to incur considerable costs to protect their staff and customers.

Solutions

Ethnic minorities consistently report reduced access to education, lack of social and financial capital, unemployment, low-pay, and poor progression from low-paid sector work. This suggests similar solutions for all groups, which would lead to better-quality jobs and higher pay. However, given that some of the drivers of poverty, such as higher unemployment and inactivity rates disproportionately affect ethnic groups, specific forms of outreach activity and drawing on local knowledge may be needed in these contexts.

Similarly, government solutions to reduce ethnic poverty in developed country contexts include interventions that ensure that education, training and apprenticeships are provided for ethnic minorities as well as schemes that help tackle low pay among ethnic minority workers. There is a need for policies that focus the on education, skills and training for ethnic groups particularly digital, literacy, and numeracy skills. Moreover, policies should also be encouraged that monitor the workforce in relation to ethnicity, which should include the recruitment, retention and progression phases of jobs.

Authorities need to work with employers to provide better-paid jobs and they should do more to listen to and encourage employers to hire a diverse range of skills and experiences. It is advisable to consider putting targets for ethnic minority representation on boards, something that has proven successful in the case of gender. It is also important to recognise the benefits of positive discrimination in the labour market, rather than view legislation to combat ethnic inequality as red tape or political correctness. Mortgage market discrimination needs to be eliminated as this would allow ethnic minorities to take advantage of the benefits that come with owning a home.

State-backed grants and loans should be made more accessible as an incentive to business owners who have incurred additional costs to protect customers and staff. Crucially, the process to obtain them should not be too onerous and the criteria should be fair. Regional governments should also take care to plug BAME businesses into the supply chains of local projects in response to the pandemic.

Source: Author

All these should reduce ethnic poverty and the economic and health inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted.

Don’t forget to participate in our research if you a business owner: http://staffordshire.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_50kNUNYOKJFFQNM

Notes: Excerpts for this essay was taking from my book chapter: “Ethnic Poverty: Causes, Implications, and Solutions” available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344725834_Ethnic_Poverty_Causes_Implications_and_Solutions

Staffordshire Business School – Research update

Staffordshire Business School aspires to be a leader in making a real impact on business and society through research and innovation. Our team have successfully delivered many industry/business and government funded research projects and have extensive experience of leading large team projects including local, UK, EU and internationally funded projects. Many of our team members combine rich industry and practitioner experience with academic rigour in conducting world-leading research in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation, digital transformation, environmental health etc. Here are some of the exciting research projects that researchers at Business School have been doing:


Austerity, Welfare and Work: Exploring Politics, Geographies and Inequalities

In his new book, Prof David Etherington provides bold and fresh perspectives on the link between welfare policy and employment relations as he assesses their fundamental impact on social inequalities. Drawing on international and national case studies, the book reviews developments, including rising job insecurity, low pay and geographical inequalities.

Environmental health inequalities resource package

Prof Jon Fairburn is the lead author of a recent World Health Organization publication. The publication is aimed at local, regional and national policy makers hoping to improve environmental health especially for deprived and other groups. Jon has been collaborating with WHO for over 10 years on this subject.

Covid-19 and Smart Cities – What’s Changed? Getting ahead of the Game

Prof Fang Zhao and her team have been conducting research and analysis of a range of changing scenarios of smart cities in post-Covid-19 and pinpoint the opportunities and challenges for businesses, city councils and universities. Their research focuses on strategies, tactics and digital transformation.

The Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Owned Businesses in the UK

The project led by Dr Tolulope Olarewaju is investigating the specific challenges that BAME business owners faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the strategies that they used to keep their businesses afloat, and how they engaged with financial and regional support. The project is funded by the British Academy.

People, Place and Global Order: Foundations of a Networked Political Economy

This book co-authored by Dr Andrew Taylor explores how the convergence of technology and globalisation is shifting value creation out of products and processes and into digital networks and, in the process, leaving many people behind. He is looking into examples and models of how people and place may flourish within global networks. 

Leadership typology reveals how smart city leaders prefer to tackle inequality

The research of Associate Professor Alyson Nicholds sheds light on how leaders, operating in different organisations, roles and sectors prefer to tackle inequality differently. Her latest writing draws on organisational concepts of leadership and philosophy to show the benefits this type of understanding can reap for society.

Entrepreneurs in Residence

Business School has recently appointed Entrepreneurs in Residence providing students and staff with hands-on experience in conducting research to spot business opportunities, conduct market analysis and better understand consumer behaviour, leading to business venture creation.

For more information and collaboration and partnership, please contact Prof Fang Zhao – Associate Dean Research and Enterprise at fang.zhao@staffs.ac.uk.

