Evolving the LOTI model
In this blog, I share why I believe the time is right to evolve and strengthen the LOTI model. While continuing all our work to support London local government’s digital and data professionals, our aspiration is to become London’s Innovation Unit and Community, able to provide a full suite of innovation capabilities and expertise to help tackle some of London’s biggest challenges.
Where we’ve come from
First, let’s briefly recap what LOTI was set up to do and how we work today.
LOTI was founded in July 2019, recognising that collaboration is vital if boroughs and the GLA are to use tech and data effectively to improve the lives of Londoners.
Yet collaboration can be hard. Without dedicated time, support and resource it tends to be ad hoc, temporary and dependent on individual relationships. LOTI exists to make it deliberate, sustained and systematic.
And that’s what we’ve aimed to do over the last three years: working with our remarkable community of Chief Digital and Information Officers (CDIOs) and their technology, digital and data teams to do four things:
1 – Share knowledge – we’ve produced >50 guides and toolkits; held dozens of workshops, Show & Tells and major events. We have communities of practice to share ideas and solve problems together. We hold regular forums for our members to access expertise from each other, the LOTI team and our partners.
2 – Build capacity – we help boroughs access the talent they need, improve their recruitment and enhance their training. We provide access to recruitment consultants and promote their roles on our jobs board. We identify and fund training opportunities and support apprenticeships.
3 – Run projects – we’ve run projects in a wide range of areas, from helping customer contact centres improve how they help the most vulnerable residents, to cyber security, and from digital inclusion to developing smart city solutions for climate change.
4 – Influence change – we build partnerships with key organisations, from central government departments to techUK, and aim to speak with one voice on behalf of our members.
I couldn’t be prouder of what our community has achieved together. And the signs are that LOTI members value having a strong working relationship with each other. Having started with 15 boroughs, we’re now up to 24 and I hope many others will join before long.
What the need is now
Based on everything we’ve learned to date, it’s become clear that our community, methods and ways of working have the potential to do so much more.
Moreover, I believe London local government needs us to do more.
Today, the capital faces enormous challenges. From climate change to social care reform, from homelessness to digital exclusion, these issues can’t be solved simply by reusing the same solutions that have been tried before. London boroughs need every innovative tool and method at their disposal to design effective solutions.
Two key things need to be said about those innovative tools and methods.
Firstly, they can’t only be about tech and data.
Tech and data are extremely powerful. They will play a key role in the responses to most big challenges. But they are rarely enough alone.
To make this point, I often refer to the hierarchy of public sector innovation diagram below. In any given area of public sector activity – take for example social care:
- if we don’t have the right people with the right relationships
- if our colleagues lack the right skills and competencies
- if we don’t have the right assets and resources
- If we lack the right ways of working…
No amount of technology and data will make much difference.
It’s therefore self-limiting for LOTI to deal only with those innovation methods associated with tech and data. And London’s digital and data teams should not and cannot be expected to innovate alone.
If we’re really to address London’s big challenges, we must also embrace a wider set of non-digital innovation tools and methods that have huge potential in their own right and which can also augment what can be done with tech and data.
The innovation foundation Nesta helpfully captures many of these different innovation approaches in the diagram below.
This leads to my second point.
If we agree that local government needs this 21st Century toolkit, we must first acknowledge that London currently lacks the ability to deploy them consistently at scale.
Many borough policy and service functions still behave quite traditionally, lacking modern tools and methods for experimental problem-solving and innovation. Where innovation projects do occur, they tend to be limited in scope and reach, and are dependent on chasing piecemeal grants. And while some remarkably talented innovators work in individual boroughs, their skills and expertise are not widely accessible to the rest of the community. That feels wholly inadequate for one of the world’s great cities.
This is where LOTI can help.
Where next for LOTI?
With LOTI’s record of getting boroughs and other partners to work together on digital and data innovation projects, our aspiration is now to grow to become London’s Innovation Unit and Community, helping the capital to do effective innovation collaboration at scale.
In short, the ambition is to truly live up to our name of being the London Office of Technology AND Innovation.
To be clear, LOTI would continue to provide all its current functions working with CDIOs and their teams on digital, tech and data innovation. This is vital work that must and will be protected.
Our proposal is to expand our offer so that we’re resourced to additionally provide a larger suite of innovation capabilities and build them across the local government community.
With that expanded set of capabilities, we’d do two things.
First, we’d act as an innovation partner. We’d seek to work over a period of three years with the teams leading the response to some of London’s biggest challenges. We’d help bring a coordinated stack of innovation tools and methods to help them achieve their goals by designing and testing new solutions at scale.
For example, in an area like homelessness, instead of doing, say, an individual data project, we’d work with housing teams to identify the outcomes they want to achieve and then consider what combination of skills, partnerships, technology, data, service design, behavioural science, designing thinking, open innovation and so on could make a real difference.
Our objectives in working as an innovation partner would be to:
- Deploy innovative tools and methods to deliver tangible results that help Londoners.
- Demonstrate the power of – and make the case for further – collaborative innovation.
- Embed innovation skills and capabilities into London’s key policy and service teams so they can use them for themselves in future.
Second, we’d help build London’s innovation foundations. London local government won’t be able to scale and make innovation business as usual if it relies on conducting isolated pilots. Instead, we need to systematically spread innovation skills and knowledge, share good practices and implement better processes, standards and systems to make it easier to innovate together across all areas of work. LOTI has done exactly this sort of thing in areas like data sharing. We can offer the same in other domains like behavioural science.
Our objectives in building London’s innovation foundations would be to:
- Fix broken processes and streamline ways of working
- Reduce the barriers for boroughs innovate at scale
- Build innovation knowledge and capabilities across London local government so that the whole sector is more able to deploy modern tools and methods.
Benefits for LOTI Members
We believe this new approach would provide a number of benefits to our members:
- Chance for digital tools and approaches to have more impact by being accompanied with serious process and behaviour changes.
- Ability to bring a coordinated suite of innovation tools and methods to tackle council problems – which are more likely to succeed.
- Ability to innovate at scale on London’s biggest issues – which don’t respect borough boundaries.
- Access to innovation expertise that currently only exists in pockets across London.
- Greater likelihood of attracting and retaining innovation talent by being supported by pan-London communities of practice.
- Cost-effective way of giving boroughs access to cutting-edge methods.
LOTI has been and always will be driven by what its members want. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be engaging widely with our community to hear their views to help us shape a new three-year strategy to be launched in July.
We’ll engage with policy and service teams to see which, if any, would value this form of support (the topics of net zero, housing, digital inclusion and social care are those where we think we could potentially offer a lot of value).
We’ll also be exploring funding options. One route is to continue to expand our membership, reaching out to the remaining eight boroughs and the City of London that are not yet part of the LOTI family. We’ll also be talking to grantmakers and other partners about how they might support us to deliver these changes.
As always, we’re committed to working in the open and we welcome your comments. If you have ideas, please get in touch.