Programme overview

Urban Digital Transformation & Innovation
Photo of a digital city

What the programme entails


Webinar on Urban Digital Transformation & Innovation

Learn more about the master track content directly from Dr Sofia Pagliarin and Dr Beatriz Calzada — the programme coordinators themselves! Watch this video to discover more about the programme content, and how digital innovation and transformation impact urban socio-economic development and governance.

Watch the full webinar here

The master track provides participants with the expertise to become urban managers specialising in the economics and governance of urban digital transformation and innovation.

The Urban Digital Transformation & Innovation: Governance and Economics of Cities programme is a master track within the MSc in Urban Management and Development. The programme focuses on digital innovation and transformation and their impact on urban economic development and governance. Organised in two parts, the programme draws on the fields of economics, technology and innovation, governance and development, social and economic geography, and urban planning.

In the programme's first part, students discuss both socio-economic and socio-technological transformation. The participants will learn how to critically evaluate the concept of ‘smart cities’ and analyse the opportunities and challenges that the current global digitalisation trends create in the domains of industrial production, employment, and sustainability. Useful skills, such as big data analytics and machine learning, will be taught. The effects of digital transformations on governance and economics are illustrated with examples of smart and micro-mobility, smart grids, new forms of production and energy transition, future-proof public transportation, and labour markets, among others. The programme pays equal attention to the complex process of governing digital innovation, its role in creating or reducing inequalities in cities, and digital technology ethics.

In the second part of the programme, students have the opportunity to focus on one of two overarching topics: economic development or algorithmic governance.

Students in the economic development group will focus on economic geography, knowledge hubs, technological diffusion, territorial development, agglomeration economics, entrepreneurship, and labour markets.

Students in the algorithmic governance group will focus on opportunities and disruptions caused by digitalization and how governments may respond to this: digital infrastructure and algorithmic governance, big data, and how this impacts more traditional forms of governance. 

It is important to note that the programme does not have a technical orientation but focuses on governance and economics. It will introduce students to those techniques and exemplify their use in the context of governance and economics of digital transformations.

How is your year organized?

The first block shares courses on urban complexity, governance & finance, data analytics and research design with the other master tracks. In the second block, your courses will be track-specific and you will be working more closely with your master track peers. The third and last block will be entirely dedicated to your thesis. It will further guide you in writing your thesis proposal on a topic relevant to your master track.


Academic Calendar


Exam Regulations


Programme Curriculum

Block 1 - September to January

With over half of the population living in urban areas, rising to 70% in 2050, it is of ever-increasing importance to understand how cities work and evolve. Complex and interrelated economic, social, physical, and environmental processes constantly transform cities. Understanding cities, therefore, require us to recognize, define and describe these complex and multidisciplinary processes.

This course will discuss the efforts of governments, often undertaken in partnership with other stakeholders, to deliberately intervene in and influence, steer and guide the development process of cities. Local governments have a key role in planning and executing investments and preparing fundable projects. In some countries, local governments have become increasingly dependent on intergovernmental transfers, which have been shrinking over time in part because of fiscal constraints. Moreover, investment decisions are at the core of any development strategy. This course addresses all these and many other aspects of financial investments.

This course will teach students how to harness the power of quantitative urban data by mastering how they are prepared, visualised and analysed. The course introduces students to quantitative data analysis (compared to qualitative data analysis) and continues with lectures on descriptive statistics and data visualisation. The focus is, besides understanding, on working with real data and practising how to conduct data analyses, which students learn in workshops and with exercises. Students will also learn how to present descriptive statistics and data visualisation in academic studies.

Designing and implementing academic research in the field of urban studies is a major component of the master’s programme at IHS. This Research Design (RD) course guides students to design academic research within the social sciences and develop their thesis proposal.

Blocks 2 - January to April

The module on governance will focus on analytical approaches that can help describe and explain how technological innovations exit the controlled environment of ‘labs’ to become (at times) the mainstream technologies we use in our everyday life. The module will present and discuss the various factors and actors that contribute to the development and selection of technology that can affect its widespread adoption. Students will also critically evaluate the concept of ‘smart cities’ and the challenges and opportunities of digitalisation for the governance of cities. Particular attention will be given to the opportunities and challenges of (big) data usage in urban decision-making in different cities and regions.

The module on economics will present the main theoretical approaches to analyse the emergence and impacts of digital transformation and innovation at different spatial levels, from neighbourhoods to cities and cities to countries. The module on economics will also introduce and analyse the opportunities and challenges that the current global digitalisation trends create in the domains of industrial production, employment, and sustainability. These opportunities and challenges will be specifically analysed in the context of urban and regional settings.

This module introduces students to methodological skills that are highly sought after in urban professionals. These methodological skills prepare students to analyse and evaluate digital technologies and innovation in cities and regions. In understanding the basics of key methodological techniques, students will not only be able to correctly apply them but also to choose the most suitable approach to adopt for carrying out a meaningful analysis according to the specific issue at hand.

The module includes an introduction to selected quantitative, qualitative, and comparative methods and offers students a good starting point to develop these skills further. These are taught using open-source software platforms, such as R. The master track covers the following skills:

  • Econometrics
  • Big data analytics and machine learning
  • Principles of policy evaluation
  • Configurational comparative methods (Qualitative comparative analysis)

The Action Planning Workshop incorporates the concepts learned during the Urban Sustainability and Urban Governance and Finance modules in a practical, one-week exercise in cooperation with local stakeholders in the city of Rotterdam.

The main objective of the Thesis Proposal Period is to support the individual research process of participants and, at the same time, produce a body of collective knowledge that is expected to contribute to the understanding of the domain of urban management and development in developing, transitional and developed countries.

Block 3 - April to August

Designing and implementing academic research in the field of urban studies is a major component of the master's programme at IHS. During this period students will write their master thesis on their chosen topic guided by a supervisor.

Learning objectives

  1. Understand the innovative and disruptive aspects of technologies in societies, economies, and cities
  2. Critically evaluate ‘smart cities’ and other digital innovations by identifying socio-economic opportunities and challenges in cities and regions
  3. Explain the process of socio-technological development, selection, and diffusion through different examples 
  4. Analyse the opportunities and challenges of (big) data usage in urban decision-making in different cities and regions
  5. Employ fundamental economic theory principles in the analysis of digital transformation and innovation on various scales: from neighbourhoods to cities and from cities to countries
  6. Analyse the opportunities and challenges presented by the global digitalization trend in the context of production, employment, and sustainability faced by different urban and regional settings
  7. Apply theories and concepts from contemporary literature to practical examples
  8. Apply selected quantitative, qualitative, and comparative methods for analysing and evaluating digital technologies and innovation in cities and regions

Related programmes

Urban Housing & Land Justice

Master track

Urban Environment, Sustainability & Climate Change

Master track

Strategic Urban Planning & Policies

Master track

Got any questions about this programme? We're here to help

Enrolment Office

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes