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London to run public survey on attitudes to data



Chief digital officer points to need to build understanding in move to harness data for civic benefits

The Greater London Authority (GLA) is planning a public survey on how it uses data to feed into its Smart London plan.

The capital’s chief digital officer, Theo Blackwell (pictured), told last week’s ShareDigital conference that the survey will begin over the next few days, using the GLA’s Talk London platform.

This has a registered user base of 41,000 people, although he said the survey will be open to as many people who want to take part.

Blackwell said this reflects a need to build a stronger understanding on both sides about the use of data in local government.

“I think some of the arguments around data have strayed quite far away from civic benefits,” he said.

“We’re being dominated by commentators who perhaps have a hypersensitivity around privacy. But if we can tell the story right and provide the right safeguards, data is a great benefit and we need to start loudly setting that out.

“There’s a particular role for local government, more so than national government, because we are big bundles of local data. That gives us a different focus in this debate.”

He added that data will form an important element of the Smart London plan, which is scheduled to be published during London Tech Week in June.

Picking projects

“We are working to improve data and will pick a number of specific projects from school data, further education data and planning data, and focus in on them with laser-like precision every year to ensure that stubborn inefficiencies that have existed are overcome,” he said.

Blackwell said the first year of the Smart London plan is likely to focus on building capacity, and pointed to the GLA’s partnership with Bloomberg Associates, which created first Digital Roadmap to mobilise assets in New York.

“We have to think about how we move from London in the first plan of 2013 – with things like big systems and synched traffic lights – to London as the centre of a data economy,” he said.

“We have so much data in our public services hidden in our legacy systems which is not computable, and we have to look at how we can make it computable, how do we build on our strength of more than 700 datasets open to the public. How does it build on London’s story of becoming the capital of artificial intelligence and data innovation?

“For that to happen the challenge is collaboration. It’s why we need urban leaders to recognise it.”

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