5. Invest in analytical capacity and capability



Trustworthiness (T)     Quality (Q)     Value (V)

Look out for these letters throughout this section for indicators of the ‘Think TQV’ approach

Extract from Declaration on Government reform:

“We will bolster traditional skills such as drafting written advice, understanding statistical concepts, and appreciating how Parliament works, as well as developing expertise in areas including digital, data, science, and project and commercial delivery.”

Strong analytical skills are increasingly seen as a significant organisational asset, and analytical awareness is becoming essential for a range of government roles.

Maximising opportunities for cross-profession learning can help enhance the skillsets (T) of everyone in government. This ensures that government is suitably skilled and resourced to answer the most pressing questions of today, and those of tomorrow, and facilitates innovation (V) by drawing on the most up-to-date approaches and techniques. Investing in new analytical systems and tools also helps to ensure that analytical conclusions on which decisions are based is sound (Q) and that analysts are enabled to respond to the key policy questions of the future (V).

Analysts should also have access to wider analytical networks so that they are supported in their current roles as well as their longer-term careers (T), regardless of whether they work in a large department or a smaller Arm’s Length Body (ALB). Affiliation with professional networks is a critical mechanism that supports cross-government learning and access to development opportunities, such as those gained through job rotations, secondments and swaps.

Our conversations further revealed three important actions related to investing in analytical capacity and capability. This include the need to:

  1. Upskill analytical capability for all;
  2. Embrace new tools and skills to meet future evidence demand;
  3. Pool resources to improve analytical capability.

Upskill analytical capability for all

Extract from Declaration on Government reform:

“Establish a new curriculum and training campus for government, with a new digital way to access learning, a mandatory induction package, and a data masterclass for the SCS.”

Analytical capability is increasingly essential for everyone working in government, not just those in analytical roles. Investment in the skills and infrastructure (T) needed to build analytical capability and resilience is necessary to realise the benefits (V) of an evidence-driven culture, both within central government departments and Arm’s Length Bodies and local government, which are part of the evidence ecosystem.

The One Big Thing 2023: Data was a learning and development opportunity that aimed to improve the data skills and confidence of all civil servants. Civil servants were asked to complete at least one day (7 hours) of data related training by the end of 2023, tailored to three levels of analytical experience:

The objectives of One Big Thing 2023 were to:

  • Raise data awareness, confidence, knowledge and understanding;
  • Trigger long-term impact on participation in data and other training initiatives;
  • Improve outcomes: contribute towards achieving better outcomes in the delivery of public services and policy.

After four months One Big Thing delivered 703,000 hours of data learning to 212,000 people, with over 182,000 core e-learning courses completed.

Scottish Government has established a statistical leadership programme, Fit for the Future, which helps to foster a culture of empowerment and leadership at all levels by empowering all staff to make decisions.  The programme has a focus on innovation and continual improvement, advocating a strategic rather than reactive approach in leadership in the production of statistics.

The programme is driving culture change by upskilling statisticians to answer the questions of the future, supporting analysts to focus on work that is of high value to users, and to stop doing what is not.

It is also focused on investing time and resource in get new development initiatives off the ground, like introducing ‘reproducibility by default’ or using new tools and services that enable the efficient production of statistics, resulting in longer-term quality and efficiency benefits overall.

The ONS Data Science Campus – Data Masterclass is a series of talks, supported by articles and other easily digestible forms of learning, to inspire and enable senior leaders across Government to make the effective use of data and evidence central to their everyday work. The Masterclass is founded on the principle that increasing senior leaders’ data-literacy and grasp of empirical methods will help them to serve the country in the most effective way.

The Masterclasses contains compelling 15-minute talks from some of the UK’s top statistical experts, complemented by a range of case studies from within Government of exemplary data practice.

The key aims are to engage and inspire senior leaders through memorable stories, which show what is possible, on the following topics:

  • Week 1 – Data-driven policymaking/decision-making
  • Week 2 – Communicating compelling narratives through data
  • Week 3 – Data science and new frontiers

The Masterclass is not designed to make participants data or evidence experts, but rather to strengthen their knowledge of when and how to make the best use of statistical evidence and the right questions to ask of analysts when doing so.

Embrace new tools and skills to meet future evidence demand

Extract from Declaration on Government reform:

“We will champion innovation and harness science, engineering and technology to improve policy and services. We will expect officials to ask ‘how can science help’ when approaching problems and have the skills to deliver on this”

It is key that analysts stay up to date with innovative technologies (V) and have the time to develop new skills (T). With growing recognition of the opportunities afforded by new methods, (Q) such as data science, data linkage and the use of artificial intelligence, more investment is needed to ensure government can reap the benefits and safeguard (T) against the risks. Senior leaders have an important role to play here, prioritising and championing (T) innovation and investment in new methods and tools.

Making reproducibility a priority for analysis in government is an essential step towards the digital transformation of analysis. The Analysis Function Reproducible Analytical Pipelines (RAP) Strategy encourages analysts to adopt reproducible approaches by default. RAP based analysis improves quality through automated data validation and testing. Analysis built using RAP principles can be more impactful through interactive data presentation, more timely and less costly by removing manual steps, and more powerful by using advanced analytics. Analytical products should be developed in open-source software, which encourages collaboration and transparency.

Once RAPs are established this frees up time and resources to do more relevant, higher priority analytical work, or to add insight around the analysis. Managers overseeing analysts using RAP processes do not necessarily need to know how to code but need to know enough to empower analysts to use and develop their coding capability and steer RAP projects so they meet user needs and are sustainable.

