Practice Makes Perfect: Our Approach to Learning Our Trade

The greatest piece of advice I was given when I joined Essex County Council as a Junior Analyst almost exactly one year ago, was to dedicate time to learning. This is just one example of the strong culture of personal development within the organisation, and particularly within the Analytics and Data Science team.

The evolution of analytics and data is reshaping our organisations and by investing in the skills specific to our trade we’re investing in the opportunity to create impact from insight! eLearningIn ECC we have access to the DataCamp platform to support development of our technical skills, it offers interactive exercises to learn about statistics theory, the R and Python programming languages, PowerBI, SQL, spreadsheets, and Tableau by working through examples that mimic a real-world environment. Recently graduating with an MA in Public Opinion and Political Behaviour, it’s fair to say I’m a fan of studying and I devoured the DataCamp content within 12 months. The courses provided vary in length and complexity, meaning that they are accessible to users of all abilities and appetites for learning! For me, the flexible format has meant that I have been able to develop my skills at speed and apply them to the real-world problems facing Essex residents.

One of the ways that I have done this, is through my work focusing on the impact of the increasing OFGEM energy price cap on Essex households. This involved working with a large dataset at speed to ensure that we, as an organisation, can respond in real time. Honing my skills of the R programming language has ensured that I can work through projects faster and more accurately, allowing us to expand our capacity as a team and ultimately help more stakeholders answer important questions.

In other projects, I have used the skills learnt from DataCamp SQL courses to efficiently query and scrutinise data held within our servers to understand how households known to our children’s services are impacted by the cost of living crisis. Within the same project, I have used spatial techniques such as geographic weighted regression, learnt through DataCamp, to understand how communities in different parts of the county are being impacted by rising inflation. Finally, by using DataCamp and working alongside colleagues, I have built PowerBI dashboards to accompany the organisation’s Sector Development strategy and another to inform Adult Community Learning’s service provision.

Many of these skills were alien to me before joining ECC however DataCamp provided me the opportunity to develop skills independently and build on these by working collaboratively with my team, showcasing learning through regular Show and Shares, and strengthening our collective position to respond to new challenges facing Essex.

Over my time at ECC, I have seen my colleagues’ skills grow as they explore new techniques and push the boundaries of what is possible. By learning how to apply Natural Language Processing (NLP) through DataCamp courses, team members have been able to understand the impact of dementia and cognitive impairment on Adult Social Care caseloads.

As our Data Science Fellow highlighted in a case study, DataCamp has provided us with the skills to use NLP to explore the expansive library of unstructured text data available within the council. Previously, processing text of such quantities would’ve been resource intensive and unfeasible. Now, NLP is a strong addition to our arsenal, providing significant insights for our services. In short, the development of these skills opens doors for us as an organisation and as an analytics team to explore new techniques and refine existing ones. This dedication to learning has given me the confidence to choose techniques that are most appropriate for providing stakeholders with actionable insight and explain my choices in a way that has meaning to them and supports their ambitions. In response, stakeholders’ confidence in our outputs is increasing too, creating data champions across the organisation, as well as in partner organisations such as the Essex Fire and Rescue Service and Essex district councils.

In a personal capacity, this commitment to learning has given me the skill sets needed to progress in my career, moving from the position of Junior Analyst to Analyst within 12 months. This move will allow me to put my skills into practice with different audiences, working with Essex’s three Integrated Care Systems to provide data-driven insights to address challenges in health and care. Moving forward, I hope to build on my skills even further by exploring further courses and working towards a DataCamp Data Analyst certification. With the developmental support provided from my team so far, I feel confident that I can continue to do so.

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