04 May 2021

Data's role in Digital Leadership

Guest blog: Onyeka Onyekwelu, Strategic Engagement Manager at LOTI as part of our #DigitalPlace week.

The London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) was launched in 2019 to support a coalition of London boroughs who want to work together, bringing the best of digital, data and innovation to improve public services and outcomes for Londoners.

One of our founding workstreams was Digital Leadership. On first view, this might appear to be an oxymoron given the fact that at LOTI, we apply the Mike Bracken definition of ‘digital’: “Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.” This whole-system view of digital appears to contradict the world view of leadership. Afterall, it’s often assumed that for change to be made, the impetus to do so has to come from the top.

However, the aim of this workstream - as identified by our members from LOTI’s inception - is to build the digital talent pipeline and help London local government leaders to make the most of digital. This approach seeks to improve digital leadership from both ends: the bottom as well as the top. Taking this democratic view of digital leadership is intended to equip and empower all officers in a council, regardless of their level of seniority. How? By giving them the knowledge, skills and tools to support their respective services to thrive in the digital age.

To that end, it was important for LOTI to develop projects that brought those high-level aspirations to life. In LOTI's first year, we created the Digital Apprenticeships scheme, a collaborative effort to build London local government’s digital skills pipeline by successfully recruiting 100 Digital Apprentices. This was a success not just because we exceeded our recruitment target, but in the process of doing so, created virtual cross-borough networks, held virtual and in-person meet-ups for the new recruits and their managers, and co-designed training programmes with the private sector in response to the needs identified during Covid. Having developed a Playbook to support boroughs to set up and run digital apprenticeship programmes, we began thinking about what else we could do to helpfully contribute to this workstream in Year 2.

We always knew that our goal could not be achieved in one year by looking at leadership at the point of access alone. In our second year, and now planning towards Year 3, we have shifted from recruiting and training new talent, to upskilling current council staff. Why? Because we know that in order to retain good talent in local government, there have to be resources behind training and development, and tangible support for staff to progress within councils.

Over the past year’s Covid pandemic, boroughs have worked tirelessly to respond to the evolving needs of their residents. In doing so, they have come to increasingly recognise the importance of data and making intelligent use of it. We’ve therefore pivoted our focus on this workstream from a broad look at digital to a more specific focus on data. For the next year, we’ll be supporting boroughs to improve their data literacy. Again, it’s important that we take a whole system view to this. For that reason, our work on data literacy aims to meet the needs of three core communities.


Those who lead Data Teams

Using data effectively is core to public sector organisations' ability to serve residents well. Those responsible for leading their organisation's data strategy and development are experimenting with different tools, approaches and techniques. The vision is to put data at the heart of service reform and decision making. However, they don’t always have the time to explore other options, learn from peers or identify opportunities to collaborate. To support this cohort to do that better, we’ve established a network for ‘Data Leaders’. We’ll be supporting the Heads of Data and Business Intelligence in the London public sector to meet regularly to share the challenges, strategies and solutions they’re interested in exploring together. Our hope is that by doing so, they can draw on the expertise of their peers to validate their approaches, and identify potential routes to collaborate and scale.


Those who work within Data Teams

LOTI’s Data Science and Data Managers networks have identified a need for peer networking and supplementary skills training to develop the data capabilities of staff working in borough data teams. Historically, training in the field of local government data analytics has been limited. This hinders opportunities for staff development and progression. This is why LOTI is collaborating with the Office of National Statistics (O.N.S) Data Science Campus to develop a training programme to support boroughs to better understand how they can use data analytics to solve common problems and deliver world-class public services to Londoners. It is also why we are committed to convening these networks regularly to share the tools, approaches and skills they’re using within their borough contexts and improve their collective knowledge.

Those who work in London Councils, broadly

As the need for councils and their partners to collect and use data intelligently and strategically grows, it is becoming even more evident that data capabilities cannot be a function that’s siloed within data teams alone. Again, taking on our approach to democratising digital leadership, we recognise the need to embed a wider understanding of the value that data brings. To that end, LOTI is drawing on the approaches taken in multiple London boroughs to design a suite of training materials and approaches for council staff to better understand and use data. We hope this work will create a resource that can be tested, adopted and emulated across the whole LOTI community.

Conclusion

As a relative newcomer to Digital Government, I have observed just how much using data well is core to local authorities’ ability to understand their residents’ needs, make sound strategic decisions and deliver effective services.

Our hope is that by developing data skills training, supporting communities of practice to thrive, and increasing awareness about the role of data across all staff we can help ensure that data plays an active part in how London boroughs operate and deliver truly first class public services in future.

For more information about LOTI’s efforts to improve data literacy in London boroughs, please visit the dedicated project page on the LOTI website.
 

Georgina Maratheftis

Georgina Maratheftis

Programme Head, Local Public Services, techUK

Charlie Wyatt

Programme Assistant, techUK