Next Generation Services Innovation Lab

Posted on: 24/10/2019

The 3-day lab stimulated collaboration between stakeholders & the development of responsible data access methods within professional services.


Last week, for the first time, diverse professionals from the legal, insurance and accountancy sectors assembled in a big tent with a group of academics, technologists, social scientists and AI & data entrepreneurs to participate in an intensive three-day workshop designed to stimulate collaboration and the development of responsible data access methods within these key sectors. The Lab was the first stage in UK Research and Innovation’s competition for grants of up to £1.15m to build enabling data access solutions.

The Context

The aim of the Lab was to bring together a wide group of organisations interested in entering the competition (which closes on November 20th at noon), to facilitate consortia building, develop proposals and then refine, test and pitch these proposals in order to receive initial feedback from UKRI before the next round.

The Lab kicked off with a presentation from Next Generation Services Challenge Director Stephen Browning, who explained the thinking behind this initiative. As AI continues to disrupt our society and the economy, it is critical that the drive for innovation should be both positive and sustainable, focused as much on human needs as well as business efficiency, value and technical excellence. The legal, accountancy and insurance sectors all need to engage and build R&D capability and capacity as innovation will drive growth and ensure future success and, simultaneously, the UK needs to strengthen the AI sector.

“In our discussions we constantly hear that lack of a data access is a barrier to innovation.. There are multiple ways to provide access to data and there are ways to ensure that that access is secure and accurate as required. This Lab is about free, forward thinking and looking towards the end of 2021 when we hope there will be three significant new models in place.”


Cross-sector collaboration will lead to stronger, bigger ideas and the Lab process, modelled on a tried and tested creative formula, was designed to inspire and shape proposals which must focus on:

  • Identifying and developing a data access method to enable AI application for one or more of the three sectors
  • Addressing incentives, opportunities and ongoing business models to ensure a sustainable data access approach
  • Consideration of broader, non-technical aspects of data access methods, including ethics, bias and privacy


To further set the context for the initiative three speakers each presented an overview of data access in their sector and the barriers to change.

Tim Marlow, an independent consultant specialising in Connected & Autonomous Mobility and its impact on insurance, explained how the insurance industry, once based around historical data analysis understood by actuaries, is shifting towards predictive analytics processes which are gobbling up data from all available sources. The benefits of data access such as simplification, tracking and telematics, reduced fraud, allowance for real time interventions, automated repayments and so on, are already being felt but there is so much more to do.

Alexandra Cardenas, Head of Commercial and Technology Law at The Law Society, concurred that innovation is critical and that “lawyers are interested in innovation and know that change is coming”, yet the legal sector has tended to let others make the first move since it is by nature a risk averse profession. There are some barriers to overcome, including the resistance to change coming from long-established partnership and business models.

Thirdly, Martin Martinoff (Programme Lead, AuditFutures at ICAEW) reflected on how accountants are still largely dealing with a “digital shoebox of data” and wrestling with cyber-security issues and transferring data held within enterprise systems.


Across all three sectors there are common challenges – companies are all at different stages of digital maturity, technology needs to be matched with training and skills, standards need to be developed for sharing data and new business models will need testing. All agreed that change is essential but that there is also a lot of hype around AI and its potential and that, in practice, few are actually using it.

From the AI sector, Christopher Gibson, UK Programme Manager at IBM Research, reflected on bias in AI (which can lie in the algorithm or in the data) and how consumers are getting savvier but also scared by stories, for example about face recognition, making it essential to analyse and handle datasets with care and engage with technologies which can help. Gibson’s human focus was endorsed in the final presentation from Melanie Knetsch, Deputy Director of the Next Generation Services Challenge, who looked at the Human Factor and explained why embedding social scientists in the development process can assist with ethical, educational, skills and design challenges as they arise.

The Process

Day One: Be open-minded. Encourage divergent thinking. Explore new insights

Day Two: Get robust. Be convergent. Focus on what you want to achieve

Day Three: Pitch to get initial feedback

The innovation process was led by Chris Thompson and Vanessa Bailey of ViaDynamics, and at the start everyone was invited to engage in open, divergent thinking – even if they had come to the Lab with a set idea for a project – and to listen to the many other viewpoints around the room. Through the Lab process each idea is roundly tested to refine the market or user need, understand the barriers that must be overcome and identify the most appropriate solutions. Each idea is also reviewed against others in the Lab to see if there are overlaps or synergies. Some ideas are discarded along the way. Others are strengthened in unforeseen ways.


At the end of the Lab proposals were pitched with a view to move towards the next stage of the process.

The UKRI team would like to thank all participants who gave so much time and energy to the event and who contributed to the success of the Lab.


What Participants Said

“It was so refreshing to see how teams can be built in these focused events, whose members are willing to collaborate with each other in a constructive manner, and how much facilitators guidance & help come in handy for making this happen – thank you!”

“I came without really knowing what to expect but it was excellent. Well done for organising such a great lab! The connections and knowledge I gained from this event are invaluable and will be extremely helpful in the growth of our business.”

“The Lab had 2 unexpected outcomes for me: 1 – meeting and working with a diverse range of experts was an amazing opportunity. 2 – thanks to the lab programme, we were able to form a group and develop an idea from nothing to something in under 3 days.”

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