LOTI: Annual Report 2021
Welcome to LOTI’s second annual report. Last year’s is available here. Below you’ll find some key highlights from the past year. And what a year it’s been!
For all London’s communities, the past 12 months have been among the most unusual and disrupted in living memory. Throughout it all, boroughs have been there at the coalface: doing everything from helping businesses to access much-needed grants to coordinating the delivery of food packages to the most vulnerable. As the year has gone on, attention has moved from crisis management to recovery. Boroughs have been actively thinking about how they can use all the disruption as an opportunity to improve the way they support residents.
During this time, the LOTI community has really hit its stride. It’s been with great pride that I’ve witnessed our members rally together to support each other. They’ve shared ideas, spoken with one voice, and – amazingly – found time to design and test innovative new approaches together. The LOTI model, with its emphasis on sharing and reusing, connecting peers, running experiments and learning together has enabled that collaboration to happen far more effectively than would otherwise have been the case.
It’s also been a highly productive year.
Our peer networks have included 362 colleagues across 30 meet-up sessions and 12 challenge and skills development days. We now have three thriving networks specifically for data professionals, supporting roles from boroughs’ data leaders to their data managers and data scientists. We’ve additionally held dozens of workshops for colleagues from digital inclusion leads to procurement specialists, held seven webinars and 21 Show & Tells reaching 325 attendees.
We’ve supported boroughs to apply for and win funding from MHCLG to work on Covid-related projects. We also ran our own Covid Innovation Fund, resulting in two projects, which you’ll read about below. We’re delighted to finish this year by receiving a new grant of over £1.3million from the GLA to focus on digital inclusion. This will enable LOTI to expand our team from four to six people, and work on practical innovations as part of the Digital Inclusion Innovation Programme.
Two years since our inception, there remains much still to do. For now, I’ll close by thanking the incredible LOTI team, who work so hard to find valuable ways for boroughs to work together. I’m grateful too to all the private and third sector partners who have helped us along the way. Most of all, I want to thank our members: for their support, time, dedication and energy in making London local government work better together.
As I have always said: collaboration is hard, but it’s also worth it.
From Crisis to Recovery
For all the many negative impacts that Covid has created, boroughs’ crisis responses have pointed to ways that things could be done better in future. Over the past 12 months, the LOTI community has focused on turning the crisis into an opportunity to experiment with new ways of working to ensure a strong recovery.
The first promising trend has been how boroughs have worked closer than ever before with their local voluntary and community organisations (VCS) to respond to local needs. There is great hope that those crisis collaborations can be turned into more permanent and effective service models. Yet our community quickly identified that a key barrier to achieving this was the lack of shared information between councils and their VCS partners. To address this, Camden, LOTI, Central Bedfordshire Council and FutureGov worked on an MHCLG-funded project to explore how data could be more effectively shared between the two sectors. The work resulted in the development of our Community Insights Project User Guide and toolkit. A further pilot to put the insights from that project into action will take place in Year 3.
Seeking to encourage more ideas along these lines, in December 2020 LOTI launched its own Covid Innovation Fund. This resulted in two projects which look likely to be foundational to many other initiatives that will follow over the next year. The first project aims to ensure that vulnerable residents receive the best possible support from their very first contact with a borough. In a collaboration between Newham and Hackney, customer service staff have been trained and equipped with tools to help residents access all the different support services they need, rather than waiting for a crisis before being connected to the help on offer.
The second project, involving Barnet, Brent, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Westminster and the GLA, has developed a portfolio of 25 digitally excluded personas and used data to map the scale and distribution of digital exclusion in London. Developing this kind of data model can help ensure that we, as London local government, always have sight of who is most in need, and can target interventions intelligently.Mapping Digital Exclusion In London LOTI Toolkit
Covid recovery has also brought a renewed relevance to LOTI’s work on Assistive Technology (AT): digital devices that enable residents to live more independently. During the pandemic, many residents suddenly became socially isolated when Covid restrictions made it harder for people to engage with their support networks, including family, friends and social activity groups. This was – and remains – especially acute for those having to shield for medical reasons.
