Local government organisations must work together to deliver the benefits of technology, data and digital services to citizens and businesses.
That was the conclusion from key executives who have been involved in the creation of the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI), a new cross-borough initiative that was launched last night at Bloomberg’s European headquarters in London.
LOTI hopes to strengthen the boroughs’ ability to innovate, build common capability and scale-up digital innovation across London’s public services. The city-wide venture, which has the Mayor of London’s backing, aims to foster radical and effective ideas for the benefit of citizens and businesses.
Theo Blackwell, London’s first chief digital officer, explained the strengths of this new approach at the event, which was part of London Tech Week. Blackwell referred to a range of key concerns for London – such as population growth, traffic congestion, environmental sustainability, housing and inequality – and suggested digitally enabled change can help address these issues:
LOTI is about how we make the most of digital transformation and create common building blocks across London together. It’s important that we establish the principles of collaboration that can make that happen. We think the big challenges that London faces will be met in part thought better digital services. Tech and digital services can play a role in addressing the issues London faces, with humans at the centre – truly citizen-designed digital services is what we need.
LOTI was designed by London public servants and enterprise experts through 2017 and 2018. The process started with a discovery exercise that included Arup, Stance and FutureGov. That process was followed by a design phase that involved Accenture, and a mobilisation stage that drew on the expertise of Camden Council consultant CIO Omid Shiraji and Bloomberg Associates. The launch of LOTI is the final element of an iterative process, said Blackwell:
All along the way, we’ve tweaked what LOTI is about and dropped things that didn’t work quite work, so it’s designed by London. The solution today is a city-wide function that can scale digital skills across London’s public services. We’re bringing people together who want common building blocks and who want to promote the use of agile across local government. It’s a new part of London’s ecosystem.
A new model
Blackwell said London has changed how it organises itself in regard to innovation during the past 18 months. He referred to new digital capability in his own office at Greater London Authority (GLA), but also mentioned positive change at Transport for London, London & Partners and now LOTI. Blackwell said LOTI represents a “special way” of doing business, with a joint-funded body between 15 London boroughs and five key work streams:
We think five things will make our city even more open to technological innovation that can help solve our problems: more user-designed services, a new approach to how we deal with city data, world-class connectivity, digital leadership and skills, and improving city-wide collaboration. From our perspective at the GLA, LOTI is a crucial piece in this wider picture. We’ve made great progress in the last two years. We now need to make sure that we have collaboration and infrastructure in place, and a competency around data, so we can design and innovate on behalf of Londoners.
Eddie Copeland, who was unveiled as the director of LOTI at the event, said it is a huge personal honour to lead the organisation, which will start work formally on 15 July. He said turning the scoped-out initiative into a real-life organisation has been hard work and he suggests a number of key lessons will be important going forward:
Collaboration is hard – in fact, it’s really hard; there are technical, organisational, cultural, legal and data barriers. But we also know that change is worth it. London is distinctive – it’s a collection of communities with different characteristics, strengths and needs and that diversity is supported by local government. But these boroughs shouldn’t be working in isolation from the wider London context. Collaboration makes sense and we know technology and data deliver most value when scaled and shared.
A pragmatic approach
Copeland – who is currently director of government innovation at Nesta and who was formerly head of technology policy at the think-tank Policy Exchange – also mentioned the five key work streams of LOTI and directed particular attention to digital leadership, suggesting the right culture and mindset is key to helping management teams across local government deliver digital change. He said LOTI will provide assistance wherever the London boroughs need help:
We have to focus on delivering real-world outcomes. I’m not a technology evangelist but a pragmatist. I want to deliver something we care about in the real world because this what matters to senior managers, front-line staff and citizens – we have to show them how technology and data can meet their needs. The only way you can have a clear conversation about technology is knowing what you need. Language matters – we want to shun terms like data- and technology-driven; we don’t want to be driven by these things and instead we need to think about enablement. Technology is not enough by itself. We need to work with public and private sector organisations and use their expertise so that we can do meaningful work.
Copeland said the 15 boroughs have chosen four key project areas to work on in advance of the start of LOTI: digital apprenticeships, such as skilled-based apprenticeships that are already being pioneered in Hackney; pipeline adoption, which is about speeding up opportunities for collaboration; an information-sharing framework, which is centred on the safe and ethical sharing of data; and the development of the London data store, which focuses on improving trust ad transparency around data collaboration. Copeland recognises it’s still early days but believes there are significant opportunities:
I don’t know what LOTI will look like in three years but we will be transparent about what we learn, and what works and what doesn’t. We want to be transparent so that we can capitalise on your good will. I don’t know where we’re going to end up but it’s going to be an exciting journey.