I enthusiastically accepted to join City REDI at the University of Birmingham because I believe it is a unique academic research centre in its scope and approach. Since starting at City-REDI have found a stimulating working environment, passionate people and very skilled colleagues.
Although my background is in economics and business, my career has not followed a linear and strictly disciplinary pattern since I have always tried to put my intellectual curiosity and passion first. My research interests have always focused on urban and regional studies, and in particular, I have published quite a few works on culture as a driver of local development, looking at the value and externalities of arts, heritage and the cultural and creative industries.
My most recent focus has been on the digital transformation of economies and societies and its impact on the consumer, firm behaviour, innovation, and territorial inequalities. At an urban level, the growth paradigm has recently shifted from the creative to the smart city, but the risk with digitalization is twofold. Smart regeneration policies which target the usual cities and citizens may widen territorial gaps instead of increasing cohesion and, once again, may become a tool of exclusion instead of favouring convergence.
From a methodological perspective, I have often drawn theories and ideas from different social sciences, including economics, sociology, geography, and explored different empirical strategies and quantitative techniques. Over the past few years at the University of Torino (Italy), I have built up significant experience in managing projects and resources in data science. But my interest in algorithms and analytics dates back to my PhD in information economics when I applied artificial neural networks to urban and regional sciences to map the multiple patterns of industrial agglomeration.
Since 2016 I have been Research Leader of Despina, one of the first university labs on big data analytics in Italy, which we established thanks to a funding agreement with CDP, the largest Italian public bank. The latest project I coordinated in Torino is on industrial resilience and in next months we will present the result of our comparative analysis of regional industrial structures and adoption of robotics between UK and Italy. My most recent published papers are concerned with data-driven big tech companies from a competitive perspective (see Nuccio and Guerzoni, 2018) and topic modelling algorithms applied to the history of economic thought (see Di Caro et al., 2017; Ambrosino et al., 2018).
The foundations for launching Despina were laid in 2014 when I was granted a Marie Curie Fellowship that allowed me to apply a big data approach to the analysis of cultural consumption in urban settings. Previously, for two years I have been full-time Visiting Professor in culture and regional development for the Innovation Incubator at the Leuphana Universität Lüneburg (Germany), where I delivered one major partnership programme on cultural-driven local development, and various projects on leadership in cultural organisations. In particular, I am proud of the platform KKD (Kunst und Kultur Distrikte) to develop art and cultural districts, which has fostered bottom-up processes of production in the cultural industries and improved the network capacity across the local actors. The KKD bonded local initiatives of existing operators, professionals, scholars, entrepreneurs and practitioners, and, at the same time, encouraged innovative ventures by building bridges outside the region.
Since my PhD I have lectured at many universities at the international level, but the last teaching experience I would really like to mention is MADAS – Master in Data Science for Complex Economic Systems in Turin. As Deputy Director of this postgraduate course I personally contributed to completely redesign and relaunch the programme by adding hands-on laboratories on the use of algorithms and data concerning smart cities, innovative firms and consumer behaviour.
One of my goals at City REDI is to strengthen some of the above-mentioned research streams, for example by encouraging fertile collaboration between regional economists, business scholars and computer scientists. I believe data science has offered new demanding challenges for social scientists. The increasing availability of data and computing power, on the one hand, allow economists to reconsider empirical approaches to spot causal inference, and, on the other, should force them to improve predictive modelling and think beyond linearity.
With the advent of machine learning, also business intelligence and behavioural sciences have been dramatically changing, and competitive advantage for firms and public administrations will rely both on specific capabilities in quantitative analysis and a broader understanding of domain-related problems. In this respect, a continuous exchange with data-driven organizations is pivotal. Although literature is rich with descriptions of the potential advantages of big data analytics and policy recommendations on their application to different services – from tourism to transports, from energy to banking – the evidence is still limited on how to deliver more sustainable models of consumption and social value for citizens.
Not only do I strongly support academic exchange across disciplines, but I have always committed myself to increasing collaboration beyond academia, which is another of the distinctive assets of City REDI. Sharing knowledge with local stakeholders contributes to foster public debate and can generate a wider impact on cities and regions by making communities more aware of the value of research.
This blog was written by Massimiliano Nuccio, Research Fellow, City-REDI.
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.
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