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Live Labs White Paper #3 – a new approach to monitoring & evaluation

24 May 2021

The ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Places and Transport) SMART Places Live Labs Programme has published its third white paper, A New Approach to Monitoring & Evaluation.

The Live Labs approach to monitoring and evaluation has been co-designed with Proving Services, a research organisation based at Cranfield University. It focuses on delivering the programme’s objectives, which include identifying opportunities for collaboration, enabling the development of business cases and ensuring all the learning across the programme is captured.  

This is reflected in the approach described in the white paper, where the purpose of monitoring and evaluation is to enable success through debate and collaboration, rather than being an audit created to find problems. The process been designed to enable project management teams and delivery partners to agree on any necessary actions to improve, and to foster openness rather than distrust. 

This approach replaces the often bureaucratic and costly assessments typically required for government- funded projects, which emphasise the inputs (cost and resources) rather than the realisation of valuable outcomes.

The process is also flexible, which is a further innovation integral to the Live Labs programme. Whereas initial criteria focused on achievability, as the programme moved into the trial stages these changed to highlight benefits and transferability. 

Evaluations have been undertaken through a series of six-monthly baseline evaluations conducted by Proving, and self-assessments undertaken by each of the Live Labs teams. Key delivery partners and providers were also asked to participate and workshops with each project teams enabled a full discussion of the findings of each report.

A New Approach to Monitoring & Evaluation is part of a series of white papers intended to make learnings and insights available as they happen, giving industry decision-makers the opportunity to capitalise on the work being done through the programme. 

The two-year, £22.9million DfT-funded Live Labs initiative grew out of a desire to accelerate innovation in the local roads sector. This has rapidly developed to encompass use of data, SMART materials and energy, resulting in innovative pilots ranging from using drones to identify potholes and recycled plastic in road surfacing, to installing geo-thermal probes to de-ice carparks and heat buildings. 

Neil Gibson, Chair of the Live Labs Commissioning Board, said: “Live Labs was designed deliberately to take an open, inclusive and collaborative approach to innovation across many aspects of the programme, not just in the technology being trialled. It has been fascinating to see how this approach has been brought into the monitoring and evaluation processes. Too easily, this aspect of project management can become divisive and unproductive, so we wanted to see how we could develop this process to realise greater benefits and outcomes for each Live Lab and the programme overall. 

Hannah Bartram, ADEPT Chief Operating Officer said: We believe or approach to Monitoring & Evaluation represents and exemplar in the transport sector, considering progress across the widest set of metrics, not only for our own purposes but in helping to articulate our journey to others so they can gain benefit from our insights and learnings”

David Aimson, Programme Manager for Buckinghamshire Council’s Live Labs said: “Proving Services’ collaborative and flexible approach has been especially useful and very different from the standard monitoring and evaluation process. To have them as a sounding board, providing suggestions and feedback has enabled us to mould our own approach and made this a positive experience.”

Proving Services Director, Karen Farquharson said: “The evaluation process adopted by Proving is based on academic research, industry best practice and client experience, so it has been exciting to bring this to the Live Labs programme. We want to change the whole process of monitoring and evaluation, to make it more constructive and adaptable so that it supports the realisation of shared goals.”

ADEPT represents local authority, county, unitary and metropolitan Directors. 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.

A New Approach to Monitoring & Evaluation can be found here

Proving Services' Karen Farquharson is the latest contributor to the Live Labs blog. She talks about the Monitoring & Evaluation White Paper here.