Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships

I’m partial to a board game, my prowess at Cluedo is well known among my nearest and dearest. I think analytics is a bit like a detective game - stitching together the clues, refining the key lines of questioning, ruling out any red herrings to focus on what’s important.

So, when I reflect on my experience as Head of Profession for Data and Analytics throughout COVID-19 it’s been much like having everyone gathered at the table around a compendium of games (and I have felt like Miss Scarlet, in the library, with the lead piping) contemplating my approach, strategising with team mates, and striving to address some of the challenges to advance towards the finish line.

The past eight weeks have demonstrated to me that partnership working, data sharing and using data for social good, remain as important as ever, and is now an ambition shared by more partners than ever before.

Collaboration is not a new concept for the Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ecda), which aims to safely share data to improve outcomes for local people. However, we started off as Hungry Hippos, each partner marble-chomping valuable data within our own organisations, not just to monitor the situation and track COVID-19 cases, but to help us collect the golden marbles of valuable insight that would enable us to understand where services were needed and to target gaps within our most vulnerable communities.

As data ontology became a priority, we took a Jenga-inspired approach to assessing how our data management and data integration stacked up, and whether we had the strongest foundations in place to provide a timely and effective response to COVID-19 data requests.

Over the last two months the ECC team alone has processed an average of 100 data files (incoming and outgoing) per week that’s more than 700 files to date, and extraordinary amount, and we’ve responded to 100 requests for data or insight across our organisation via a coordination Data Cell.

Not surprisingly there was the odd occasion when it felt like we were playing a game of slam-tastic Frustration and we would never get our pegs safely to the finish line, but the team was setting records and raising standards to use data and analytics to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and support recovery.

Much like The Game of Life ecda's journey was a series of choices, chances and a fair share of challenges, realising that the speed at which you roll the dice and the pace at which you progress across the board were critical in a crisis, as was our strategy. Significantly we chose not to abandon our core principles in favour of haste, we took the time to question and consider the rationale for sharing data, asking what action would be taken by whom – applying good governance – understanding that ‘speed to data sharing’ should not be our goal and nor would it provide the solution.

I often express the view that data and analytics is a team sport; sharing crucial data safely and ethically with districts and our partners to ensure the most extremely vulnerable residents are supported has been a challenge within a two-tier authority setting. If you’ve ever played Pictionary blindfolded against the clock, then you’ll understand what I’m getting at when I say how difficult it is to construct a problem definition from conflicting perspectives. So, we have had a take a comprehensive approach to establish the groundwork before analytics can begin; business analysis, information governance, data collection and design, business intelligence reporting culminating in analytics.

COVID-19 has yet again reminded us why we can’t work alone and why we must continue to work closely with our districts, health colleagues and voluntary organisations and what can be achieved when we have something to galvanize us towards a common goal.

We need to seize the opportunity this recent and extended collaboration has provided to be radical in constructing a united future approach, recognising that to improve the ‘system’ in which we operate we need to:
• adopt an integrated approach to health and social care data analytics
• recreate our data infrastructure and adopt place based data management not organisational
• invest to add strength and resilience across the entire system to create new capacity and capability.

People don’t live within organisational boundaries and more needs to be done together, as a team, to build a holistic view of our residents to gain an accurate understanding of our communities, their needs and vulnerabilities, to deliver better and quicker services. 


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