Open innovation and the cost-of-living crisis (1)

Chief Digital Officer for London
5 min readJan 24, 2023

Almira Lardizabal Hussain from City Hall’s Open Innovation Lab on the cost-of-living work with one’s of London’s biggest boroughs…

In the summer of 2022, City Hall launched its latest open innovation challenge, Challenge LDN. This programme is run out of the Greater London Authority’s new Open Innovation Lab, which designs and delivers open innovation challenges in partnership with an external organisation that brings subject matter expertise, connections to the problem being addressed and their own set of skills and insights.

Challenge LDN is the next step in our growing expertise in open calls, starting with the Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge in 2018 and the Resilience Fund during the pandemic.

City Hall: growing its expertise in open calls since 2018

Cost of living focus

What became apparent was that a significant number of organisations submitting proposals were concerned in some form with the cost-of-living crisis and looking to support people who are experiencing poverty. Challenge LDN, therefore, decided to have a wide-ranging focus on the broad topic of supporting people affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

We identified Barnet council as a great option for collaborating on this challenge. Barnet had already done two years of research into identifying and supporting people at risk of falling into poverty within their borough and were looking for new ways to address this challenge. Additionally, they were able to provide connections to places within their borough where new innovators working on the challenge could prototype their ideas, with access to live data, insights and residents for which to ground their solutions.

People at the edge of poverty

With the rise of the cost of living, many boroughs and organisations had stepped up their support for those accessing their services, and Barnet itself had already done a fair amount of work to support at-risk residents. However, the consultations revealed that much of this work was focused on supporting people currently experiencing poverty and there was an overlooked cohort of people who are only recently struggling to make ends meet and are at risk of falling into poverty. These people tend to not have accessed any services which would put them ‘in the system’ and therefore were difficult for the council to readily identify and provide support to.

Barnet’s Barry May launching the open call at the London Design Festival

Together with Barnet, we decided to focus Challenge LDN on people who, unless creatively supported, would be adding additional pressure on the services and support focussed to support those most in need.

With a challenge area defined and after speaking to many experts in the field to ensure we understood the issue as broadly as possible; we were ready to run an open call looking for innovators from across London. We were looking for people and organisations who had a new or untested idea that could help us identify and support people at risk. More specifically, solutions that mitigate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, empower people at risk, and/or improve the public sector’s proactive and early interventions to identify and support people at risk of falling into financial hardship.

Current status: Judging stage

Challenge LDN’s open call for innovators closed for applications at the end of December 2022. Submissions are now going through a judging process, where they will be narrowed down to eight finalists based on the following criteria:

Collaborative. We were keen to have innovators looking to collaborate and be open to learning from each other and sharing insights and data. Not only did we want a cohort which was collaborative rather than competitive, but we also wanted innovators to demonstrate their plans on working with external partners and organisations- ultimately recognising that solutions cannot be made in a vacuum.

Novel: Ideas must be new, either a totally new organisation or a new direction to current operations for an organisation. We want to support new ideas, as opposed to those for which this is business as usual. Creating and fostering an ecosystem for new solutions is important for innovation to thrive.

Innovative: Innovators who want to prototype, iterate and improve their offering. The principles of design thinking and lean impact requires ideas to be able to rapidly prototype, measure and iterate rapidly, and this programme is no different. In order to make it through to the second stage of this programme, innovators are required to be able to demonstrate that their solution can be prototyped in the first half of the programme.

Impact. Solutions that will make a specific impact on people in London who are at risk of falling into poverty. The current crisis means we need to have solutions that are driven to make an impact in order to alleviate the strains on current services and resources.

Scale. Innovations that have the potential to be scaled or replicated across London. Whilst we’re building solutions in partnership with Barnet, the idea is that if we can successfully create a place-based prototype in Barnet, with the right resources and support, these ideas can be scaled across London, thereby creating solutions accessible to all Londoners who are in need.

Sustainable delivery model. Innovations with a clear route to revenue streams that will sustain their operations. Challenge LDN effectively provides seed (or pre-seed) funding to innovators alongside business support and accessing networks. This means we want to ensure that our innovators are thinking about what business models ensure success post our programme finishing.

Eight ideas will receive £5,000 and place-based support to prototype, test and iterate their offering, including

  • Expert guidance and workshops to develop their ideas and the organisations to be able to deliver it.
  • They will receive a chance to access additional funding up to £50,000
  • As well as continued expert support and direct links to GLA, London Boroughs and access to new markets.

Ideas selected will go into a rapid (12 week) prototyping phases and, following successful delivery, applications for scaling.

The Open Innovation Hub will give further updates on our finalists and next steps in future posts. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at



Chief Digital Officer for London

@LDN_CDO & Data for London Board @MayorofLondon using data to support a fairer, safer and greener city for everyone​