Smarter London Together starts on the road to people-first design. Can it also lead to strong civil society?

The Mayor of London, and chief digital officer Theo Blackwell, last week launched the Smarter London Together roadmap after a listening exercise, with more emphasis on the “people first, technology second” philosophy urged earlier by organisations including Doteveryone.

The announcement says: “A smart city is a collaborative, connected and responsive city which uses technology and data-sharing to make it a better place to live, work, visit and study – all of which is at the heart of Sadiq’s agenda”

Doteveryone tweeted: “Delighted @LDN_CDO has listened to our calls for London to lead the way with inclusive & transparent data policies. Tech should make London a better place to live, work & visit, not be an end in itself. Focus on user-designed services a good call!”

Most of the emphasis is on public-private sector collaboration, and I haven’t seen anything from civic society organisations on how, for example, they might like a Smarter London to help deliver information services as advocated here by Famiio, or how Smarter Londoner might help deliver the more networked civil society now officially envisaged by the Hub for London.

Perhaps it is just early days. As chief digital officer Theo Blackwell indicated in a tweet, a lot of Smarter London at this stage is about digital plumbing.

The roadmap document outlines five missions:

  • More user-designed services
  • Strike a new deal for city data
  • World-class connectivity and smarter streets
  • Enhance digital leadership and skills
  • Improve city-wide collaboration

Actions to support the missions are detailed on a Trello board so that it is possible to follow progress, and to comment. The tasks relating to civil society and citizen engagement include:

  • Develop new approaches to digital inclusion
  • Pilot civic innovation challenges
  • Support Crowdfund London to recommission and scale crowdfunding
  • Support Talk London to increase diversity of its membership
  • Prototype and test new civic platforms
  • Advance public understanding of data and digital technologies
  • Support adult digital skills training
  • Engage Londoners on the use of their health data

The Mayor also launched a Civic Innovation Challenge, saying: “As one of the world’s leading technology hubs, we need to be bold and think big, to experiment and try things out that have not been done elsewhere. I see London’s future as a global ‘test-bed city’ for civic innovation, where the best ideas are developed, amplified and scaled.”

Each challenge is sponsored by a leading corporate or public body who will work with the startups and SMEs to test their solutions. The challenges are:

  • Dementia Services
  • Active Travel
  • Electric Vehicles
  • Financial Inclusion and Digital Services
  • Loneliness and Isolation
  • Physical Activity

I personally hope that it will be possible to make some connection between the Smarter London initiatives and the very substantial challenges faced by the Hub for London in developing networks and use of civic tech.

As I commented earlier, we need more joining up of the various plans for London’s future. The joining-up should be done in ways that involve Londoners, community groups and and civil society organisations.

We need to move beyond “Advance public understanding of data and digital technologies” to the ideas of co-production advocated in The Way Ahead report that underpinned development of the Hub for London.

Too much to hope for? Not according to innovation agency NESTA, who explain Why digital social innovation requires both bottom-up and top-down.

Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell has offered to answer any questions on the roadmap, so I’ll follow up on these issues, and also check whether Doteveryone will be able to help with some interpretation and further practical suggestions.

Doteveryone’s CEO Rachel Coldicutt was on the panel at the launch event for the roadmap, and their earlier response to Smarter London strikes a welcome note:

“Smarter London should put the people who live, work and visit London first and use Responsible Technology to build a better city for all of us”.

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