"Everything is awesome": a view from a Local Government Data & Analytics Intelligence Manager

If I had a pound every time someone said to me “Tom, working in the partnership space must be very exciting and fun and you must love it”, I wouldn’t be all that much richer. That’s why I’ve decided to write a blog about it. If you guys aren’t going to give me the opportunity to talk about things I like to do then I’ll just have to make my own.

I like working in the Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ecda) because I get to meet new people. I get to go out and about and speak to people about what we do, about what they do, and generally just sponge up as much as possible across the profession of analytics.

People might think analysts don’t like talking to people, but I’m not like other analysts. I’m a cool analyst.

There are a few reasons I enjoy this part of my job more than other parts. One is that I get the opportunity to learn from what other people are doing.
Recently I went to a data expedition run by our friends at the Greater London Authority, focusing upon the health of civil society within the London Borough of Southwark. This was a great learning opportunity for me, as we are very keen to run some expeditions of our own through ecda. Being a part of such an event led by other people within our sector and profession meant there were a lot of things I could pick up on and learn from when replicating in Essex.

Similarly, as part of LearnFest (a week long programme of learning across Essex County Council and partners) we had a very fun Taskmaster Challenge day, where Stephen Simpkin (Data & Analytics; Data Science Fellow) challenged teams of people to use analytical skills to create the best movie, and I was fortunate enough to judge the results. Two expert researchers from the University of Essex (Dr Abbs and Dr Broniecki) led the teams, and it was a great opportunity for us all to learn from some very skilled professionals to see how they approach analytical problems.

Teams were warned that simply suggesting ‘Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging 2’ wouldn’t be enough to win, even though we can all agree that that is the film that the world needs to see. For those of you who are interested, the winning movie was an animated Tom Hanks biopic starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. This exercise gave people the opportunity to deploy some technical skills in a safe environment with expert support - and if Hollywood is listening (which I am sure they are) you can increase your likelihood of winning a best picture Oscar significantly/statistically using the algorithms generated by the teams.

Another great thing about getting out to meet new people is the chance to speak to new audiences about what we do.
I recently had an impromptu meeting with analytics leads in Greenwich. They are currently trying to increase the value of analytics within their organisation and move away from a world where data is just numbers in a table. They had heard about the journey that we’ve been on as ecda and wanted to learn more about how we’ve managed to go about that transition in Essex. It’s pretty rewarding to hear other organisations come to us for advice and guidance, and it definitely made me feel like a bit of a celebrity when one of them told me they’d seen me speak at a conference. I am the Aaron Taylor-Johnson of the ODA world and there’s nothing you can do to tell me otherwise.

Nicki Mallett (Data & Analytics; Head of Profession) spent a few days at the BT Hot House event with Essex Police and other partners, exploring the potential to use analytics to support partnership problems – and at least one new project has been launched off the back of that event.
We’ve recently hosted the National Analytics Forum – a network that should remind us all that acronyms should be considered before naming anything – and spoke at the Local Government Data Science Conference in Manchester. These events represent great opportunities for us to champion what we do in Essex, and showcase some of the brilliant work we are involved in.

And that opportunity to showcase our work brings me on to the best thing about going out to meet new people. When I talk to new people I get to see time and again that we are actually pretty good at what we do.

I had a meeting with someone who works with a range of data scientists from across the private sector and analysts from the public sector, and they told me that the biggest difference between the sectors is that people in the private sector are much better at selling themselves. They are proud of what their organisations are doing and are always enthusiastically speaking about it. In comparison, there is a tendency to downplay what we are good at in the public sector, to normalise the skills we have and focus on what we can’t do.
We recently ran into a former colleague at an event, who told us that they didn’t realise how skilled they were until they left the organisation. They now look back at what we do in our partnership and recognise just how skilled we are – not just in analytics and research, but across the whole organisation.

We are good at what we do, and we need to keep reminding ourselves, and telling other people.

With that in mind, I’d like to encourage everyone from across our sector to be bolder and celebrate what we’re good at. There’s an awful lot of it, and we just need to tell people about it.

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