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Laying the foundations of place based data science

As providers of services for the people and places we serve, Police, County and District Councils, Health Authorities and Voluntary organisations assemble vast amounts of data as part of our day to day work. We know that such data provides enormous potential, if used appropriately, both for innovation and as a powerful evidence base.

We know that social problems are complex and interrelated, and the problems and their potential solutions will often have a geographic or local dimension. Addressing these requires a diverse solution; and we know that no one service, organisation or person can address the root causes of need on their own.

The need for improved efficiency and to balance the books in a financially challenging environment has encouraged the drive toward a more reliable evidence base from which to base decisions around delivery.

What are we learning about delivering place based data science projects?

Laying strong foundations for data science to be applied to our day to day work in Essex was fundamental to enabling its success and amplifying the impact that the resulting predictive analytics will have on shaping our strategic thinking and service delivery.

Through our partnership approach the Essex Data (ED) programme is building capacity for us to achieve our future goals and to create an environment where Essex Partners can innovate together and focus our collaborative energy to deliver action that contributes towards sustainable change.

As part of our journey we have developed our approach by learning to:

Choose the right problem

Everyone wants their problem fixed but only some challenges lend themselves to the type of data-focused predictive work we are doing through ED. We need to not only ask 'why is this problem important' but 'can data be used to solve this problem?' and 'do we have the data available?' We must also not forget to ask ourselves ‘on the basis of the data what actions will we take that will make a difference to the communities we are working with?'

Planning and scoping work to find the right problems is key.

Carefully consider the ethics

The issues we want to tackle are the ones that are the most tricky, but they are also ones that affect vulnerable people. In undertaking any research an ethical review should be undertaken and data science projects are no different. As public service organisations we need to balance the duty to protect, with the duty to prevent, and a robust ethical review ensures we do this right.

We've been using the cabinet office data science ethics framework to help us (link).

Consider data and technology as part of a diverse solution

Solving the problem doesn’t start and end with data and technology. Yes ED is improving our organisational capacity by providing the technology, (Predict X), to safely share, match and store data, but delivering ED had has been as much about the culture, politics, leadership and partnership working as about the data. This work is counter-cultural for many organisations, whose culture is to protect rather than share their data.

The ED programme seeks to deliver collaborative data science projects but also to enable a change in the way we work across Essex so we have a system wide approach to data analytics.

Liz Ridler

Delivery and Evaluation Lead for Essex Data programme

21 August 2017