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London councillors give their views on digital transformation

Data-sharing between bodies is seen as important but councillors believe work is required to reassure citizens it can be done safely and securely

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Councillors gave their views on how digital technologies can benefit Londoners
Councillors gave their views on how digital technologies can benefit Londoners

The majority (+79 per cent) of London councillors recognise the importance of digital transformation for public services, according to a poll carried out by the Greater London Authority (GLA).

 

The poll of 202 councillors across 32 boroughs formed part of its Smarter London Together work on city data and as well as digital transformation focused on areas such as personal data use and sensors in cities.

 

Importance of human-centred smart cities

 

Writing in a blog post on Medium.com, chief digital officer for London, Theo Blackwell, underlined the importance of change happening in a local democratic setting and added:our commitment to being a smart city is to mobilise the strengths of our city’s innovators to ensure digital change is both human-centred and transparent”.

 

As well as acknowledging the importance of digital transformation, more than half of councillors said sharing data between different public bodies would improve service delivery and 43 per cent that it would improve planning of future services in areas such as community infrastructure and school places.

 

When local councillors were asked what they believe residents thought about data-sharing, the findings reveals a gap around trust. Blackwell wrote that while they consider most residents think data-sharing will improve services they don’t also think residents trust local councils to do it securely.

 

“This suggests our local public services have work to do both to make the case for sharing and provide necessary assurance,” he said.

“Our commitment to being a smart city is to mobilise the strengths of our city’s innovators to ensure digital change is both human-centred and transparent”

When asked what the two biggest digital challenges facing local councils are, just over half councillors cited digital exclusion, followed by a range of other challenges including cyber-security, the cost of digital transformation, lack of digital skills to make, design or buy solutions, and poor handling of data and privacy concerns.

 

The survey found that improving connectivity and loss of jobs from automation were seen as less of a concern.

 

When it came to ascertaining what councillors thought of the use of sensors, the survey put forward a number of use cases such as using them for air quality detection, measuring road traffic congestion and monitoring energy consumption from buildings. These garnered broad support which became more qualified the more ‘personal’ the data (or images) gathered. “But even in relation to facial recognition and household waste and recycling remained in the net positive,” said Blackwell.

 

There was also broad support when councillors were asked about their views on using phone data to understand how citizens move about cities

 

Blackwell published the following summary of results on the blog:

  • London’s councillors see the increasing importance of digital transformation over the next five years and there is an appetite for civic uses;
  • Leaving digitally-excluded residents behind remains more of a concern of councillors than any other digital change issue we asked them about, including cybersecurity, cost of technology, connectivity and loss of jobs;
  • Data-sharing between public bodies is seen as important to improve public services, but councillors also think councils have work to do to reassure residents that this can be done safely and securely;
  • There is consistent support for use of sensors for a variety of civic/environmental uses. This support becomes more qualified the more ‘personal’ the information gathered;
  • Councillors are supportive of the use of mobile phone data to understand how citizens move about cities.

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