Report Launch: Innovative approaches to resident participation in London

How are London boroughs finding new, innovative ways to involve residents in how they meaningfully make decisions and design and deliver services? That was the question that LOTI set out to answer in early 2023 as part of our research project on Innovative Approaches to Resident Participation. We conducted over 30 interviews with different teams from different boroughs, and in combination with desk research have produced a report that reveals some of the cutting edge work that London had done. 

Councils recognise that it is vital to work closer and in more meaningful ways with residents. There are widely accepted and well documented benefits of improving this practice. For councils, by understanding the people they serve better, councils can make better decisions and improve social outcomes. By showing you are listening to residents, it also builds public trust, and can also improve the legitimacy of hard decisions with trade-offs baked in. At its best, good participation also improves social cohesion by bringing together people who might not meet to deliberate and agree on actions that will benefit their community.

A campaign image for Let's Talk Islington. IT is a collage of three photos, one of a old person showing a picture, one of a wall with a colourful peacock painted on, and another of young people smiling.

Let’s Talk Islington is one of a range of initiatives featured in the new report from LOTI

New approaches are emerging partly as a response to areas where councils recognise they need to improve, but also because there are opportunities with new methods or technologies to do things that weren’t previously possible. One quote best sums up the urgency of this work, from an interview with a council officer: “When did a survey ever change anything we did?”. We need better methods!

The report first looks at different deliberative methods that have emerged in London, not just citizen assemblies but other creative methods adapted for particular challenges or contexts. It also considers new digital technologies, from the common platforms that councils use to a range of other solutions. Lastly, it examines how councils function internally to better understand. The principle approach is to bring out case studies from different councils and parts of London and draw common threads across them about what good and emerging practice looks like. 

Our findings in London

For example, on deliberative methods, we do showcase large-scale participatory processes like citizen assemblies and participatory budgeting, but we also want to point a spotlight to smaller council efforts that are equally innovative, but get less attention. For example, Islington’s ‘Let’s Talk Islington’ combined a host of participatory processes to better understand inequality in their borough, with different methods helping different communities tell their stories better. LGBTQ+ residents were equipped with video cameras and skills to create documentaries about their lives, council officers spent time with older people over a tea or coffee to collect stories of their lives, and young people with special educational needs were helped to run puppetry shows, allowing them to tell their story whilst learning valuable skills. 

Online participation is now far more than just a platform with surveys on it too. Boroughs have done great work upgrading the capabilities of their platforms, like Barking and Dagenham’s ‘One Borough Voice’, which has a forum, can run hyper-local polls, and has a mapping feature where the council and residents and businesses can add points of interest. But there are other digital methods that help residents tell their stories much better. The Mayor of London’s ‘Design Future London’ programme partnered with Minecraft Education to build a digital twin of Croydon in a special version of Minecraft, so children could show how they would change Croydon visually in a platform they already knew. We also highlight a range of citizen science initiatives that show how residents themselves are often best positioned to collect valuable data that both the council and the general public can use to improve their cities. 

A Minecraft character representing London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, standing in front of a building

Design Future London built a version of Croydon, London, in Minecraft, where children could redesign the high street in the game.

Lastly, we looked at the organisational conditions for and barriers to doing resident participation well in councils. Leadership and money was often cited as the key enabler – when is it not so – but these are unfortunately not levers that every officer can pull to change (although we do recommend that councillors attend citizen assemblies, as we had feedback that these particularly were often transformative for anyone involved). We do suggest though that councils invest in building a culture of participation, for example by investing in training like Camden’s ‘Camden Imagines’ training, and increase their efforts to do more collaborative engagement working with neighbouring councils, given that most Londoners’ daily lives are not confined to a single borough.

What’s next for LOTI?

After taking this broader look at resident participation, LOTI’s efforts on public participation are now channelled into the specific data and technology space. As our report showed, new technologies, in particular artificial intelligence (AI), also bring new opportunities for public participation, so we’ll continue to monitor these, highlight good practice, and help our boroughs make the most of them.

LOTI are also invested in ensuring that London is a leading city internationally when it comes to participation for technology and data policy and design. We are part of London Data Week, a public fringe-festival festival across London that seeks to foster new conversations with new communities about data and AI. We also continue to support boroughs individually to design their own public engagement methods around data and AI. This is hugely important to ensure that we build technology that isn’t harmful and aligns with our residents values. 

If any of this work stands out to you, either from the report or about LOTI’s future ambitions, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and we’d love to have a chat!

Resident participation

Sam Nutt
24 April 2024 ·
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