Shooting for the Moon

As year one of the Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ecda) draws to a close, I find myself pausing to reflect on the past 12 months. Earlier in July, ecda published a video that highlighted some of our successes from our first year, and it made me realise that I don’t often think about the things that we’ve achieved.

With the state of the world as it is, we’ve all been incredibly busy over the past few months, and, as a result, I haven’t felt like I’ve had the chance to ruminate on what has, ultimately, been a pretty successful first year for ecda.

I, like a lot of people, spend a lot of time in “the moment”, feeling my immediate reaction to something going well, or not so well, and then moving onto the next thing and not really taking stock of what’s been going on. As a result, I feel like I lurch from success to barrier or from failure to success, from meeting to meeting to, you guessed it, another meeting.

So, to bring this first year to an end, I’ve decided to take the time to stop, think, and write about what I’m proud of.

If someone asks me my favourite part of my job, I invariably say it is that I get to speak to, work with, and learn from an ever-expanding group of wonderful, talented people. So that seems as sensible a place to start as any.

As ecda is made up of ECC, Essex Police and the University of Essex, I’ve obviously had plenty of opportunities to work with my peers in these organisations. For example, both ECC and Police analysts have had the chance to learn from some of the extremely talented researchers at the ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre. We’ve had some great training courses (shout out to Dr Abbs and Dr Broniecki for their classroom time, and for coming to the pub once we’d finished), and we’ve made some great working connections too.

But beyond the immediate partnership, ecda has been a vehicle that has allowed me to work with people in a massive range of organisations. I’ve learned more about the Essex Fire & Rescue Service in the past year than I ever knew before (though, tbh, my knowledge started and ended with Fireman Sam). I’ve learned about statutory homelessness through working with Colchester Borough Council and Peabody. I’ve learned about adult mental health from working with the Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT).

I’ve even learned from Dulcie Vousden (Data Scientist at DataKind UK) that Justin Bieber’s hometown is most famous for being obsessed with William Shakespeare (shout out to DataKind UK for coming to the pub with us too!).

After the people, there’s the work. It’s not always been as easy to deliver projects as we would like it to be (if it was that easy we’d all be doing it wouldn’t we?!), and we are learning a great deal every day, and when I stop and think, we’ve done a lot.

We’ve delivered cluster analysis to help understand physical inactivity in our communities across Essex (read Emma Farrow’s recent blog about the work, check out the dashboard on our Open Data website). This is supporting a pretty new area of work for us, working with Sport England and the Local Delivery Pilot (LDP) in Essex to get our communities active.

A huge milestone that we achieved this year is one that we often seem to forget about, somehow. Working with EPUT we joined up health and social care data at a person level in Essex for the first time. This is something that health and social care colleagues have been trying to do for years (that might sound like an exaggeration, but my good friend Stephen Simpkin has literally been trying for the past decade), and we did it.

ecda has also created partnership posts. Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital Trust have co-created an analyst role with ECC to help deliver more health and social care data integration. The Violence and Vulnerability Unit was set up in Essex and we have a cross partnership post working with all manner of partners to understand serious community violence in the county as a result. We also had a role created to work on physical inactivity with the LDP that has led to some really exciting work.

There is a lot to be proud of, and now that I think about it, I am very proud. Proud as punch, even.

Our desire to be cutting edge and be the best in the business has led to us working with some really cool organisations this year, even just to learn from them.

We’ve worked with Amazon Web Services and learned how they run their data discoveries. We’ve worked with Archimedes Consulting to learn how to deliver more impactful presentations. I’ve already mentioned DataKind UK and the BLG, but those guys have taught us so much this year.

And better still, we’ve onboarded Cloudwick to work with us and help join our data in a safe, ethical way.

It’s hard to find the words to express how challenging I find my job sometimes. I can’t count on two hands the amount of times I’ve turned my video off on a Teams call to yell out in frustration. I’ve been in meetings that feel like groundhog day, and I’ve had the same conversations over and over.

But there is so much good to my job. I have loved the first year of ecda, and I can’t wait to keep growing, learning, and meeting new, inspiring people.

We at ecda haven’t achieved everything that we wanted to in year one, which sometimes makes us feel like we haven’t achieved anything. But the only reason we haven’t achieved everything, is because our ambition is so big.

Norman Vincent Peale famously said “shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” That’s what we’ve done this year. We may not have hit the moon just yet, but when we stop and look at what we’ve done, the stars look pretty incredible.

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