The United Nations Innovation Technology Accelerator for Cities in Hamburg (UNITAC Hamburg), Germany, was established to address the potential of digital technologies, data and innovation to contribute to sustainable urban development through a partnership among the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology (UN-OICT) and HafenCity University (HCU); supported by the Government of Germany.
The Accelerator will use innovation, prototyping and applied research methodologies to develop innovative solutions that accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals related to cities and urbanization as requested by the UN System-wide Strategy on Sustainable Urbanization.
The UNITAC team of experts will implement applied research projects in this intersection among urbanization, innovation and technology.
The work of UNITAC will be based around three themes:
- Open, transparent and participatory governance of data and digital platforms
- Mapping spatial analysis and visualization, and
- People-centred smart cities.
Within these broad fields, emphasis will be placed on how to generate knowledge and use cases around smart-city governance and the development and testing of frontier technologies.
The solutions developed by UNITAC Hamburg will be tested and piloted with local governments and other partners in Hamburg through the partners’ existing networks in Hamburg and across the world as well as through a new network of partners from academia, the private sector, governments and investors.
UNITAC will work with the City of Hamburg to establish an urban technology acceleration testbed in Hamburg in which technologies, governance frameworks and approaches can be explored in a simulated urban environment before scaling up to other parts of the world.
Learning will be documented and published through high-quality guides and tool kits that can be used by policymakers to ensure that smart cities are inclusive, sustainable and people-centred.
Today 4.2 billion people live in cities and that number is growing by 1.5 million each week. Ninety per cent of this urban growth will occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. By 2050, 68 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities. In conjunction with rapid urbanization, digitalization has become a core component of modern development.
Growing opportunities created by the application of digital technologies are paralleled by stark abuses and unintended consequences. Digital dividends coexist with digital divides. While 50 per cent of the world has access to the Internet the other half does not.
The World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends shows that digitalization has brought many positive results, yet they are too unevenly spread. Only about 15 per cent of the world’s people can afford access to broadband Internet, and nearly two billion people do not own a mobile phone. The digital divide within countries can be nearly as high as that between countries.
Worldwide, approximately 21 per cent of households in the bottom 40 per cent of their countries’ income distribution do not have access to a mobile phone, and 71 per cent do not have access to the Internet.
Women are less likely than men to use digital technologies, and groups already at risk of marginalization are particularly negatively impacted. Collective efforts are needed to increase the understanding of the impact of the digital transformation and new technologies on the future of urbanization and its potential, and to maximize the value created by new technologies in support of more sustainable, inclusive, lively, and non-discriminatory societies and cities.
Digital divide is both a consequence and a case of inequality and marginalization. In order to bridge the divide, it is critical that local governments align urban growth with digital transformation goals.
The UNITAC Hamburg objective is to accelerate the development of technology and innovation acceleration scenarios, prototypes and testable solutions that demonstrate the power of digital technologies to solve urban challenges. We look to enhance the understanding of digital transformation on the future of urbanization with the end goal of maximizing the value created by new technologies to create more sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies and cities.
The UNITAC Hamburg vision is to create innovative tools, prototypes and solutions that demonstrate the power of digital technologies to solve urban challenges.
UNITAC Hamburg will be comprised of an interdisciplinary team that can identify, develop and implement applied research projects in the intersection between urbanization, innovation and technology. It will develop methodologies that can be used to analyze urban challenges and trends and design scenarios, prototypes, testable solutions or similar outputs that demonstrate the power of digital technologies to solve urban challenges. The solutions will be tested and scaled through the UN-Habitat global network of local governments and other partners.
The Government of Germany has committed to funding the establishment and implementation of UNITAC Hamburg between 2020 and 2024. The funding will be shared among the three implementing partners: UN-Habitat, UN-OICT and HCU; and it will support staffing costs, lab and office space, computer equipment, maintenance and utilities; and a fund for the day-to-day operations of UNITAC Hamburg (event organization, travel, seed funding for pilot implementation). The project envisages further fundraising activities for both upscaling of innovative solutions as well as the establishment of further UNITAC initiatives.
The work of UNITAC Hamburg is embedded in a local testbed in Hamburg, Germany; but it operates globally to promote transformative change in cities and communities through the value of digital technologies and innovation. The testbed allows for ideas, tools, scenarios and solutions to be prototyped and tested before deploying them in cities around the world.
The focus of UNITAC Hamburg is on providing normative knowledge and resources to local policymakers, developing technical assistance and policy advice for governments, and collaborating with key urban stakeholders and innovators in disseminating and replicating ideas.
The mission of UNITAC Hamburg embodies four key principles:
The work of UNITAC Hamburg including its research and capacity building relies on innovative tools. We use methods such as systems thinking or design thinking. We co-create ideas with urban policymakers and innovators, and transform them into the best possible tools and products for cities.
UNITAC Hamburg works closely with governments, international organizations, civil society organizations, foundations and think tanks, media entities, technology providers, academic institutions, innovators and entrepreneurs, investors and the private sector to achieve sustainable results in strengthening the digitalization and innovation journeys of cities.
Through our diverse team composed of urban experts, software developers and technology specialists, UNITAC Hamburg develops testable pilot projects and tools in Hamburg and beyond. Through this, it aims to inspire qualitative change for cities and their governance structures including rethinking investments in digital connectivity, inclusive smart-city approaches, and learning from different cities and their experiences.
The ideas, tools and products that have been designed and tested at UNITAC Hamburg are deployed in cities around the world. We draw on the unique expertise of our partner organizations UN-Habitat, UN-OICT and HCU in the areas of sustainable urbanization, information technology, digitalization, urban data, governance, policy transformation and more. UNITAC Hamburg implements a wide range of short and long-term projects to provide concrete, tailored support and added value to countries and cities.
Monitoring and Evaluation
UNITAC Hamburg will establish a robust results framework to track and report on the implementation of the project.
In addition, as UNITAC Hamburg has a large project budget within a five-year horizon, the project team will develop regular status updates, a mid-term review as well as a final evaluation in 2024.
Activities that are developed including tools and pilot projects will be reviewed and preliminary results will be shared with the Project Advisory Committee as well as donors on a regular basis.