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City Lights: Dr Jackie Watts, Melbourne

Dr Jackie Watts shares what it means for Melbourne to be a ‘knowledge city’.

Dr Jackie Watts
Dr Jackie Watts

Dr Jackie Watts, Councillor and Chair of Knowledge City Portfolio for the City of Melbourne, Australia, shares what it means to be a ‘knowledge city’ and the challenges – as well as opportunities – offered by new technology.


What is the main purpose of your role?


To chair Knowledge City portfolio meetings and represent the City of Melbourne at all events related to Council business in relation to the knowledge sector, including Melbourne’s smart city approach. It includes liaising with all research institutes, universities, schools, international student programmes, co-working hubs, Melbourne Innovation District, libraries, museums, start-ups and more.

What does the term ’smart city’ mean to you?


It is a key element in any knowledge city. I see a smart city in Melbourne as very much an approach reflecting a municipal vision which informs the way we operate – in an intelligent and smart way, with a focus, always, upon stakeholder benefit. For example, the way we capture, apply and disseminate municipal data, and use municipal expertise to help grow businesses and solve urban problems.


I remain convinced that smart cities, just like smart corporations or smart people, all recognise the benefit of collective endeavour. Making connections, forging collaborations and partnerships adds value. Local government should be an important player in facilitating these collaborations and connections.


What is your #1 priority right now?


My priority is keeping the City of Melbourne at the forefront of the knowledge sector economy in Australia and growing our international reputation as a knowledge city in order to attract talent, venture capital, conferences, international students, etc.


What are the effects new technologies can have on cities around the world?


Ultimately, more sophisticated capture and application of data, and evidence-based development of policies, programmes and systems.


What new problems do emerging technologies create in government?


On the organisational level, emerging technologies, like any other municipal infrastructure, require capital investment – and with the speed of technological change, such infrastructure investment is an ongoing economic cost.


On the societal level, emerging technologies will inevitably impact on employment – workers’ education level and skill sets and the built form or systems in which they work. Both of these will impact on the extent to which social equality can be fostered in this urban environment.


What do you see as your biggest achievement since you started the role?


Until I joined the Council seven years ago, there was no dedicated portfolio focusing on facilitating the evolution of Melbourne’s increasingly important and rapidly expanding knowledge economy.


I identified this as a deficit on the Council, and one which needed to be addressed. I became the Council’s first Knowledge City Portfolio Chair. My academic background and varied career had equipped me to understand that the knowledge sector would be the driving force behind Melbourne’s prosperity.


That deficit I identified has now been addressed. Most importantly, the knowledge sector and the embedded smart city approach and its impact upon the city is now recognised as an influential element for consideration across all portfolios.


I remain convinced that smart cities, just like smart corporations or smart people, all recognise the benefit of collective endeavour.


What is the best part of the job?


I am exposed to cutting-edge information and the very many smart talented knowledge sector stakeholders who are engaged with matters which will shape our future. I can also help create opportunities for the wider community to have access to this exciting information through events such as Knowledge Week and Melbourne Conversations.


What is your biggest challenge?


Equality of opportunity. In our increasingly diverse and powerful knowledge economy, there is ‘disruption’ in many forms which will impact on the wider community.


On an operational local government level, [the challenge is to continue to] improve the lived experience of our community); on the societal level, the extent to which social equality can be maintained and fostered is our challenge; and on the economic level it is maintaining and growing our prosperity in a globally competitive sector.


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