Your Commute: how City Hall used Oyster card data to gauge citizen views on the use of personal data

Christine Wingfield, who leads the GLA’s Opinion Research Team at City Hall, writes about the public response to the Smart London listening tour.

In January, London’s first Chief Digital Officer, challenged us as part of the Listening Tour to develop London’s new approach to smart cities to come up with an innovative way to engage a mass audience of Londoners in a conversation about how data could be used to shape and improve the services they use.

It’s an important matter. Data has the potential to transform our city in a myriad of ways — but it’s also kind of abstract. That’s no excuse for leaving it to the ‘experts’. Londoners should have a say in how they want the city and city spaces to work, especially as councils, residents, businesses, and designers need to collaborate and share information to co-design, deliver and manage city spaces.

With a small project budget, we took the decision to focus our resources on developing a highly engaging user experience that would be optimised for sharing and virality.

Our hypothesis was that a strong user experience could deliver more reach and overall value than a traditional consultation approach.

We gave a digital agency, Forward Action, a brief to solve the problem: create a highly engaging/shareable user journey that demonstrated use of ‘smart city’ style data, while also engaging users enough to drive them to take part in the Smart London consultation and debate on Talk London.

The result was a quiz that told Londoners exactly how many people shared their commute to work.

Your Commute, used by over 64,000 Londoners

Built in three weeks using TfL RODS data (rolling origin and destination survey), we shared the tool in March with our Talk London members, and it quickly went viral, generating its own Reddit thread, and 20,000 users on the first day. Talk London community members emailed to say they loved it, and we gained earned media coverage from the Evening Standard, Time Out, Londonist and Gizmodo, among others.

And the result? 64,879 Londoners used the tool during the Smart London listening period, with 88,050 total users. At the time of writing it’s the second most visited page on in 2018; and it generated 7,426 Talk London email sign ups and several hundred survey responses.

More than 1,700 Londoners took our Smart London survey and over 200 shared views in the many discussion threads. We’ll publish a full report on the consultation findings in June, however it’s clear from our initial review of the feedback that Londoners are more willing for their data to be used for the benefit of planning and improving public services (like medical research or planning transport services) than they are for the benefit of targeted advertising. And, while awareness of sensor technology was low, Londoners responded positively to the use of sensors for detection of air and light pollution, although less warmly to the suggestion of tracking mobile phone journeys for the benefit of advertising purposes.

The tool achieved our main objective of driving viral engagement with the Smart London listening exercise and was more effective than previous marketing or advertising trials alone. There is more we can do to optimise Talk London to convert visitor to members — and we’re working on that.

But most of all — this was not a traditional government consultation — it was personal, surprising, and extremely sharable, and it played a vital role in ensuring that Londoners were aware of our Listening Tour and able to take part.

We will publish the results of what you told us shortly.