Building the analytical community in the Cabinet Office

Next week we’re holding our Cabinet Office Analysts’ Summer Event – it will be a great opportunity for analysts from across the department to share learning and insights, to network with colleagues from other areas and to pick up new skills.  I am passionate about the important difference high quality analysis can make to policy development and implementation and, as the Cabinet Office’s Chief Economist, am particularly keen we continue to build a vibrant and effective analytical community in the department. Events which bring us all together can be an important part of that and I am grateful to all the analysts from across the department who help organise them or volunteer to present at them.

The Analysts’ Winter Event

Our last event in February, for example, allowed us to take stock of the great work that has gone on in relation to data science across the Cabinet Office and beyond and assess the opportunities ahead.  This current cross-government Data Science Partnership has its origins in the work of our Horizon Scanning Programme – see our earlier blog post which explored this. The resultant partnership between the Government Innovation Group, Government Digital Service, Government Office for Science and the Office of National Statistics is now bringing the potential of data science to government through the practical development of fifteen  alpha projects, work to build the capability of government’s existing analysts and policy people, and developing an ethical code with external practitioners.

We have also been keen to practice what we preach and make sure that all of our department’s analysts have the opportunity to develop their skills in this area.  To facilitate that I chaired a fantastic panel session in the February meeting with Sue Bateman who leads the cross-government programme, Shazia Holtom a data scientist in GDS and Radana Crhova, a senior economist in this team who participated in the data science accelerator programme.  This programme rapidly trains existing analysts in data science techniques such as machine learning, data scraping and advanced visualisation, to help test the usefulness of such approaches in government analysis. The panel session led to a lively discussion of how we could grow our skills in this area and use them to help deliver the department’s objectives.

The Analysts’ Summer Event

Next week’s event will build on this: we’ll have a special focus on data visualisation hearing from Sam Leon from the Open Knowledge Foundation, Dan Heron from the Government’s Digital Service and Head of, Antonio Acuna.  We’ve found that effective data visualisations can really help our customers grasp key insights from data; facilitating better decision making. As the amount of data available grows, the ability to communicate it effectively will become an increasingly important part of the analyst’s toolkit.  We’ve already done a lot to boost visualisation skills within the department and the technology transformation has given us access to more innovative tools.  However, there is more we could do to ensure that analysts can maximise the value that these tools offer.

The event will also give us the chance to take stock on quality assurance processes in the department and to introduce a suite of new resources and guidance available to government analysts to further strengthen the quality of our work.  Finally there will also be a ‘Show and Tell’ session where Cabinet Office analysts from this team and the Implementation Unit will present their work to the community, providing the opportunity for analysts to share ideas and analytical techniques.

Building the community is more than just events of course. We’ve been making use of our new technology to have a virtual community on Google+, we’ve offered some really innovative training including a ‘code club’ and a great peer to peer series and we’ve produced a number of guides to help analysts new to the department navigate through business cases, quality assurance processes and impact assessments. Jon Wallis and Rob Clogher in my team are leading this programme of Learning & Development for both analysts and non-analysts in Cabinet Office. This programme relies on Cabinet Office analysts volunteering to deliver a wide range of sessions - from data visualisation to introductory economics - they are always on the look out for new volunteers.

I’d love to hear any ideas other organisations have adopted in building professional communities - do drop us a line in the comments.


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