In the context of our existing study, it was agreed to highlight key examples of smart initiatives that represent a step forward towards establishing our Smart Region, and increase our collective readiness to participate. The description of these examples is based on four priority areas, that are emerging as areas of work where the Regional Smart Approach has already shown some adoption across stakeholders: Governance, Business, Sustainability and Community.
Smart Governance As we progress towards a local and regional interconnected region, we can learn from the e-Government Unit of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at the Data Science Institute of NUI Galway and the 2018 International Conference on on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance (ICEGOV17) which took place in Galway, with experts from around the world. In building and learning from existing smart-city initiatives, and in order to create a future-ready regional environment, with the critical infrastructure and intelligent, efficient and interconnected online services, we need to consider how our administrative structures and processes could work across multiple local government agencies and departments. This appears as an important prerequisite to success in these initiatives. A model of governance for multi-agency initiatives can be viewed as a foundation corner stone in creating smart regions. Smart platforms will ensure that policies and decisions become more transparent and approachable, and enable with online social media and open data empowering people to connect with local authorities on issues that are important to them, and the local authorities to focus on areas of core significance for the region, in collaboration with the citizens of the region. Various initiatives have shown ways through which citizens can become more connected and more engaged with their region, including alert systems or rich information portals. Using open and public data about the local area to create engaging ways to inform governance and participation is also more and more on the agenda.
There are many advantages and many challenges in establishing a business in our region. While several hubs for innovation exist in specific fields, such as medical devices and IT services, it is important to enable those businesses to stay connected, with each other and the rest of the world, and to benefit from the deployment of smart technologies. In other words, businesses nowadays have to become smart businesses, able to exploit data about not only their own activities but also about their environment, other stakeholders in the region and the skill-base available locally in order to meaningfully engage with those aspects, and benefit as much as possible from their embedding in the region. This applies as much to large high-tech companies as to more traditional small businesses. Part of the Smart Region Approach therefore includes a shared platform enabling entrepreneurs, developers and business managers, as well as those who interact with them, to connect and to access, the data, the technological know-how and the local organisations to support the deployment of smart solutions answering to their specific business needs. The Smart Region approach can therefore help deliver greater economic growth in the region.
Initiatives to support smart business development have grown rapidly in the last few years in the region, including the establishments of strong, technology-startup networks (e.g. BioInnovate21, TechInnovate22), a network of enterprise centres, and a network of the Business Chambers – Atlantic Economic Corridor, which represents the forefront of start ups, SMEs, and FDI companies. In addition, a number of business incubators and accelerators exist to support small companies and startups in establishing themselves in the region (e.g. Portshed23 and the IIBC24 in Galway and Castlebar). It is also worth mentioning that national programmes to support innovation, such as New Frontiers25, and initiatives such as CoderDojo26 for training in technology from a young age have a strong footing in the region. Finally, this region of Ireland is rich with Universities and Institutes of Technology, with a continuous pipeline of young people educated in technology- and innovation-related careers, as well as an incoming, international, research population resident in the region.