Weeknote w/c 20 May: thinking about ‘Smart Cities’ and counting votes (but not at the same time!)

A nicely varied week which wrapped up with a bank holiday weekend!

Thinking about ‘Smart Cities’

There’s been a lot of hype about ‘Smart Cities’ for many years now. It’s obvious that developments in technology and data are already having a big impact on the places we live and how we interact with services and one another (for example, I now take it for granted that I can always have instant access to real time updates on train and bus arrivals when planning my journeys). I find it interesting to mull over whether the future is likely to be utopian or really will take us towards a Matrix / Minority Report type world and also how much influence we (civic society) can have on how things develop.

I read an interesting research paper looking at the Sidewalk Toronto initiative over the weekend and that prompted me to pop a few thoughts into a blog post here: https://bytherye.com/2019/05/28/the-smart-city-is-as-much-a-political-challenge-as-it-is-a-technology-challenge/.


Sunday was spent at the Britannia Leisure Centre in Shoreditch Park with lots of other colleagues, counting the votes from Thursday’s elections for the European Parliament. This was the third time that I’d donned my bright yellow count supervisor t-shirt and I was pleased that the table I was responsible for was among the first to complete our count. Having finished second from last when I did my first count in 2017, I’d like to think that this was great progress and inspiring leadership on my part rather than luck of the draw…!


Other highlights from last week were:

  • We had a productive session catching up on the various strands of work that will help us move away from eDOCS (which includes but isn’t limited to broadening our use of Google Drive). We agreed a focused set of specific actions which we will check in on in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Henry, Ollie and I met with colleagues from the Hackney Learning Trust ICT team to catch up on their progress setting up a pilot of G Suite. I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made in collaborating together and we identified some things we can do to help them move this forward.
  • We had our quarterly Information Governance Group meeting on Wednesday. I was particularly pleased to see the progress that has been made improving the Council’s performance in responding to Freedom Of Information requests. Our team have worked incredibly hard to support colleagues across the Council’s services to get their responses sent out quickly and while we’re not quite there yet it was great to see very positive progress over the last quarter – well done Katharine, Adam, Noelle and O’Cynthia!
  • It was also brilliant to have started the week with news from Sarah and Katharine that Hackney’s work with mysociety to develop a new digital service for Freedom Of Information requests had been awarded Innovation of the Year at this year’s Information and Records Management Society awards. Well done team!
  • Philippa, Richard and I had a very useful conversation with colleagues in Housing Services looking at how we can work together as part of seeing how the Spacebank project might help with booking of space in Hackney’s Community Halls. We’ve agreed to use a Discovery phase to help us better understand the opportunities and challenges before we develop more detailed proposals for what we do next.
  • I had my regular catch up with representatives from the Council’s Unions. I always find this a valuable way to check in on feedback from staff across the Council and get their thoughts on the work we’re doing.
  • Lucy and I joined colleagues from Adults’ Services at the ‘IT Enabler Board’ at the Homerton hospital. This brings together people from across health and social care in the City and Hackney area, and the discussion included a really useful conversation about next steps with the work we’ve been doing to look at how we might improve access to information about health, care and wellbeing services across the area.
  • And I wrapped up my week with a catch up with Ajman, the Director of Housing. I make sure that I have regular catch ups with senior colleagues in other services so that I can check in on their priorities and make sure that we’re focusing on the right things. I was very encouraged to hear the importance he is giving to the digital work our teams are doing together to support the transformation of housing services and we’ve agreed that we will take some time together to get closer to the details of some aspects of that.

Something I’m learning

One of the follow ups from our recent finance review is working with colleagues in Finance to set up the investment plans for the year ahead. As we move towards greater use of cloud services and supporting change through making the most of the technologies we’re putting in place this doesn’t fit the historic capital funding model as easily as was the case in the past. The Finance teams are being supportive in helping to find answers to this but I’m having to make sure that I explain stuff that feels obvious to me in layperson’s terms so that we can figure out the best solution together.