Evaluating innovation – Live Labs publishes final Programme Review

Almost three years after its launch, and interrupted by a global pandemic, the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme has reached its closing stages with the publication of the final, independent Programme Review.

With £22.9m funding from the Department for Transport, the programme has seen trials and innovation across data and communications, materials, energy and mobility. Each local authority-led project has demonstrated how local highways can introduce new programmes at speed.

The report, written by Karen Farquharson of Proving Services, highlights the learnings, outcomes and challenges encountered by each Live Lab and how they created new and often complex partnerships, implemented new technologies and found new applications, even moving into adult social care.

Findings have not only been technological, the programme has also examined how behavioural and cultural change, cross-authority collaboration and re-evaluating risk are essential for successful local authority innovation.

Some Live Labs programmes have seen their local authorities create internal forums for innovation that have brought in new funding to take the Live Labs work even further, long past the lifetime of the programme. Others are cooperating on new joint programmes with other local authorities based on their Live Labs trial.

The report does not shy away from some of the issues individual Live Labs encountered, particularly in procurement, but also with supply chains, partnerships and the initial project scope causing delays.

Containing evaluations of each programme – successes and challenges – the report is an invaluable resource for local authorities when considering their own innovation programmes.

Next steps for the programme include the publication of individual business cases from each Live Lab to enable local authorities to assess the suitability and potential commercialisation of an innovation for its own geography and needs. These are accessible via a portal hosted by Suffolk County Council (www.suffolk.gov.uk/smarter).

The Live Labs programme has comprised trials using kinetic, thermal and solar energy; sensors and drones to assess local roads’ maintenance needs; data analytics to support air quality management, congestion and travel planning; and waste plastics for road surfacing.

Neil Gibson, Chair of the Live Labs Commissioning Board, said: “From the outset, Live Labs has been clear on the value of sharing all learning with the wider sector. It is as important to understand why trials didn’t work out and the skills, approaches and mindset needed to introduce new technologies, as it is to showcase success. Local authorities will find this report invaluable in determining their own routes to innovation.”

Giles Perkins, Live Labs Programme Director said: “The Live Labs programme has seen not only the application of technological applications and solutions, but the development of new ways of collaborative working and sharing. This demonstrates an appetite to not only accelerate innovation in local roads, but to work with colleagues both near and far to solve both technical and management challenges – this being essential in tackling future change.”

Karen Farquharson, Proving Services’ Director said: “From the start, the ethos of the programme has been on shared and disseminated learning. This applies not just to the project outcomes but the way the innovation is funded, structured and delivered. The individual Live Labs and their delivery partners, together with the Live Lab programme team, have been forthcoming and transparent about their successes and the challenges they have faced. These have been documented and will benefit considerably future, similar initiatives.”

ADEPT represents local authority, county, unitary and metropolitan Directors of Place. The Live Labs initiative is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services.

The eight Live Labs are being led by Buckinghamshire Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Cumbria County Council, Reading Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, alongside joint projects by Solihull Council and Birmingham City Council (West Midlands), and Kent and Staffordshire County Councils. The programme is supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP.


Live Labs Programme Review & Final Project Evaluations can be found on the ADEPT website: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/documents/live-labs-programme-review-final-project-evaluations