Five ways London boroughs are embracing digital

By Fiona Colley | 15 November 2017

Digital technologies are proving to be a game-changer in so many industries, from helping holidaymakers to book accommodation to assisting surgeons with delicate operations.

Local government is undergoing a similar transformation. We are facing a challenging financial climate, but we are also at an exciting point in history for digital innovation.

The solutions offered by various digital programmes, systems and tools may be new, but they relate to long-held council priorities, such as meeting local people’s changing needs, driving excellence in the workforce and supporting the growth and development of places.

London boroughs are at the forefront of exploring how best to implement digital technologies. One of the ways they are doing this is via the London Ventures programme, which brings innovative private and third sector ideas to the public sector.

With a new chief digital officer for London now in post, the time is right to leverage the benefits of the UK tech sector for local government. Here are five ways that councils across the capital are opening themselves up to new ways of working via London Ventures projects.

Pooling data to combat fraud

The London Counter Fraud Hub is a pan-London data exchange that empowers London boroughs to make maximum use of their own records to fight fraud. It is hosted by Ealing LBC and has contracted the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy to carry out data analytics.

All 32 London boroughs and the City of London have signed up to participate in the hub, which will launch in early 2018. This is a real strength as it will enable hub officers to access the complete set of local authority data from across the capital and match it with other records to prevent various types of fraud, such as illegal sub-letting of council housing, and identify losses that merit investigation.

Creating a virtual workforce through automation

Like many other organisations, London boroughs have various time-consuming and repetitive but necessary back office processes. Robotic automation has been shown to improve efficiency on these kinds of tasks, as once downloaded into existing systems it can process data at a fraction of the cost and time and can operate 24/7.

This software is already being used extensively in the private sector, but a company called Blue Prism is bringing robotic automation to local government in London. Nine boroughs are currently looking at how Blue Prism could help them to drive efficiencies.

Civic crowdfunding

Online crowdfunding platforms have flourished in recent years. Since 2015, 45 councils across the UK have used civic crowdfunding to gain financial backing for various schemes.

One of the most popular crowdfunding platforms is Spacehive, which specialises in crowdfunding for civic projects. Once a scheme has been proposed, individuals, local authorities, businesses and grant funders are able to pledge funds to support it if they believe it will benefit their community. Pledges are only charged if the funding target is met. Spacehive has so far enabled 149 projects in London, worth £3.6m.

Targeting early help offers

Xantura’s children’s predictive safeguarding model uses data to identify children who may be most at risk, but have not been previously known to the council. This helps social workers intervene early, and target their offers more effectively, which has a positive effect on outcomes for children and their families.

This tool analyses changes in household circumstance that could add stress, and applies risk scores to predict the likelihood of this resulting in neglect or abuse of a child.

The effectiveness of the model is enhanced by timely data from the vulnerable families themselves and data from others with whom they are in contact.

Cognitive development through gamification

Ensuring members of staff are able to thrive and excel at work is important to councils – especially their HR teams. An app called MyCQ could help them to achieve this through assessment and monitoring of the cognitive fitness of employees.

Via the MyCQ app, local authorities can access scientifically researched cognitive assessments and training that covers five key areas: executive function, working memory, episodic memory, attention, and processing speed.

Assessments have the potential to identify people in need of further interventions and monitoring, improve long-term cognitive functioning and mental health.

MyCQ could have wider uses too. Possibilities include rolling it out to children within the education system, or exploring whether it could benefit elderly residents.

Cllr Fiona Colley is a member of London Councils’ capital ambition board

If you would like to find out more about the London Ventures programme visit or speak to us at the London Councils Summit on 18 November

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