skip to content

Leadership of Urban Digital Innovation for Public Value


"Having Cambridge University, it’s research and people supporting and sharing their findings and knowledge to solve our big societal challenges is inspiring. I enjoyed discussing public value, and thinking about what smart means for places. Thanks for the course."    Sheryl French, Assistant Director, Climate Change and Energy Services, Cambridgeshire County Council


The projected growth in urban digitalisation initiatives presents opportunities for economic growth, and creating an enabling environment for data-informed decision making to create public value. National and local governments around the world are increasingly coalescing around the vision that increased deployment of sensors, city dashboards, and data capture and analytics technologies hold the key to making improved decisions that are based on near ‘real-time’ insights about citizens, and the natural and built environments.

The competencies (i.e., repertoire of knowledge and abilities) needed by the key implementers (local governments and their smart city delivery partners) significantly fall short and the need to address this gap is critical.

These gaps have been indicated in various international and national reports and policy papers published by multilateral organisations, governments and professional bodies, all of which emphasize:

  • Multidisciplinary competency gaps existing among local authorities, which need to be addressed to facilitate the creation of liveable smart cities
  • The need to address professional and organisational capacity gaps in relation to digital transformation within local governments and their digital innovation supplier networks through structured education.
  • A lack of comprehensive understanding of the interconnected dimensions of digitalisation initiatives (e.g., between digital technologies and changes in urban governance) and their far-reaching implications for creating an inclusive society – both shortcomings of smart city projects.

Achieving goals that are attached to smart city projects (e.g., thinking urban transport provision to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality) and delivering value from these investments requires local authorities and their supplier network of built environment professionals to possess the requisite competencies to effectively plan, test, embed and enable digital innovation projects in a way that delivers public value and leads to improved societal outcomes. Furthermore, realising the desired outcomes also requires approaching smart cities projects not merely as a largely technical undertaking (e.g., involving the development and installation of data capturing sensors and technologies), but also with a strong understanding of the interrelatedness with city governance and management, and ethical and responsible innovation aspects.


Who should take this course?

As an interdisciplinary course, LeadUP is open to mid-career to seasoned professionals working in, or seeking to work in, digitalisation in the built environment across the public, private and third sectors. The course is therefore open but not limited to:

  • City managers and local government officials
  • Built environment professionals (urban planners, digital infrastructure managers)
  • Digital innovation programme/project leads
  • Technology providers,
  • Public sector consultants and advisors, and
  • Professionals seeking to transition into city leadership roles.

As a part-time course, students will be equipped with relevant transferable learnings that can be used – while studying for the qualification – in their professional and organisational practices in relation to leading responsible digital innovations as part of smart city projects. Students can therefore experience the practical relevance of the course during and after the duration of study.


Here are testimonials about LeadUP from a wide range of professionals involved in largescale digitalisation initiatives to create public value.

“I had the pleasure of participating in the Executive Education course on Leadership of Urban Digital Innovation for Public Value. The program was both insightful and valuable. Jennifer and her team organised a two-day experience that was well-structured and interactive. It served as an excellent platform for academia and practitioners from both the public and private sectors to share knowledge, experiences, and explore various approaches in our fast-evolving digital landscape. I particularly enjoyed the workshop sessions, where participants from diverse backgrounds engaged in efficient discussions and collective problem-solving.”

Jun Huang, FRSA   MIoD   AoU  BArch. MSc.(Dist.), Managing Director, Wei Yang + Partners

“I would thoroughly recommend this course to anyone interested in delivering public value through digitalisation and urban innovation. A group of inspiring people and a well put together programme. Thanks to all involved.” 

Daniel Clarke, Head of Technology and Innovation - Greater Cambridge Partnership

“Having Cambridge University, it’s research and people supporting and sharing their findings and knowledge to solve our big societal challenges is inspiring. Thank you LeadUP Exec Ed and my fellow course participants for all the learning you shared. I enjoyed discussing public value, and thinking about what smart means for places. Smart can be digital and  nature based solutions are also smart. Tackling climate change is a multidisciplinary cross societal challenge and needs innovation in digital and many other areas too. Thanks for the course.” 