In the meantime, you can read the full report which summarises what is currently known about the impact and evidence on the effectiveness of different types of #AssistiveTechnology here: https://t.co/2pUF4K94JA#TechnologyEnabledCare #TEC #Telehealth #Telecare #AssistedLiving pic.twitter.com/MOuMPiRC8J
— London Office of Technology and Innovation (@LOTI_LDN) January 20, 2021
In response, we commissioned research on the effectiveness of AT and funded pilots in Greenwich and Hackney testing the impact of two different ATs in reducing social isolation and improving wellbeing. The Greenwich pilot explored the effectiveness of Amazon Echos. Participants were residents over the age of 65 with reduced mobility and who were more at risk of becoming socially isolated as a result of Covid restrictions. The pilot was small in nature, but a number of improvements were reported in the areas relating to self-care and wellbeing.
Hackney’s pilot, called “Connecting People Remotely” sought to enable residents experiencing social isolation and digital exclusion to connect with others. This tested whether providing a tablet device, internet connection, and written guidance would enable some socially isolated individuals with medium-to-low digital skills to make contact with others remotely. One-to-one support from local VCS organisations was also provided to all participants to enable everyone to interact with the provided tablet. The results proved promising. Support workers saw a positive impact on some of the clients’ lives and intend to scale up the pilot.Hackney AT Pilot Summary
While many topics related to the digital world fly under the radar of public and political attention, digital inclusion has made front page news. During the Covid crisis, we all read and heard stories of young people unable to participate in home learning, and adults unable to apply for work, access training or benefits. Why? Because they don’t have a device, struggle with poor connectivity or lack the requisite skills.
The LOTI community threw itself into working on this challenging issue. Boroughs launched digital champions and mentors programmes, started crowdsourcing campaigns and developed resources to meet their residents’ emerging needs. In an effort to shed light on this amazing work, in October 2020 we hosted a pitch-fest at DigiLeaders Week (see the video below) and created a library of international case studies on useful interventions. Since then, we’ve also crowdsourced a library of interventions taking place in London, which features more than 100 initiatives by boroughs and their third and private sector partners.
Wishing to build on the momentum of projects like these, in June 2021, LOTI and the GLA launched the Digital Inclusion Innovation Programme (DIIP). Working with partners in the public, third and private sectors, the goal of the programme is to use innovative methods to discover, design, develop and scale initiatives that support digitally excluded Londoners who have been left particularly vulnerable during the Covid pandemic. The programme seeks to directly support The London Recovery Board’s Digital Access for All Mission, which has set a goal for “Every Londoner to have access to good connectivity, basic digital skills and the device or support they need to be online by 2025.” Work is already underway to investigate areas such as device upcycling, supporting digitally excluded people living in temporary accommodation, and helping the carers of people living with dementia.Digital Inclusion Innovation Programme (2)
Innovation in Procurement
Helping boroughs get better value from the technologies they use and improving their relationships with suppliers has been a priority for LOTI since our first days. We started our second year with a desire to build on the early success of City Tools – our Bloomberg Associates funded database of the different technologies used by boroughs. Following a series of user workshops, we explored how we could take that data and make it more usable for boroughs’ technology and procurement leads. This led to the development of the Thirty3 Platform, announced during London Tech Week 2020. The platform was designed to make boroughs’ technologies and their associated contracts searchable and also link them to upcoming tender opportunities.
Despite our best efforts, our work to develop this platform was not successful. Yet we learned some important lessons. The first was that boroughs find it hard to provide the level of data needed to make such a platform work. IT teams tend to have the details of the applications they use. Procurement teams have contract information. Linking the two and connecting them to upcoming procurement opportunities proved prohibitively difficult. The second challenge was that the APIs we relied on to pull new tender opportunities from e-procurement portals lacked the level of detail needed to make the platform work without substantial manual intervention.
This week #LOTI will be engaging with borough leads to identify the most pressing problems across the different stages of the #tech #procurement process for us to prioritise in our #Innovation in Procurement project.#Digital #DigitalGovernment #LocalGov #DataCollaboration #Data https://t.co/v8uydxUrLG pic.twitter.com/OJwPiHJrNI
— London Office of Technology and Innovation (@LOTI_LDN) September 21, 2020
In light of these challenges, and with the guidance of Waltham Forest’s Paul Neville, our borough lead on this work, we decided to work on three more promising areas.
