Building trust in the future of London’s data

Sharing data by default could turbocharge London’s potential for radical improvements across the ecosystem, according to London First’s director of connectivity and competitiveness, David Lutton

Twenty years ago, London faced the question of how best to organise it’s public transport network – a new organisation, Transport for London (TfL), came into being to tackle this challenge. 

Today, London faces a similarly complex and contested question on making best use of an essential resource – the city’s data. With the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis and recovery causing everyone in London to reassess how they work, travel, learn and live, we cannot ignore the economic and social benefits that data-led transformation can bring. 

The London Data Commission was set up with the aim of creating a framework for the public and private sectors to pool anonymised data and discover insights that could make London a better place to live and do business.

London First, along with the Oliver Wyman Forum, Arup and Microsoft, have been building on the foundations of the Greater London Authority’s public sector focused London Data Store, to develop a framework for a world-leading urban data platform.    

This project springs from an established culture of innovation around data and insight sharing in the capital. Signs of this culture are not limited to the London Data Store, but include the creation of a number of important local projects. Recently, the London Borough of Islington and the Whittington Hospital have enabled professionals from across health and social care to share patient discharge information electronically to improve care outcomes for patients. 

The Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Programme, started in 2016 by the London Borough of Newham, brought together data from across the authority into one place to enable predictive analytics and generate useful insights.

Perhaps most ambitiously, the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) has launched an interactive dashboard that maps the digital technologies, systems, contracts and skills in the majority of the city’s boroughs, with the aim of helping councils to find new opportunities to collaborate and reshape the technology market. The list goes on. 

This public sector innovation has been enabled by the Smarter London Together roadmap, the Mayor’s initiative to make the London ‘the smartest city in the world’. But to meet this goal, London cannot ignore the huge advances that could be achieved by using data held in the private sector. The London Data Commission aims to unlock this data to enable better ways of tackling the key challenges the city faces, not least in dealing with Covid-19 and subsequent need for recovery. 

We are drafting the final recommendations ahead of the London Data Commission’s findings in September. But we recognise some of biggest barriers to making best use of London’s data are the lack of trust and transparency around how this data is used: one of our key recommendation will be for a new London Data Charter. 

Everyone involved in the London Data Commission is aware of the value of data and the need to protect it. The London Data Charter will be a joint proclamation for all public and private organisations who ascribe to it, making clear the data sharing and collaboration principles behind our work. By transparently describing the exceptional protections and safeguards in place we aim to move public bodies and companies to begin sharing data by default. 

The huge new flow of data to map and analyse will have a transformative effect on the data ecosystem for the city. This is important as that ecosystem can then drive improvements in the transport system, education provision, public health initiatives, the success of London’s local enterprises and in a host of other areas. 

Just as TfL provided the impetus for the coherent development of London’s transport infrastructure in the 21st century, a new partnership between the public and private sector backed by the London Data Charter can drive the coherent improvement in the way the city uses its data. 

We live and work in a world where every day we generate more data than existed in recorded history up until the year 2000 – but it flows to a handful of agencies and businesses. By pooling this data we can turbocharge London’s potential for radical improvements that will benefit everyone in the city. 

The London Data Commission is working closely with the GLA and engaging with data specialists from across London, but this is just the start. We’re keen to eventually have a conversation about the future of data sharing for London with everyone who holds a stake in the city’s data. The publication of our recommendation in September is the next step in this conversation. 

David Lutton is London First’s director of connectivity and competitiveness. London First was set up to bring together the public sector and businesses to drive positive change in the capital. It established the London Data Commission in 2019 with the aim of it becoming the authoritative business voice on the capital’s data and to help kick-start data-led solutions to London’s key challenges.

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