Sheryl French, Assistant Director, Climate Change and Energy Services, Cambridgeshire County Council

“Thank you to the team for a brilliant course! Really inspiring and thought provoking two days and it was so great to meet people working through the same challenges we are. I would highly recommend this course!”

Christiana Clarke, Principal Programme Officer for NUAR, Greater London Authority

“This course bridged a divide that often exists between academia and local government. The content was well-considered with a good balance between theory and practical application, which offered a great way to learn. The digital innovation process model developed by the team has much to offer those leading digital change in their organisations.”

Rebekah Wilson, Programme Manager (Cyber, Digital and Technology), Local Government Association

LeadUP Course Aims

The PGCert/Dip/MSt Leadership of Urban Digital Innovation for Public Value (LeadUP) aims to:

  1. Equip built environment professionals involved in the delivery of digital innovations in cities who are equipped with new thinking on how to develop competencies to effectively plan, design and implement smart city projects aimed at delivering public value.
  2. Equip city managers and built environment professionals with the multidisciplinary knowledge required to deliver place-based digital innovation projects which benefit citizens and communities, spanning engineering, urban planning, leadership, ethics, and responsible innovation.
  3. Provide participants with the knowledge and tools required to create public value from a perspective that considers both social and technical dimensions of urban-scale digitalisation initiatives (e.g., between digital technologies and changes in urban governance) and their far-reaching implications for creating an inclusive society.

The above will be achieved by taking a sociotechnical approach to understanding the creation of smart cities. In doing so, the course will address the current disciplinary knowledge gaps between city managers, engineers and urban designers. It will equip city managers and built environment professionals with interdisciplinary knowledge required - spanning leadership, engineering, urban planning, ethics, and responsible innovation - to deliver a smart city which benefits the citizens it serves through place-based digital innovation. LeadUP will also provide participants with the tools to develop the competencies required to create public value, enable socio-technical and responsible digital innovation, and ensure improved outcomes for communities.

Course Structure

LeadUP offers qualifications leading to a Master of Studies (MSt) award following a stacked approach which includes Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert.) and Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip.) stages. For each of the levels of qualification, all modules are compulsory and must be passed; there are no optional modules.

Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert): requires the completion of three modules (1, 2 & 3) and assigned coursework delivered over 11 months. Assessment will be based on student coursework submitted.

  • Module 1: Introduction to digital innovations in the urban built environment
  • Module 2: Responsibly managing and applying digital technologies to create public value.
  • Module 3: Sociotechnical implications of digital innovations in the urban built environment

Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip): consists of 6 modules (1 to 6) delivered over 21 months. Year 1 will be shared with the PGCert. Assessment will be based on student coursework submitted.

  • Module 4: Responsible leadership of digital innovations to create public value in the urban built environment.
  • Module 5: Managing and governing actors involved in digital innovation projects
  • Module 6: Digital innovations in the urban built environment: Implications for business, finance and procurement models

Master of Studies (MSt): is a part-time master's degree over 31 months, designed for individuals who are typically studying in addition to working full-time, allowing students to develop their professional and academic interests for career progression or diversification and personal development. The qualification will be awarded upon the successful completion of all 6 modules for the PGCert and  PGDip, as well as Module 7  and the submission of a completed dissertation during the MSt.

  • Module 7: Methods and methodologies for investigating digitalisation in the urban built environment.


Teaching and Learning

The delivery of this course draws on the interdisciplinary background of academics from the Departments of Engineering, Land Economy, the broader University of Cambridge and practical expertise from professionals in the world-class Cambridge innovation centred around the Smart Cambridge initiative and the University.