Extract from Declaration on Government reform:

“We must do better at pooling and sharing data so we can analyse in depth the impact of our policies.”

The Administrative Data Research Unit (ADRU) in the Welsh Government has gone beyond a proof of concept for data linkage and is now able to use linked data in focused ways to provide specific insights in relation to its Programme for Government. Examples where this has influenced decision making include:

  1. Linking Flying Start scheme attendance data to education Foundation Phase baseline on-entry assessments – this project established that children who attended more hours of Flying Start childcare did better in all areas of school on-entry Foundation phase baseline assessments. This helped to inform the decision to expand childcare provision in Wales from September 2021.
  2. Linking Care & Repair home advice and modification interventions data with care home admissions data – this project indicated that receiving Care & Repair service support helped to prevent care home admissions for moderately and severely frail people, compared to a control group of people who did not. It informed the Welsh Government decision to increase Care & Repair agency funding in Wales, despite budgetary pressures.
  3. Linking school workforce census data to COVID-19 vaccination records – this work enabled the Welsh Government to understand the level of vaccination uptake in the Welsh teaching workforce at different points in time during the pandemic, by factors including geography, role, sector, age and ethnicity.

Led by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Better Outcomes through Linked Data (BOLD) Programme is a cross-government data-linking exercise which aims to improve the connectedness of government data in England and Wales. BOLD was created to demonstrate how people with complex needs can be better supported, by linking and improving the government data held on them in a safe and secure way. BOLD aims to remove barriers to linking and sharing data across government, to:

  • improve understanding of what interventions work;
  • help develop more evidence-based policies; and
  • help to redesign services to benefit the public.

The BOLD team is multidisciplinary and includes analysts, policy specialists, data engineers, strategists and project specialists from several organisations including: the Department for Health & Social Care; Office for Health Improvement and Disparities; Public Health Wales; Welsh Government; Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities and the Ministry of Justice.

BOLD uses innovative data linking software called ‘Splink’ which was developed by MoJ analysts to link data across organisations. Splink, which is open source, has been downloaded more than 8 million times around the world, and is used in government, academia, and the private sector on datasets up to more than 100 million records. Its speed has opened up the possibility of real-time linking in operational services, and it is now used extensively in the courts and probation space, including to better understand offenders on probation and significantly improve efficiency in probation supervision. MoJ’s data linkage team won an Analysis in Government Award, recognising its work to develop Splink as an innovative tool.

The Integrated Data Service (IDS) is the first Digital Economy Act accredited, fully cloud native Trusted Research Environment to operate across government. The ONS is the lead delivery partner for the IDS, a central platform which provides access to deidentified, indexed critical government data to accredited analysts from central government, the devolved administrations and the wider UK research community.

The IDS provides the technical and data architecture which enable the wider use of Essential Shared Data Assets across government, utilising the Reference Data Management Framework to ensure the data hosted on the platform can be joined interoperably, delivering an innovative, flexible and scalable approach to data linkage, which will unlock the potential of government data to drive better decision making. The IDS is key to delivering the government’s National Data Strategy and the Central Digital & Data Office roadmap for digital and data from 2022-2025.

Pool resources to improve analytical capability

To answer a pressing analytical question (V), the necessary analytical resources and expertise need to be in the right place, at the right time. However, this is not always the case in a sometimes stretched and decentralised analytical system, with mix of larger departments and smaller bodies which are geographically widespread. Effective analytical leadership can therefore require sharing, pooling and redistribution of experience, skills and resources (T) beyond established organisational silos to ensure that the required analytical evidence is timely, relevant and robust (Q).

A multidisciplinary team from the Office for National Statistics have been innovating to make local statistics more accessible and usable for local government decision makers. The Explore Subnational Statistics team have published the Subnational indicators explorer, in line with the Government Statistics Service (GSS) subnational data strategy. They have recently launched the Explore local statistics Beta service to help users find, visualise, compare, and download statistics for local areas, and make decisions at a local level.

Data and statistics are most valuable with insight. Therefore, ONS has established ONS Local, an analytical advisory service supporting local government across the English regions and the Devolved Administrations in accessing and making the best use of local data. ONS Local provides analytical support to key local users, including delivering bespoke projects to fill local data gaps. Its work also enhances transparency, and fosters efficient resource allocation, to ultimately benefit communities and strengthen regional collaboration.

For example, ONS Local has helped Yorkshire stakeholders to better understand local business sizes and employment trends, which gave local policymakers enough evidence to make the case for investment in small businesses and drive local employment. ONS Local also helped to inform broadband rollout plans for various councils in the East Midlands and East of England, replicating work carried out previously by the ONS Data Science Campus to create digital exclusion risk factor maps using OFCOM broadband data. Currently ONS Local is helping Greater Manchester Combined Authority to update their ESPRESSO tool. This will provide accurate fiscal insights for local authorities, enabling informed policy decisions and supporting devolution.

A series ONS Local workshops has focused specifically on building local stakeholders’ analytical capability, helping them to build their own dashboards using APIs in PowerBI. These have had a lot of success, recently hosting over 600 attendees at each event. Written feedback from attendees describe the events as “brilliant, informative [and] really insightful”. ONS local also host weekly “ONS Local Presents…” webinars which ensures that it brings the best quality local intelligence into ONS, so that its statistics continue to remain relevant and deliver value in meeting priority user needs.

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