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Designing London’s Recovery

The Mayor of London is piloting how human centered design and systems thinking can fuse with a missions-orientated approach to make the city a better place to live, work and visit. Designing London's Recovery seeds a portfolio of radical innovations cutting across policy areas, embedding future resilience and redefining good growth by deconstructing silo working, fostering a design-led collaborative and inclusive policy ecosystem, and sparking creativity to create further systemic impacts.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

To respond to the crises initiated by the pandemic, the Mayor of London brought together leaders from across London’s government, business and civil society, as well as the health and education sectors, trade unions and the police, to oversee the long-term recovery effort. The London Recovery Board's aims are to:

1. reverse the pattern of rising unemployment and lost economic growth caused by the economic scarring of COVID-19

2. support communities, including those most impacted by the virus

3. help young people to flourish with access to support and opportunities

4. narrow social, economic and health inequalities and,

5. accelerate delivery of a cleaner, greener London.


Phase 1 of the Mayor's £500,000 Designing London's Recovery Programme invited 20 innovative Londoners from a wide range of sectors to set in motion positive change and take a radically creative and collaborative approach to co-creating transformative solutions to reshape London as a fairer, greener and resilient city than it was before the crisis. The team focused on four of the nine original recovery missions: high streets for all, a green new deal, helping Londoners into good work, and building stronger communities. Phase 2 involved a selection of seeded innovators who are prototyping, iterating and growing their solutions to deliver their innovations to tackle deep-rooted issues, inject change in policy making and delivery, and diffuse knowledge, creativity and power to create long-term economic growth in which all Londoners can participate.


Piloting a missions-orientated approach in the public sector is an innovative concept and the GLA's role as a strategic regional authority and convener seeks to bring policy making out in the open. As well as brokering effective public, private and third sector connections and partnerships to de-risk innovations, the programme shifts focus away from the traditional role of policymakers to create ambitious interventions within the current system to redefining and reimagining an evolving future state where value is created from the social and economic impact of an innovation.


Projects on the programme include; repurposing existing commercial space to build a long-term public toilet solution (Royal College of Art); creating places to make, recycle, repair, grow, cultivate and play (University of Roehampton); developing the entrepreneurial potential of children through school eco-refill shops (Pupils Profit); supporting female-led ethnic food enterprises (Kingston University); animating the high street (The Community Brain); exploring a child-friendly neighbourhood (Sustrans); creating job tools to match individuals with industry needs (City & Guilds); breaking the taboo of well-paid prison leavers in good jobs (Breakthrough); encouraging land for food growing in London (Shared Assets); creating a network of micro-factories producing on-demand clothing (Pattern Project); and using oracy to bridge social, economic, cultural and generational divides (Kafei).

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The diversified portfolio approach of this programme is deliberate; concentrating on what/where we want to get to rather than the how encourages diversity of thought, ideas and solutions which can be rapidly tested, iterated and nurtured to scale in a way that is beneficial to Londoners. A unique features present in the programme is the ability to shorten the information and feedback loop at multiple levels.


Individually, innovators are provided with subject matters in design and systems thinking, equipping themselves with knowledge and broadening their expertise and idea potential. At the idea level, innovators are getting access to real-time data on what Londoners as a community think of their proposals, helping them to refine and integrate different forms of data. At the programme level, innovators shifted power dynamics by democratically deciding on a funding structure which they felt was more equitable

What is the current status of your innovation?

Our partners at UCL CUSSH created a Theory of Change in September 2021 prior to the start of the programme illustrating the aspirations of the programme which will come to an end by November 2022. Mapping the extent of how DLRP has created change within the GLA and the public sector, though the work of our innovators and stakeholders to bring positive change to the lives of Londoners, remains ongoing.


Although this programme has not come to an end, our current view is frequent and unusual collaborations can unlock sustainable impact across people and organisations, at a project, mission, programme and system level. The GLA's Strategy, Innovation and Technology team is committed to refining the approach to future challenge programmes through data iteration as well as diffusing knowledge, fostering inclusive collaborations and creating bridges to investments and partnerships.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Design Council’s purpose is to make life better by design, making better processes, better products, better places, leading to better performance and enabling happier, healthier and safer lives. UCL Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH) is a group of diverse global experts analysing urban environments by looking at the complex, interacting systems in cities that impact the health of people and the planet, working with cities, sectors and the public to translate knowledge.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Project level - Building capacity for the innovators to think collaboratively and more ambitious using new design and system tools.

