Transforming our thinking about digital

By Philip Glanville | 09 March 2020

In local government, many of us are enthusiastic about digital. After all, councils are committed to delivering the best possible public services for our communities, through the best possible assets, tools, and methods at our disposal.

As London Councils’ Digital Champion, I’m certainly a firm believer in its potential to strengthen local services across the capital. 

But I also appreciate that digital change requires a carefully considered approach. Rather than assuming digital is a panacea and that new technology is always better, it’s vital to reflect on the big questions about what we intend to accomplish and identify how digital transformation can support those objectives.

Digital tools are exactly that – not an end in themselves, but tools for both citizens and those who serve them to make it easier to access services, improve London's systems, and help us to collaborate better.

The London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) has an essential role in guiding boroughs through these questions. 

Set up last summer with the support of London Councils and the Mayor of London, LOTI’s mission is to boost boroughs’ ability to innovate, build common capability, and to foster digital innovation designed to improve Londoners’ lives. 

Through working together, we can maximise our individual and collective abilities. And by focusing on the three priorities of data collaboration, increasing digital skills, and supporting better use of technology, LOTI is paving the way for boroughs to make significant progress.  

On data collaboration, many of the challenges we face – such as homelessness, pollution, and knife crime – cross borough boundaries. If we’re going to address these challenges successfully, our data must cross boundaries too. 

LOTI has therefore worked with its members on preparing an agreed approach to responsible data collaboration. This will help overcome the significant hurdles to data sharing and facilitate the collective use of data in a legal, ethical, and in a secure and transparent way for the benefit of Londoners. 

Boroughs want to boost home-grown digital talent, which is why another LOTI goal is to support boroughs in recruiting 100 digital apprentices by September 2020.  

This follows my own borough’s successful digital apprenticeship initiative. Launched in 2018, the Hackney programme creates real opportunities for our residents to break into one of Hackney and London's fastest growing industries, training apprentices in digital disciplines while working on various council projects and services. 

Digital apprenticeships are a key part of our workforce strategy. In a market where digital skills are at a premium, local government needs to work hard to attract and grow our own local talent. We have also seen that the programme has helped our managers to grow their skills. It’s fantastic to see this approach being adopted at scale in the capital, thanks to LOTI. 

And on the technology theme, LOTI is working with boroughs to look into both the benefits and risks of installing internet of things (IoT) sensors in streets and other public spaces.

These sensors can collect useful data that can help councils act on all sorts of issues which matter to our citizens, like air quality and congestion. Deployed thoughtfully, ‘smart street infrastructure’ can enable boroughs to understand the key factors affecting quality of life in their communities and identify steps we can take to help improve people’s lives. 

LOTI is helping boroughs with this thinking – including the critical need to ensure that any data collection is undertaken in a way that wins and maintains residents’ support and in a form that can be used at a pan-London level.

For everyone interested in digital local government, I strongly recommend following the LOTI team’s regular updates via Medium.com/loti. Much of our London learning and experience will be applicable across the sector – and it’s in the spirit of LOTI to encourage transparency and collaboration as widely as possible. 

Digital transformation has such an important part to play in local government’s collective ambitions. It’s not just technology and data – it’s about using these to improve the wellbeing and opportunities available to our residents. The coming months and years are undoubtedly set to be immensely busy for LOTI. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.  

Philip Glanville is Mayor of Hackney and London Councils’ Digital Champion

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