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Covid-19 outbreak ramps up data focus at LOTI

The boroughs working in local government coalition LOTI are focusing on joining up and acting on data-driven insights to help communities through the crisis and beyond

The London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) has been ramping up focus on projects relating to data in its first year of activity as local authorities seek ways to use technology to respond to the challenges communities are facing in the Covid-19 crisis.

Since launching formal operations on 15 July 2019 under the leadership of former Nesta director Eddie Copeland, LOTI has been working with a multi-disciplinary team from its membership of 16 London boroughs, The Greater London Authority and London Councils on projects relating to digital, data and innovation.

The overarching theme is that many of the issues local authorities face, such as needing a generation of a skilled workforce to operate in the digital economy, are best handled through a collaborative approach.

In its first annual report, LOTI management noted that it initially thought the emergence of the new coronavirus outbreak would mean a total shift in its strategy, but the pandemic has shown the organisation’s “objectives and ways of working are more important than ever”, in particular when it comes to data.

“Tackling barriers to using data is vital: without good data we can’t see what’s going on and who needs help. And right since day one, we’ve said that all our work must focus on achieving real-world outcomes that matter to Londoners,” LOTI’s programme manager Onyeka Onyekwelu said in the report’s foreword.

“The outcomes that matter now – supporting residents whose lives have been disrupted and whose needs have grown more acute – could hardly be more serious,” she added.

In its first year of operation, LOTI boroughs worked on initiatives aimed at addressing the barriers that prevent local authorities from joining up, analysing and acting on their collective data to deliver better public services.

LOTI had become used to hosting several in-person events and workshops and had to digitise all of its activities, pivot much of its work planned for the year, and find ways to support councils in their response to the Covid-19 crisis. According to the report, the focus of the projects is on tackling vulnerability and promoting inclusion of citizens in need.

Many of the initiatives relating to the coronavirus-focused work have a significant data component, according to the report. An example includes the creation of a LOTI data analysts network for boroughs to exchange tips on Covid challenges, particular the use of data to identify residents in need.

LOTI also helped boroughs share data with each other on children that were receiving Free School Meals to ensure the ongoing support to vulnerable young people. It also supported boroughs applications to get more timely access to death registrations data.

According to LOTI, most of the focus of work in its second year will be related to understanding the changing nature of residents’ needs and designing better ways to address these requirements.

Fixing the data plumbing

Examples of data-related work prior to the pandemic is focusing on “fixing the plumbing” so that local authorities can sophisticate such initiatives.

An example is a project around information governance led by Camden, where workshops found that barriers involve the late discovery of data protection issues in pan-London data projects, as well as lack of standards in terms of information governance processes and version control issues that lead to multiple rounds of feedback and bureaucracy.

The project led to the launch of a seven-step standardised process for information governance that all boroughs can follow, as well as online tools to streamline processes around information sharing agreements and data privacy impact assessments, which is being co-created with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Norfolk County Council, Leeds City Council and CC2i.

Other data-related initiatives LOTI was involved with include work with Brent Council on a series of workshops focused on data and artificial intelligence ethics, as well as support to GLA’s discovery phase of the London Datastore, focusing on the potential of the platform as a technical means fro local authorities to exchange and analyse data.

A LOTI project led by the London borough of Waltham Forest on common challenges councils face when dealing with tech suppliers and originated a series of suggestions of terms and conditions local authorities would like to see in contracts. One of them, according to the report, is that London boroughs would like every future tech tender and contact to grant them full and free access to their system data, preferably by an application programming interface (API).

City Tools, a platform with the aim of helping local authorities get better value from the technologies they use, as well as initiatives focused on using data to improve services, is another first year highlight for LOTI. Further work around City Tools included improvements made in the latter part of 2019 towards the creation of Thirty3, a platform that will show boroughs’ technology tender opportunities.

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