Mission level - Influencing types of supported projects and brokering links between collaborators operating in the same space.

Programme level - Creating a space for sharing learnings with GLA colleagues and others doing place-based systems change work

Systems level - Enabling power shift with Londoners to be producers of innovation through design and inclusivity

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The programme is ongoing and data is still being collated for the final report due in December 2022. However, we have presented within the mission teams and have noticed GLA colleagues taking a wider interest in our work, as well as incorporating elements of DLRP within their own programme design. Efforts have also been geared towards sharing knowledge to other organisations and the wider public. We have spoken at external presentations and exhibited projects at the London Design Festival at the V&A in September.


On a portfolio level, an initial 20 diverse innovators were selected for the 4 month co-design phase. After the judging stage, 11 innovations were seeded to prototype, test and iterate their solutions. This was 3-5 more teams than we had originally anticipated being supported on the programme. Teams are currently providing monthly quantitative and qualitative data on the progression of their projects including number of collaborations, users and how their idea has iterated.

Challenges and Failures

As this is a programme that is in evolution, there have not been "failures" in the traditional understanding of the word but there have been occasions where we've tested concepts which had to be revised following feedback.


We have diversity in types of organisations within the portfolio, from sole traders to academic organisations. There have been challenges encountered in attracting diverse innovators which we're rectifying for subsequent programmes.


Dedicating enough time and resources from a project angle has been intensive and proven challenging at times - where we expected organic collaboration to spark between teams, this did not happen. However, we did pivot towards accepting more ideas. Related to that, the programme being delivered virtually has not encouraged shared participation, link sharing or taken the weaknesses of project teams into account. A more in-person effort could have accelerated connections.

Conditions for Success

We've been fortunate using a missions-orientated approach as that's a concept innate within human nature. However, an incubator period and space where the Executive support the aspirations of officers to create systemic change by almost becoming an innovator yourself, wearing lots of different hats, gaining perspectives from different areas and understanding where you can create value and impact as well as providing adequate resources to ensure partners remain invested and projects keep on track can be a confidence booster.


Overall, having the right mentality of providing better services and lives to Londoners, human centered approach and emotional and financial support and recognition can overcome significant organisational hurdles and embed innovative practices.


Yes, we're currently using parts of the programme for our future innovation challenge programmes. The policy areas are different but the principles of the programme will continue. Rather than encourage replication, a modular approach has been well received.


We've been the inspiration to a few other programmes within the wider directorate, and have recieved interest from other parts of the GLA who would like to embed certain features of our innovative programme within their own work.


We have developed a playbook which will be published shortly on how to run similar programmes for external consumption by stakeholders and other organisations.

Lessons Learned

It's definitely a good idea to go into this with a positive mindset and not be demotivated by what are traditionally seen as hurdles, or be stressed out when you think things are not going according to a plan drawn up 12-18 months ago. External events have a habit of interfering with the best laid plans and you can't account for every eventuality. What you can control are the opportunities you take that are presented to you, and the ones that you carve out yourself which lead to unexpected connections.


The best skill you can possibly develop is to pivot when you feel you've reached a dead-end have a backup of a backup of a backup and you can only do this if you've thought deeply so do take some time to think about the direction of the travel.


A portfolio of innovations will have a mixture of excellent and not-so-good ones, but creating the right conditions and connections can elevate all of them to succeed in one form or another.

Anything Else?

Yes, DLRP has been an interesting programme to lead on as it demonstrates how we can shift systems collectively when we're all pulling in the same direction. We've been privileged to work closely with people who have brilliant ideas but not the means, and the means but not the connections, and the connections but not the time and those with time but not the ideas and it's illustrated the fact that an entire ecosystem or loop can be closed if the public sector recognises what a vital element they play in shifting mindsets, behaviours and systems.


The unrealised potential of innovations in the public sector can go way beyond procurement and bring about equity in society as well as address wicked problems that exist specifically in sectors.

Supporting Videos


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:


  • DLRP_ToC Designing London's Recovery - Theory of Change

Date Published:

9 November 2022

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