Lukasz Pajor - stock.adobe.com
The Mayor of London has called for a new vision around the use of data in the next decade as a crucial tool to solving the capital’s issues as the London Datastore marks its 10th anniversary.
Building on the initiatives introduced over the past decade and particularly during his mandate, which included the appointment of Theo Blackwell, London’s first chief digital officer in 2017, Sadiq Khan wants to see an evolution of the current setup.
“By responsibly opening up a huge amount of data held by our public sector partners and working with London’s brilliant tech sector, we’re helping to tackle some of the most urgent challenges facing our city as it grows,” said Khan.
“The next step is to create a shared approach for the city so we can all benefit from the innovation this will bring – while using the data we hold on Londoners’ behalf transparently, safely and securely,” he said.
Established in 2010 to consolidate publicly available datasets, the Datastore is currently a central register for other types of data, such as secure data and data from sensors. According to the Greater London Authority (GLA), this has enabled deeper insights into growth and change in the capital, as well as fixes for everyday problems faced by city dwellers.
An Open Data Institute report on the achievements and possibilities going forward for the London Datastore, which currently has around 60,000 users each month and is home to more than 6,000 datasets, which include information such as rough sleeping figures and international visitor numbers.
Under the initiative, information on GLA spends and data underpinning mayoral strategies were published to allow public scrutiny on the Mayor and the GLA’s activity and decisions.
The research from the ODI, who has been working with City Hall to build a sustainable data system, recommends a modernisation over the next decade that would see a process of revamping and expanding the platform, improving usability and ensuring the Datastore is central to wider efforts to increase the amount and quality of data available across London.
“For a decade [the London Datastore] has been empowering people, increasing transparency and enabling innovation. But portals must evolve with changing technologies – such as responding to the rise of data search and APIs – and remain relevant to their users, present and future,” said the ODI’s head of technology and author of the report, Oliver Thereaux.
“We recommend improving the platform by making data easier to find, as well as engaging people to prioritise which datasets to add, and showcasing how data can be used to derive insights and learnings which in turn can help improve the lives of Londoners,” he said.
In addition, the ODI also recommends that the datastore team at GLA takes on a greater role as a “trusted guide and steward to the data community”. This would be done by documenting best practices, championing standards and facilitating collaboration around data.
The report recommends the development of “a new approach to sharing civic data” from City Hall, an effort that will be driven by Blackwell alongside citizens, local authorities, academia and businesses.
According to London Datastore manager Joseph Colombeau, the change in scope for the Datastore is a debate that has been gathering more momentum since the end of 2019, particularly around how the Datastore can support the sharing of data that isn’t necessarily suitable to be published for public consumption.
The type of data the initiative is being used to share is also changing, said Colombeau, with data such as live feeds from sensors, a change from the usual CSV or Excel-base spreadsheets. He noted that in 2018, the Datastore gained the capability to share “secure” data, so information that is restricted and/or licensed data including permission, privacy, publication and distribution; as well as data that is presently held privately.
“With new use cases such as these, the Datastore can no longer be considered simply a repository of open data,” wrote Colombeau in a blog post.
Outlining the next steps of the strategy for the coming year, Colombeau said the recommendations of the ODI discovery report have been synthesised into three key projects: the London Datastore 3.0 Development, which will address technical problems identified, including quality of content such as metadata; the GLA Data Strategy, which will set out principles and good practice around supporting the organisation going forward; and the London Data Strategy , which will define the pathway towards tackling the city's challenges with data.
According to Colombeau, the work will build on activities already underway led by the the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) and will take “great interest” and welcome contributions from the London Data Commission, which was launched last month by business organisation London First and is intended to complement the work on city data currently underway at the GLA and London Councils.
Initiatives driven through the London Datastore
Over the past decade, City Hall’s developers have used the data to create a range of initiatives such as:
- The London Rents Map, which 85,000 individuals used last year to find an affordable home;
- Schools Atlas, a tool for parents selecting schools for their children;
- Cultural Infrastructure Map, which helps people find music venues, studios and community halls in their neighbourhoods;
- Infrastructure Mapping Application, used by organisations that manage the city’s energy, transport and water infrastructure to share data with each other to better allocate resources and minimise disruption by co-ordinating streetworks;
- Various air quality mapping tools which use data from a network of sensors and indicate pollution levels in local areas, while prioritising new electric bus routes.