Developing a London Office for Technology & Innovation: progress report

Over the last 12 months City hall and London Councils have been examining the case for a new digital collaboration function provisionally called a ‘London Office for Technology & Innovation’ (or ‘LOTI’).

On 27 February we brought a paper to London Councils Executive (the core borough leadership of the city) based on our earlier scoping work with Arup, Futuregov and Stance — a link to the formal report to the Executive is available at the end of this paper.

The problem to be solved

London is a global hub for technological innovation, spanning over 40 clusters and major institutions. Over the last decade councils have revolutionised the use of technology to serve citizens more effectively, bringing many transactions online and beginning to embed new applications to solve more complex urban challenges. However, London’s complexity is such that a ‘collaboration deficit’ exists which manifests itself in a number of observable ways:

  1. Fragmentation — London’s public services — City Hall, 33 boroughs, the over 40 NHS trusts and a number of major functional bodies — and regulated utilities currently present a very confusing picture for public service innovators seeking to learn from each other and scale what works, and for the GovTech and general technology market to understand and navigate. National and international approaches for investment, piloting of best practice — for example in smart city innovation — are currently distributed in a non-strategic manner, leading lost opportunities for public services. London does not make the most of its advantages as a home to major research institutions and the tech sector.
  2. Inconsistent foundations — differences across public services hamper the ability to respond to current and new challenges, whether regulatory or civic. For a variety of reasons — cultural, technology legacy, professional — public services use, manage and share data in different ways, often hampering innovation and more effective investment decisions at a time of limited budgets. Adopting new data laws (‘GDPR’) or the need for cyber-security are London-wide questions for public services and existing and new infrastructure need to respond to consistently. Meeting city-wide challenges such as poor air quality, congestion and homelessness will require the promotion, adoption and even development of common standards without which innovation and citizen-centred design approaches are limited.
  3. Leadership & capability – the breadth of change means the capacity across local government to understand, develop and implement new challenges. Addressing this requires leadership support across public services.

The status quo means public services are lesser than the sums of their parts, impacting our best efforts to be a smart city and deliver outcomes for citizens.

This is not a new observation unique to this research but it absolutely needs to be revised of addressing citizens’ needs in the light of the explosion in the use of data and new digital technologies.

There are two main aspects to improvement:

Technology preparedness — new business models need to be understood, explored and anticipated;
Data and digital technology afford public service new opportunities to ‘build once and share often’, to minimise duplication of effort and drive efficiency and quality of service.

To address this we’ve been thinking about how to get London’s public services — starting with councils — to collaborate better on digital services, and the principles and capabilities which underpin them.

Purpose

We see the purpose of a new collaboration function as:

  1. enhancing collective digital leadership capability;
  2. establishing where appropriate, common digital foundations and
  3. assisting, where needed, future service innovation to benefit Londoners.

Work identified

Following feedback from Chief executives and the GLA we’ve scoped five possible initial areas of activity:

The first is operational — developing ways of working including structure, steering group, and Memoradum of Understanding outlining roles, responsibilities and expected investment (funding and in-kind, e.g. officer time) between London Councils and the GLA and agree future work programme leading to a further offer (see below).

The second area of work is adoption and promotion of Pipeline, a product developed by the LocalGovDigital Makers community and currently in Beta where users can cite and comment on products they are using (e.g. prototype Using Amazon Alexa skill for waste collection and recycling). The LOTI proposal is to run this product for the benefit of practitioners nationwide.

Pipeline developed by LocalGov Digital Makers

The LOTI would also work with the GLA, London Councils and boroughs to promote peer-to-peer networks, including taking on the running of the Unconference initiated by the GLA for this year, as well as monthly teacamps.

The fourth area of work is to assist the GLA Connectivity team with the adoption of standardised leases across London to improve connectivity.

Finally we propose ongoing work to share best practice on GDPR compliance and cyber-security standards, liaising with London and national bodies in partnership with the CDO.

How a LOTI could develop

A maturing LOTI function could develop further after a ‘start-up’ phase, in subsequent years bringing clusters of councils with shared identified needs together to explore further work. Much like the operation of the Digital Office for Scotland, uses-cases could include further work around cloud computing; adopting common standards; 5G preparation and exploration of blockchain technologies.

Example of how a possible LOTI could develop

Next steps

Further refinement around the business case is being developed for discussion by the GLA and London Councils in Q2. Read the full update to London Councils here.