A digital twin body of knowledge: the structure of a new paradigm for urban management

Elsehrawy, Ramy (2022) A digital twin body of knowledge: the structure of a new paradigm for urban management. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Rising global trends like increasing world population, rapid urbanisation, and escalating complexity are posing immense challenges to urban sustainability and well-being. Last month, the world’s population, according to the United Nations, has reached 8 billion for the first time. Also, the United Nations expects that the percentage of the world’s population living in cities and urban areas will increase from 55% in 2022 to 68% by 2050. Moreover, the escalating urban complexity further exacerbates the situation. The evolution of an extremely complex urban system of systems, including vastly interconnected urban dynamics and networks, eventually leads to the emergence of unexpected events with undesirable consequences. Therefore, increasing attention is being directed towards Sustainable Urban Development [SUD] and establishing a new paradigm in Urban Management [UM].

The discipline of UM is concerned with the planning for and implementation of interventions into the complex urban environment in such ways that lead to the emergence of better conditions for people and nature. On the one hand, achieving this aim, towards the realisation of SUD, has proven to be far from being a straightforward task. On the other hand, the recently emerging concept of Digital Twin [DT] has presented itself as an enabler of a revolution within the discipline of UM. A DT is based on the idea of connecting a physical system in the physical world to its virtual representation in the cyber world via bidirectional communication, with or without human-in-the-loop to make better decisions and unlock value. Implementing this concept to support UM research and practices has arguably given birth to a new paradigm, namely Digital Twins for Urban Management [DT for UM].

However, for a new paradigm to grow and mature, its cultural system – comprising theories, ideational projects, and methods – needs to be well-structured, systematised, and unified. The critical examination of the literature pertaining to DT for UM, conducted at three different levels of analysis (i.e.: philosophical, methodological, and methodical), showed lack of consistency, coherence, and uniformity. Philosophical worldviews adopted across this new paradigm are wildly heterogenous, incommensurable, and result in oxymoronic theoretical positions when integrated in face of multifaceted real-world wicked urban problems. The existing cultural system shows absence of systematic methodology that can offer clear guidelines to implementation of DT. Moreover, at the most concrete and practical level, DT-based methods and tools are ad-hoc and lack standardisation needed for discipline members to communicate in an unambiguous common language.

Hence, the aim of this research is to systematise and unify the new paradigm DT for UM in order to foster its growth and maturity. To this end, this research developed a theoretical artefact, namely the Digital Twin Body of Knowledge [DTBOK], using Design Science Research methodology. It constitutes a new cultural system for the new paradigm DT for UM that addresses the existing gaps. DTBOK is made of the following three key elements:

Philosophical element: Built upon the philosophy of Critical Realism, which is an intrinsically pluralistic philosophy that enables pluralistic and practically adequate interventions without falling into theoretical contradictions or inconsistencies.

Methodological element: namely, the Data-Driven Multi-Method methodology [DM2] is formulated to provide a systematic procedure to guide DT-based interventions and bridge the abstract philosophical element and the concrete methodical element described below.

Methodical element: namely, the Digital Twin Uses and Classification System [DTUCS] is created in the form of a three-pronged structure. Prong-A provides a framework that aids in classifying DTs and DT use cases according to a set of standard features. Prong-B is a taxonomy of DT uses or functions that DT can plausibly execute, all put in standard terms. Prong-C draws on the Unified Modelling Language [UML] to model and document DT use case scenarios.

The contributions of DTBOK are manifold. On the one hand, DTBOK directly contributes to practice by offering a standard common language that can be used to define DT use cases at the outset of a project, specify required DT features and DT uses, and support clear and unambiguous communications across DT market. It also supplies practitioners with a systematic methodology that guides them through a DT-based intervention. DTBOK’s contribution to theory, on the other hand, involves initiating a philosophical debate that is absent from the DT for UM literature. It explores the philosophical assumptions and worldviews shaping and influencing the DT practices within this nascent paradigm. Built upon the intrinsically pluralistic philosophy of critical realism and by pragmatizing its abstract principles, DTBOK protects researchers and practitioners from adopting an atheoretical or a theoretically inconsistent position while performing in a pluralistic manner, integrating, and combining different DT approaches and methods. The benefits DTBOK brings about by linking theory and practice are manifold. It augments practitioners’ reflexivity, where it provides rigorous grounds based on which practical implementation can be explained, justified, or criticised. Moreover, drawing on the theoretical underpinnings of the various DT methods and approaches, ranging from quantitative and tech-driven to qualitative and humanistic approaches, helps in undertaking genuinely pluralistic interventions in the face of complex and multi-dimensional real-world problems. Using an evaluation-specific methodology, the following three types of research were used to evaluate DTBOK:

Abstract research: to evaluate the philosophical unifiability of DTBOK’s philosophical element. Focus group discussions were carried out to assess how well the philosophical element of DTBOK can consistently unite the distinct worldviews within the paradigm DT for UM.

Intensive research: employing action research to evaluate DTBOK as one whole artefact, including all of its three elements, in terms of its overall adequacy and usability.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: urban environment, philosophy, critical realism, systems thinking, data analytics
Subjects: K900 Others in Architecture, Building and Planning
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Architecture and Built Environment
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 31 May 2023 07:25
Last Modified: 31 May 2023 08:00
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/51581

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