The first was the creation of our Innovation in Procurement Toolkit, developed with Govtech consultants PUBLIC, and our network of technology procurement leads. The toolkit aims to equip boroughs with the knowledge, guidance, resources and functional tools they need to achieve more innovative purchasing outcomes when buying technology products, services and support.
The second was to apply that toolkit’s guidance to three boroughs’ procurement of Housing Management Services (HMS) systems. This work was led by PUBLIC, and was the first collaborative procurement for LOTI. Boroughs worked together to iteratively develop an outcomes-based tender specification that better articulated their needs and dramatically reduced the length of their requirements posed to suppliers. That project also produced a range of useful templates for future procurements, including guidance on conducting tender evaluations and navigating the many different routes to market.
The final step was to establish an Innovation in Procurement Forum for LOTI members. This forum, which meets every two months, will become our primary channel for identifying future areas which could benefit from collaborative procurement.
In LOTI’s ﬁrst year, we focused our digital skills and leadership efforts on recruiting 100 Digital Apprentices across our community of boroughs, and were delighted to exceed that goal. To support the cohort of new recruits, we co-developed and tested a Playbook with boroughs, created 2 cross-borough networks, held three virtual and in-person meet-ups for apprentices and their managers, and co-designed 16 training programmes and hackathons with the private sector in response to the needs identiﬁed during the pandemic.
Learning from this work, in Year 2, we shifted our skills focus to supporting borough officers working in data roles – recognising the huge importance of data for boroughs in managing the Covid crisis and recovery. We broke down our work to meet the needs of three core communities: those responsible for leading data strategies and teams, those who work in data analytics teams, and other council officers who may need to use data as part of their day-to-day activities. Over the course of the year, we have cultivated three data communities, hosted 29 network meet-ups (the full playlist is available here) and worked with them to solve a wide variety of challenges to improve how they deliver services to residents. Not least was campaigning for improvements to datasets provided to boroughs by Public Health England and the NHS to support shielding residents.
Given the vital importance of using data well, LOTI has invested time into advocating for the adoption of six specific measures to improve data collaboration across London. These measures were all designed by the LOTI community – especially our network of Information Governance Leads – and were endorsed by Theo Blackwell, London’s CDO, and the London Recovery Board. These measures include making use of the London Datastore as the primary technical means to share data, for which we have developed guidance with the GLA. Another measure is using Dapian – an online tool we co-created with CC2i and Looking Local that facilitates the creation of Data Privacy Impact Assessments. Users of our methodology have shared how their information governance sign-off process has been cut down from four weeks to just 10 days. Finally, we’ve also made time to refine and publicise our Outcomes-based Data Methodology, which helps boroughs understand when and how data can help tackle a specific challenge.
Among the many data collaboration projects we have worked on this year, a highlight has been our work on Electric Vehicle charge points. Together with colleagues from Greenwich, other boroughs, the GLA, London Councils and private sector charge operators, we’ve developed a dashboard that shows the location of around 3,500 charge points at ward level and their usage. Paving the way for how we believe future smart city data projects should be run, we focused on using the London Datastore as a central point for sharing all EV charge point data and developing common data and API standards to set common expectations for charge point operators to use. This project will support better decision making by borough highway officers and in future will likely lead to much better data availability for London’s residents, too.
What comes next for LOTI in Year 3?
Over the past few months we have consulted widely with our membership on where we should head in Year 3. Based on their feedback, we’ve decided to focus our efforts across three themes. The first is on Developing Capabilities. We’ll be exploring how we can boost boroughs’ access to data talent, navigate decisions about the post-Covid workplace, procure better and boost their cyber security.
The theme is Service Innovation. Having laid the groundwork on how to share data more easily, we’ll be figuring out how to embed data ethics into practice, we’ll explore new service models that aid prevention, and we’ll design measures to help the digitally excluded.
The final theme is Smarter London. Boroughs must be free to choose the best solutions for their residents, but without some coordination, common approach and guidance, they risk missing out on the true potential of these new technologies and approaches. Over the next year, LOTI will help boroughs develop their thinking and practice with a focus on supporting London’s environmental goals.
You can read much more about our plans in our Year 3 strategy deck.
We thank all our members and supporters for everything they have done and continue to do for LOTI. As we look ahead to Year 3, our community is growing in both size and ambition. There remains much to be done. We hope you’ll come and join us on our journey to bring the best of digital, data and innovation to improve public services and outcomes for Londoners.