Residential weeks

The residential sessions in Cambridge (three one-week sessions per year) will provide opportunities for interdisciplinary learning among the cohort through group discussions during project workshops and case study analyses, as well as from the course delivery team and invited expert external speakers. During residential weeks in Cambridge, the course will be delivered through a combination of:

  • Lectures
  • Case study analyses
  • Seminars
  • Project-based workshops
  • Coursework activities and
  • Small-group supervisions

Non-residential periods

Between residential weeks students, will be expected to:

  • Undertake independent learning
  • Collaborate with colleagues to discuss group submissions,
  • Complete their coursework projects, assignments, and
  • Have one 1-hour long supervision sessions with assigned subject specialists per term.

Students are expected to devote sufficient time for self-study both during and between residential weeks. This expectation would vary; during residential sessions, students will be required to devote themselves full-time to the course.

Teaching in the MSt year of the course will be predominantly online. Each student will be assigned a project supervisor who will provide regular monthly online supervision during the research project. This will be supplemented by group sessions/seminars to provide research skills training. MSt students will be required to attend in Cambridge for two two-day activities: presentation of their research project plans at the start of the year and presentation of their research findings towards the end of the year. Other year groups will be invited to attend the final presentation conference to provide the opportunity to network across year-groups.


A balance of formative and summative methods will be used in assessing students’ individual and group coursework, oral presentations, group project reports, and dissertation (MSt only). Throughout the PGCert, students will receive formative feedback on and summative assessments of oral group presentations, and written reports between 3,000 and 4,000 words for Modules 1-3. The PGDip will involve formative and summative assessments of oral presentation of a group project, and written (individual and group) reports between 5,000 and 6,000 words.

For the MSt, students will receive summative assessment of a written submission of a research plan (up to 3,000 words), formative assessment of oral presentation of the written plan, and a summative assessment of a project dissertation between 10,000 and 12,000 words. The research dissertation will require students to have a synoptic overview of the course units in executing their project plan, using a more comprehensive knowledge and application of the methods taught in Modules 1 to 6.

Overall, the PGCert, PGDip and MSt awards will be awarded either as 'Pass' or 'Distinction'.

Entry Requirements

A pre-requisite is that applicants should normally have a relevant UK first or upper second-class honours degree or overseas equivalent. In addition, students applying for the PGCert/PGDip/MSt will typically have relevant experience in industry or public service. These additional elements would however not be a pre-requisite. 

Those with extensive relevant experience without honours degree qualifications applying for the course will be evaluated on an individual basis. It is anticipated that students will have at least 3-5 years of professional experience, but this is not mandatory. As applicants will be expected to have experience and successful track records in industry or public service, consideration may be given to candidates on the strength of their vocational experience in lieu of the normal standard entry requirements.

Language requirement: University’s standard and Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) requirements

The structure of the courses allows international students to attend on Student Visitor Visas and those in full-time employment, whether in the UK or abroad, to work and study at the same time.

Immigration requirements for international students

International students should ensure they understand the immigration considerations to attend the residential sessions. 

All nationals from outside the UK and Ireland who do not already hold immigration permission in the UK that permits study, would travel to the UK to attend residential sessions for the programme as a visitor. You are advised to read the information on the University’s short period of study immigration webpage and to note the expectations and restrictions of a visitor immigration status.

To meet the requirements of the visitor route, students on part-time courses of more than six months are expected not to remain in the UK for extended periods of time. The majority of study must be taken outside the UK and generally students will enter for the residential session and leave shortly after. It is not possible as a visitor on a course of more than six months to make the UK your main study location or residence, or make frequent or successive visits to stay in the UK for extended periods.

The Department can provide you with a letter of support for immigration purposes. Please note the PGCert, PGDip and MSt courses are not eligible to be sponsored for a student visa.

Upon arrival, and prior to commencing studies, students will need to provide their current passport and evidence of their immigration status. You will need to update the Department if there are any changes or updates to your immigration status whilst on the programme.