Mayor Sadiq Khan sets out plans to revamp London’s data portal

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 9, 2020
Summary:
The London Datastore is now 10 years old and recommendations have been put forward to make it more useful.

Image of Tower Bridge in London

City Hall’s open data-sharing platform, the London Datastore, is making its 10th anniversary this year. The platform currently has approximately 60,000 users each month and stores more than 6,000 datasets - up from the 500 when it was first launched in 2010. 

Data available via the Datastore includes everything from population estimates, to rough sleeping figures and international visitor numbers. 

It was one of the first of its kind to be developed by a major city anywhere in the world, making freely available huge amounts of data about the capital city - with the hope that it be used to tackle some of London’s most pressing challenges, such as road congestion and air quality. 

However, the decade-old platform has room for improvement, according to a new report released by the Open Data Institute and commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Changes to the Datastore are particularly pertinent given that London’s population is set to grow to 11 million people by 2050 and the role data can play in improving the quality of life for residents.

City Hall’s developers have used the data to create a range of maps and applications already, which include: 

  • London Rents Map, which 85,000 Londoners used in 2019 to help them find affordable homes

  • School Atlas, a tool for parents selecting schools for their children

  • Cultural Infrastructure Map, which helps people enjoy and preserve music venues, studios and community halls in their neighbourhoods

  • A range of air quality mapping using data from a network of sensors showing London pollution levels

Other apps developed by the public sector and business include the Green Infrastructure Map, which uses aerial and infrared images with satellite data to map areas where new trees and open spaces are needed; and the Infrastructure Mapping App, which helps utility companies coordinate roadworks to minimise disruptions and congestion across the capital. 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: 

London is considered one of the world’s leading smart cities because we have an enviable track record of using data to solve everyday problems faced by Londoners.

By responsibly opening up a huge amount of data held by our public sector partners and working with London’s brilliant tech sector, we’re helping tackle some of the most urgent challenges facing our city as it grows.

The next step is to create a shared approach for the city so we can all benefit from the innovation this will bring – while using the data we hold on Londoners’ behalf transparently, safely and securely.

A new vision needed

In June 2018, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched the Smarter London Together Roadmap, his plan to make London the ‘smartest city in the world’. As part of the Roadmap, Khan tasked London’s first ever Chief Digital Officer, Theo Blackwell - who was appointed in August 2017 - to develop a “bolder approach to harnessing the power of the city’s data to benefit all Londoners”. 

Image of Tower Bridge in London

In addition to this, last month business organisation London First Launched the London Data Commission, which aims to complement the work on city data currently underway at the Greater London Authority and London Councils. 

The Open Data Institute’s report has made a number of recommendations to improve the London Datastore to make it fit for the next decade. It defines the Datastore as an “exemplar in transition”, where it recommends that it become a “better source of data”, creating a “destination for insights and becoming a trusted guide and steward”. 

The report deserves reading in full, but essentially makes six key recommendations for the revamp of the Datastore. These include: 

  1. Improve the findability of the data

  2. Increase the variety and volume of data on the Datastore

  3. Showcase data reuse

  4. Document best practices

  5. Champion standards adoption and development

  6. Encourage and facilitate collaboration 

Head of Technology at the Open Data Institute and the report’s lead author, Olivier Thereaux, said: 

The London Datastore is a data-portal pioneer – providing a platform where anyone can access public data. For a decade it has been empowering people, increasing transparency and enabling innovation. But portals must evolve with changing technologies – such as responding to the rise of data search and APIs – and remain relevant to their users, present and future.

In our report on the opportunities for the London Datastore in the future, we recommend improving the platform by making data easier to find, as well as engaging people to prioritise which datasets to add, and showcasing how data can be used to derive insights and learnings which in turn can help improve the lives of Londoners.

We also recommend that the datastore team at GLA take on a greater role as trusted guide and steward to the data community, by documenting best practices, championing standards and facilitating collaboration around data.