What does capability mean for analytics?
I’m nearing the end of my second month as the new Head of ecda. It’s an exciting role and I’m lucky to be well supported by senior stakeholders who can see how using data assets will help public services meet the challenges of the post-COVID world. Over these past two months, I’ve been thinking about what needs to be in place, at individual, organisational and system level, to make the most of the data that we hold and to meet the expectations of our sponsors. Put simply, what are the capabilities we need to deliver?
Individual and team capabilities are key
When we think of capabilities, we often think of the capabilities of individuals and teams. These capabilities will often be skills including the ability to work with data, knowledge of statistics or programming ability. And within ecda we recognise the need for a wider range of skills including communication, the ability to work productively with our clients and project management.
Individual capability needs to go beyond the analytical community. Are senior managers sufficiently skilled to use the results of analysis and to make informed decisions based on insight? Are they able to distinguish between robust empirical work and a puff-piece produced by a company with a service to sell?
Organisations need their own capabilities
And capability goes well beyond the individual. At the organisation level, there are some key capabilities. For example, organisations need to provide access to appropriate technology for data analysts – this means reasonable powerful computers and access to the right software. An organisation’s generic PC might work well for someone whose main use is email and Word. But for an analyst working with a couple of million data records the system will be a source of frustration and inefficiency. Corporate IT departments may also be challenged to supply and regularly update analytical software.
Within organisations having access to data is a key capability. We know that organisations have lots of data. But it’s not much use if most of the data is sitting in a couple of hundred Excel spreadsheets all within slightly different formats. Another issue we have identified is that data from administrative systems may be unavailable for analysts – extraction for analysis was not included in the design of a system or considered when tendering for work. This access problem will persist without an organisational approach that sees data as an asset that has uses beyond processing within an administrative system or performance reporting.
Organisations also need processes and governance in place to smooth analytical processes. Key to this are information governance processes that allow access to data whilst protecting the information within the data and processing it fairly. Project processes, including quality management, also need to be in place to deliver high quality analytics.
And the system matters too
Within the public sector there are multiple agencies that hold data and can benefit from the application of data science, statistics and analytical techniques to extract actionable insight from that data. And in many cases, sharing and linking data between organisations can lead to powerful analysis that can help improve services. For this to happen the system needs to have the capability to share data securely – part of effective sharing is about technical infrastructure which is why we have invested in a data sharing platform. But effective sharing also needs information governance that allows sharing – and ideally where the default position is to share data rather than to withhold the asset. In my conversations with other Heads of Offices of Data Analytics it seems that system level information governance is mostly an unresolved problem that can only be solved when system leaders drive cultural change.
Also, at system level, there need to be mechanisms for bringing together different organisations. Data sheds light on multi-agency problems – so the agencies need to work together in using the insight from analytics.
Building capability needs to cover systems, organisations and individuals. ecda has already started its work in building capability. We have run “Be Part of the Equation” events attended by analysts across the county. We have surveyed councils and other partners across the county to understand their data assets. And we have a data sharing platform already used by local government and health bodies.
There are challenges at all levels – and doubtless I will return to these challenges in future posts. However, ecda will now try to work on how to increase capability across the local public services ecosystem and to make it analytics ready.