By Laura Peacock, the county council's Innovation Hub manager

Innovation is in Oxfordshire’s DNA – our thriving county is home to some true world leaders in technology and transport, so why would I want to work anywhere else?

Oxfordshire was the first council to include connected and autonomous vehicles in its local transport plan and, since then, it hasn’t stopped encouraging innovation. Since 2015 we have secured around £100m to be channelled directly into developing technology here in Oxfordshire – both improving people’s lives and contributing to the economy.

I joined Oxfordshire County Council having left my home city of Liverpool to work for Oxfam on Fairtrade and funding projects before becoming a planning officer working on minerals and waste.

My job now is all about helping to channel the incredible talent, potential and expertise we have in Oxfordshire towards developing things that will directly benefit people – whether they live in Oxfordshire or the UK.

I’m currently Oxfordshire County Council’s Innovation Hub Manager. I play a central role in enabling ‘people oriented solutions’ to be at the heart of intelligent infrastructure, energy and mobility systems, as well as implementing projects to improve the local economy, environment and overall quality of life of Oxfordshire’s citizens and across the UK.

Our county is a global leader in innovation for science and technology, particularly in the life sciences, space technologies, digital sectors, the automotive and motorsport industries, heritage, tourism and culture.

Living and working in a county that has such a rich history of innovation has been fantastic. For example, we were the first local authority in the UK to investigate how autonomous vehicles would impact the transport network and how we should plan for them. Building on this we were the first council to have a Connected Autonomous Vehicles team which has proved to be critical to us securing external funding for the council and being the authority in the UK with the highest number of CAV projects.

Oxfordshire County Council has a number of statutory duties to fulfil for its residents. This naturally presents a list of challenges. Whether it’s congestion, accidents, encouraging better use of public transport, providing home care or making things easier for pedestrians or cyclists. That’s just a tiny amount of what would be a pretty long list, but we are now able to start finding ways to respond to these challenges thanks to technology.

But while the challenges are there, and the people who might have the answers are there, things like funding and working relationships aren’t always sorted out. Or at least they weren’t until the county council really started to put some weight behind developing its approach to Smart technology and the living laboratory.

The job excites me because each day I am challenged to work in new ways with such a variety of projects and inspiring people. Projects range from new county wide energy models to connected autonomous vehicles, to smart devices in the home to enable the people we deliver care to, to be more connected and get the best care packages appropriate to them.

Bringing the right people together, helping to find funding and then seeing the results of these collaborations is really motivating.

One of the key phrases in my line of work is ‘disruptive technology’ which, believe it or not, is a good thing. It means things that have the potential to shake up and even replace old systems and ways of doing things for the better – it’s real game changing stuff.

You will have heard of disruptive technologies already and you may even own some without knowing it. Driverless cars – something my team are helping to make a reality – get the headlines, but things like the Amazon Alexa have changed how people interact with their entertainment choices, access information and communication and we have found ways they can help support people with disabilities or care needs to live more independently.

Focussing on data-driven decision making means we can plan and develop new infrastructure ensuring the right outcomes for our communities.

So what does the future hold? Well, technology is developing at an incredible rate at the moment and this is taking us towards connected autonomous vehicles, the rise of e-commerce and the proliferation of the sharing economy. There’s now so much data around that can be used by the council with the help of the county’s small and medium sized businesses to make some really incredible changes.

In practice this means things like Mobility as a Service (MaaS). It describes a move away from personally-owned modes of transport and towards getting about through via a single service something closer to ‘The Netflix of Transport’.

MaaS is expected to grow to $1.75 tn globally by 2028 and only two regions in the UK are currently working on developing a platform – the West Midlands and us here in Oxfordshire.

Many people think of the new wave of transport in terms of cars. However, connected vehicles - anything that can be linked up via the internet to a wider system - could mean vans, buses, lorries, motor or pedal cycles. Even wheelchairs could take advantage of new technology to get around more easily.

Some things that are being worked on now will become part of everyday life soon. You will probably be planning your journeys to take advantage of quieter times on public transport thanks to a smartphone app.

Whatever the future holds, it’s inspiring to think lots it will be thanks to work done in Oxfordshire.