Covid-19 and the Stay-at-Home Economy

Fang Zhao, Professor of Innovation and Strategy & Associate Dean Research and Enterprise, Staffordshire Business School


Covid-19 outbreak is not only a global health crisis but also an imminent economic shock. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the UK economy could shrink by a record 35% by June 2020 with over 2 million job losses. The International Monetary Fund warned Covid-19 would push the UK into its deepest recession for a century.

Image: BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52279871

For businesses, it is estimated that the government’s lockdowns may cost 800,000 to 1 million business closures in the UK. The sector that is affected the most and is also the most vulnerable is small businesses which account for 96% of all businesses in the UK (Business Statistics, 2019). To prevent the catastrophic structural economic damage and mitigate the huge spike in unemployment, sound economic policy responses are urgently needed, which goes far beyond government handouts.

Image: BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52279871

Economic restructuring is already happening. Cloud computing, e-commerce, online entertainment and delivery business are booming, being inflated by a huge surge in demand while retail (e.g. shops, pubs and restaurants) and entertainment industries (e.g. cinemas, theatres, and theme parks) and many others are suffering from heavy losses. Policy makers are confronting with the unprecedented daunting tasks to make strategic decisions on how to deal with the pandemic economic restructuring and crisis.

The pandemic outbreak has fuelled disproportionately the so-called ‘stay-at-home economy’. Working from home is becoming a new norm. For many this is the beginning of a new life and a new way of work for years to come. The implication for business is that it is time to rethink and reposition existing business models, processes, and target markets because consumer behaviours are changing fast and life will never be the same again.

Although small businesses are the hardest hit, they are also the most agile ones.  Some small businesses have already responded and adapted quickly to market changes. For examples, some have moved their businesses entirely online and some shifted their target market from restaurants and hotels to individual consumers or new markets. New businesses are also emerging surrounding the stay-at-home economy, such as virtual hair salons and online gym classes. Over the longer term, Covid-19 has irrevocably changed the way businesses will run and compete over the next decade.

Researchers at Staffordshire Business School are working hard to help better understand the impacts of Covid-19 on the economy and society and help policy makers develop strategies to tackle the economic fallout and revive the economy. Our staff are also conducting research on the changing behaviours of consumers due to Covid-19. For more information on our research and partnerships, please contact Professor Fang Zhao, Associate Dean – Research and Enterprise at fang.zhao@staffs.ac.uk.

Staffordshire Business School – Research Profile

About Us

Staffordshire Business School aspires to be a leader in making a real impact on business and society through collaborative research and innovation. Our team of academics have successfully delivered many industry/business and government funded research projects and have extensive experience of leading large team projects including local, UK, EU and internationally funded projects. 

Many of our team members combine rich industry and practitioner experience with academic rigour in conducting world-leading research and generating social and economic impacts in a wide range of areas and fields. Our expertise includes but is not limited to the following research streams and clusters:

Business and Management

  • Human Resources Management
  • Labour Market, Employment Relations and Migration
  • Organisational Change and Development
  • Public Sector Management
  • Leadership and Management Learning
  • Corporate Governance and Firm Performance
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • International Business and International Management
  • Place Marketing and Branding
  • Consumer Behaviour and Health Marketing
  • SME Innovation
  • Merger and Acquisition
  • Strategic Management and Leadership
  • Financial Management
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • LGBT Tourism and Family Tourism

Digital Transformation and Innovation

  • Digital business strategy
  • Digital marketing and social media
  • Esports business and management
  • Digital technology diffusion in the financial sector
  • Digital entrepreneurship

Smart Cities/Communities/Urban and Regional Development

  • Smart cities strategy
  • Analysis and Evaluation of Public Policy on Urban Development (i.e. health; social care; urban education)
  • Place Leadership
  • Welfare reform
  • Community engagement and social inclusion
  • Environmental issues and sustainability

Postgraduate Research

Our academics conduct empirical research and are actively publishing across a range of disciplines.  As such they have a long history and a successful track record of research supervision at both MPhil and Doctoral levels. We are excited to welcome you to join our postgraduate research student community.

To find out more about our team and their scholarly expertise, please visit: https://www.staffs.ac.uk/academic_depts/business/people/

Contact Us

For partnership and collaboration with us in industry-oriented projects in both public and private sectors, please contact Professor Fang Zhao – Associate Dean – Research and Enterprise at fang.zhao@staffs.ac.uk.

For enquiries about our MPhil or PhD program, please contact:

Staffordshire University Graduate School at graduateschool@staffs.ac.uk.