Dublin set to join knowledge cities grouping


Dublin could join other university cities to form a partnership to promote research and business opportunities, writes Karlin Lillington

IF THE State is seeking to create a knowledge economy, it will need a knowledge city – and that should be Dublin, according to the Creative Dublin Alliance, a group comprising members of the city council, Dublin businesses and the city’s universities.

If that sounds like a vague notion with little concrete value, David Campbell begs to differ. He is the executive director of the Office of Knowledge Capital for Melbourne in Australia.

He was in Dublin last week to advance an agreement that would see Dublin, Boston, Melbourne and others form a “world cities” partnership to promote research and knowledge-based business opportunities. Other cities considering joining the alliance include San Jose in California, Madrid, St Petersburg, Milan, Toronto, Stockholm and Manchester.

“The common theme is to find cities where we have a like-minded approach,” says Campbell, a 30- year veteran in promoting product and business development and commercialisation of technologies across the life sciences, agribusiness and chemical industries. Like-mindedness in a knowledge city means that, like Melbourne, it has a significant university presence with a strong research focus; businesses in innovative, creative areas like digital media, art and architecture, life sciences and information and communication technologies; and ideally, a vibrant student population and an existing or developing multicultural, international mix of residents.

Campbell says it was the realisation that Melbourne – home to eight universities including some of top international ranking – had these features which were among the city’s strengths that led to the establishment of the Knowledge Capital organisation in the city.

“Melbourne is one of the world’s great Victorian cities,” he says. At the centre of Australia’s mid-1800s gold rush and subsequent wool boom, Melbourne quickly became a city of wealth, universities and global immigration, including thousands of people from Ireland.

“All that developed the culture of a grand city, a wealthy city to fund things and a city of knowledge,” Campbell says.

A study initiated by the city’s mayor a few years ago highlighted the role of research and development at the universities and the aligning of industry and economic policy in the city’s past and current growth. That, in turn, led to discussion on how to encourage further growth and creative development that would pair economic expansion with a sustainable urban environment for city residents.

As a direct response, the city and the city’s universities came together to form the Office of Knowledge Capital in 2006.

“There was a recognition that there was a much greater opportunity there to be realised and the Office of Knowledge Capital was born,” Campbell says.

The office is two-thirds funded by the universities and one-third by the city. Campbell says the universities always have been the centrepiece of a knowledge city and provide an economic as well as intellectual anchor. The eight in greater Melbourne spend Aus$4.2 billion annually, he notes.

The goals of the organisation are broad: to promote Melbourne as a knowledge city; to facilitate collaboration between government groups, businesses, universities and other groups; and to form links with similar cities “to enable mutually beneficial interactions”.

At a practical level, this translates to pushing for further research and development; encouraging the linkages between university research and development and the businesses that might exploit or commercialise that work; and promoting the growth of creative industries.

A key piece of the picture is that push for international connections and links with other like-minded cities. This could allow for collaborative research projects or exchanges of information in areas such as climate change and urban regeneration, as well as investment and business connections, he says.

Campbell thinks regions and cities and their businesses and industries need to think more like multinationals and seek to go elsewhere to find opportunities that can then be brought back to benefit the home region or industry.

One project within the office has been to promote Melbourne as a destination for international students (it has the third largest international student population after London and New York).

“International education is our number three export after coal and iron and is worth $40 billion to Victoria. Australia is now this tremendously multicultural place, [with] people who add to the diversity and richness of our country.”

The interest in linking with Dublin and other cities is part of “needing to be very open and global in our focus”, Campbell says.

He hopes the cities can do some benchmarking and help develop each city’s quality of life, policies and overall management as well as sparking some mutually beneficial research and business links.

“In something like this, you run a number of experiments to see what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “It’s all about creating opportunities for people.”