What is the Point of a Digital Twin

Digital twins (DT) was a term coined by Michael Grieves in 2002.

“It is based on the idea that a digital informational construct about a physical system could be created as an entity on its own. This digital information would be a ‘twin’ of the information that was embedded within the physical system itself and be linked with that physical system through the entire lifecycle of the system.”

From a smart community perspective, it is another aid to citizen engagement and storytelling.  It is also a tool that can be used by community leaders to aid ‘what-if’ scenario planning and decision-making.  This is especially pertinent when looking to maximise efficient resource allocation (for example from food, water, and energy sub-systems) and mitigate externalities that are derived from exploiting these resources.   


A community Digital Twin can assist in emergency planning to counteract threats from climate change.  A DT does not necessarily have to be a real-time view of what is going on in real life.  Digital Twins can be disconnected but still provide great insight into what could happen ‘if….’ 

The important requirement for a DT is that it is linked to the physical world.  It must be an accurate representation. If not, the DT will not provide answers the community and civic leaders will trust and buy into.  

When completing what-if scenario planning there are a number of considerations where the DT will aid and influence.   

  • The different degrees of impact that will occur depending on the type of natural event (e.g. forest fire, hurricane, flooding, through to climate extremes of heat & cold).
  • The allocation of response resources.  So as to ensure the right equipment and people are at the best location to respond to these events.  
  • An opportunity to inform citizens and leaders on which areas will be impacted by which type of events.  This can influence investment and spending decisions. 

Circular Economy

Digital Twins are going to be ever more important and will eventually be seen as a must-have requirement as we shift towards a circular economy.  They can be used as the reference and tracking point for the assets as they evolve from one use to another.  The DT becomes that trusted source of truth – that auditor and tabulator of how resources evolve from one use to the next.   

In a blog for Madastar Pablo van den Bosch wrote: 

“Digital twinning will provide a boost to the circular economy in the construction sector…. Depending on the specific material or product, new possibilities are created for reuse, and this provides new opportunities for producers, owners, and service providers to expand their activities using circular business models.”

This outlook could be applied to any sector that consumes resources and creates products and secondary waste.  The digital twin can have a role.   The important thing to embrace is that the DT is the point of reference, that is trusted by all parties involved in an exchange or use of the good or service. 

What makes a successful Digital Twin? 

A good place to start is the Gemini Principles that have been published by the Centre for Digital Built Britain.

Gemini Principles from the CDBB

The Gemini Principles are foundations on which to build a Digital Twin.   However, the SUGI-CRUNCH project that KnowNow is involved in has taken these principles and identified some other elements.  

Open Data

The first principle is about making sure the data created by (for example) Urban Living Labs is open data. This means that all data has a known shelf life, so any data must have an archiving policy (stored for posterity but not processed), or the data is deleted if it no longer has any use.  


To make the decisions work a collaborative approach is required to maximise the gain that this new evidence suggests. For the benefits at a local level to be fully realised the local stakeholders need to ensure they collaborate when making integrated decisions.  


The interoperability focus here is on making sure data sets are interoperable across federated Digital Twins. Similar to collaboration (which is more focused on the people and process collaboration required), interoperability is focused on the machine readability and processing of diverse datasets to get a consolidated sensical outcome.  


What will enable interoperability is standards.  Not just the ISO37016 standard, but any standard that will better safeguard interoperability and collaboration.   These standards will cover security, GIS, data management, privacy, and systems design.  Standards also drive governance and give structure to the outcomes the DT is promoting.   


An outcome by its very nature is measurable.  Which creates opportunities for governance and tracking of whether expectations are being met.  Adopting an outcomes-centric focus also facilitates standards & interoperability adoption.  This principle focuses on Outcomes.


To conclude, the point of a Digital Twin is to better manage the impact of events on a place. To ensure equitable and sustainable use of resources, especially in response to events and situations. In essence, the DT is to be used as a trusted information source and a platform to experiment on. Whilst at the same time having confidence any inferred or estimated outcome will likely be close to reality. 

Should places have a Digital Twin? Yes – if they have a need for answers and information sharing from either the current world or looking forward to future scenarios.  

If your community wants to discuss adopting a Digital Twin then get in touch at contact@kn-i.com where the team can work with stakeholders to realise a Digital Twin for your place.