London has set out a vision to transform core services for the digital age. The city wants to reform its disparate governing bodies so they can share data better and collaborate more effectively on service design.
The Smarter London Together roadmap, a plan to make the British capital the “world’s smartest city” published on 11 June, announces a common set of standards and design principles for digital services across the capital.
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Its emphasis is on laying “foundations for the future” by changing public servants’ working practices, rather than on flashy new technology or policy pilots.
“The focus in the road map on user-designed services is a good call — technology should make London a better place to live, work and visit, not be an end in itself,” said Rachel Coldicutt, CEO of Doteveryone, a think tank.
“Fashionable or dominant technologies will come and go, but putting people first with user-designed services means that London will be ready for whatever comes after AI,” she said.
The new standards will be written to guide public servants as they create or reform digital services, and encourage them to put the user’s experience at the centre of their design. The aim is to make them accessible to all Londoners, no matter their level of digital literacy.
It builds on work pioneered by the UK’s Government Digital Service, which emphasised the importance of constant user-testing as part of the design process. The aim is to assess a system’s performance as people interact with it, and tweak it in response to their needs, with the aim of “understanding how your users think, how they behave and ultimately what they need”.
“Technology should make London a better place to live, work and visit, not be an end in itself”
The plan also announces the establishment of a London Office of Data Analytics and a London Office of Technology and Innovation.
The former will coordinate safe data sharing between public and private sector organisations, helping to match innovators to data which allows them to develop new products and services.
The latter will act as a central body of experts, to help frontline organisations adapt to new technologies.
The analysis of large sets of data can transform services, allowing government to find the gaps and target the most needy.
Peter Wells, head of policy at the Open Data Institute, said the plans “seem to be amongst the leading pack in cities worldwide”. But, he cautioned, the city would need to keep thinking about how to transform itself most effectively.
“Those service design principles and standards will need to keep evolving,” Wells said. “They can’t stay static. We learn new techniques and need to adhere to new legislation. People’s needs change.”
In an interview with Apolitical last year, Andrew Collinge, former Smart City Lead at the Greater London Authority and current head of data of Smart Dubai, emphasised the difficulty in getting London’s different boroughs to share data effectively.
Too often London’s different levels of government, with 33 local authorities responsible for delivering frontline services, are unable to access or analyse the data which could improve the way they work. For Collinge, finding ways to share data would solve a key part of the problem.
The Smarter London Together roadmap follows over 80 public meetings with the public and expert organisations as a listening exercise to assess the needs and wishes of Londoners. — Anoush Darabi
(Picture credit: Flickr/kloniwotski)