The Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge 2.0 — iteration & scale

Chief Digital Officer for London
6 min readJun 24, 2019

Nick Swanson and Maria Geftar from the GLA’s Tech Policy team describe progress of the Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge and how we are developing the programme from the knowledge gained in year one.

Major advances in technologies — from artificial intelligence to augmented reality and Internet of Things — have the potential to transform the way we live, work and play. And at City Hall, we have a responsibility to harness and help direct technological innovation so that it can deliver for all Londoners.

As part of the Smarter London Together Roadmap, we launched the Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge — an open call to the tech sector to develop new solutions to city problems with us.

The Challenge brings together London’s public sector and large private organisations with innovative tech companies seeking to solve some of London’s most pressing problems. Last year we ran seven challenges spanning areas such as active travel, creating culturally representative dementia resources, electric vehicle charging, increasing uptake in physical exercise, and tackling loneliness.

The Civic Innovation Challenge aligns aims and capabilities across a huge London ecosystem to deploy tech to solve civic problems. The incentives map below (based on a similar one from the excellent CivTech Scotland) shows the benefits the process delivers for three key stakeholder groups.

Our process starts with a problem as opposed to a solution — we don’t tell the market what to do.

We articulate these problems alongside public sector organisations and private partners as ‘civic challenges’. The challenges sit at the juncture where London’s needs as a city overlap with our partners’ needs — creating a more sustainable approach than traditional procurement.

We then invite proposals for innovative solutions from London’s world-beating tech sector — ensuring that we connect startups directly with the right people within organisations to provide them with an opportunity to learn and co-design with their target market.

For the tech startups and SMEs the Civic Innovation Challenge offers an unprecedented route to market and a chance to develop products with the needs of their users and target market in mind. Companies have access to unique insight, expertise, cutting-edge data and pilot sites, as well as mentoring and business support from our partners. This access opens up opportunities for further development of commercial opportunities.

From the perspective of partner organisations the Civic Innovation Challenge offers a great way to engage with innovations which could transform the way they work. From using AI and data to gain deeper insights into organisational problems, or immersive technologies to visualise them, the Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge aims to make it easier for organisations to codesign and test these innovations in a way that benefits London, as well as helping them do their jobs even better.

Civic Innovation Challenge 1.0

In 2018, we supported 14 companies to work directly with their target market to refine and co-design their solutions, developing pilot proposals and, in some cases, up to 50 hours of contact time. Of these 14, seven were selected to receive £15,000 grants to test their solutions in a live environment and deliver their pilot.

Our 2018 Challenge resulted in the creation of entirely new products based on direct learning from the market and has constituted the beginning of long-term business relationships for several companies.

2018 in numbers

The 2018 Civic Innovation Challenge contained 7 challenges, each co-written and backed by a sponsor or ‘challenge partner’. These were: TfL, LB Hackney, LB Ealing, Lloyds Banking Group, National Grid, and an NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnership.

We received over 120 applications, interviewed 35 companies and 14 were selected to take part in the programme. Over a period of 6 weeks these companies worked with their challenge partner and developed a pilot proposal.

Of these companies, 7 were selected to receive £15,000 in grant funding to deliver their pilot through co-design.

The 14 companies on the programme received around 12 hours of business support, and in some cases up to 50 hours contact time with their challenge partners spent refining, codesigning and challenging their own assumptions about their products;

Amazon Web Services provided £140,000 of credits to the companies on the programme;

One of last year’s winners — Connected Kerb — was able to build relationships with Southwark Council, Virgin Media, and National Grid, installing first-of-a-kind public Electric Vehicle (EV) charging bays in Borough Road, SE1. It is currently developing plans for a Capital-wide rollout which will deliver a more sustainable future for Londoners.

Elemental, another winner in 2018, was selected as Ealing Council’s partner to develop solutions to help inactive residents become more physically active using an innovative, community-driven model called ‘Social Prescribing Plus’.

As a result of participating in the programme, Go Jauntly, a discovery and way-finding app for walking, has teamed up with TfL to encourage more Londoners to walk as part of their everyday journey — leveraging TfL’s pioneering approach to working with tech startups to help solve London’s transport challenges.

Civic Innovation Challenge 2.0

Building on last year’s successes and learnings, we are making the programme bigger and better.

We want more companies to benefit from the co-design process and take part in solving civic challenges, and we want London to benefit even more from the projects.

Last year we learned:

  • The greatest value to the companies was having their own assumptions about their products challenged during the proposal drafting stage. The opportunity to bounce your ideas back and forth in a structured fashion was key.
  • Contracts for work, rather than prizes in the form of grants, could offer more value to the start-ups on the programme. Making the process clear, open and procurement compliant from the outset would require only a little more work for us and offer much greater traction to the companies involved.
  • The co-design phase resulted in new products being designed, existing ones refined, and business opportunities emerging even for those who didn’t ‘win’. Increasing the number of companies taking part will increase the amount of co-design and opportunity creation that the process can catalyse.
  • Working with Talk London — our 46,000-strong online community — allowed us to involve Londoners directly, proving very beneficial to the SMEs — particularly where they have B2C business models.

This year we will:

  • Give the companies more time, information and engagement on proposal design, and build into the process an ‘open innovation phase’. This tweak will allow us to scale the co-design phase of the programme, involve more firms and articulate market demand better.
  • Work with challenge partners to offer procurement-compliant contracts instead of grants.
  • Open up the programme to an initial cohort of at least 40 companies who will benefit from exposure to the expertise of public and private sector organisations. As we are trying to encourage the co-design and refinement of products, as well as the co-creation of new ones — we will measure this.
  • Help SMEs to develop solutions that put user-centric design at the forefront of the process — making sure London’s needs are built into products and services. Where there is a B2C or B2B2C business model, we will involve Londoners at the co-design and delivery stages of the programme — including through user testing. We also aim to improve the uptake of best practice amongst SMEs, including building user-centricity into their products, through the Service Standard.

We’re currently in the process of working in collaboration with partners across the innovation ecosystem to define this year’s challenges and have some exciting announcements to make soon.

We have worked with some amazing organisations so far, from global banks to London Boroughs, from the NHS to Transport for London. Any organisation with a presence in London can become a Challenge Partner.

If you’re interested in working with the Mayor and startups to solve some of the big environmental, economic and social problems facing London today, please reach out to us via



Chief Digital Officer for London

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