Effective Big Data use needs collaboration

John Pullinger
John Pullinger CB

The data landscape is constantly evolving and providing new opportunities for government. I have written about how the power of data provides an opportunity for analysts. As change gathers pace, the potential rewards grow, because Open and Big Data offer policymakers a wider range of ways to think differently and enhance service provision. Furthermore, as the public are able to access ever-increasing amounts of information in more digestible formats, they are better informed in their decision-making.

The progress we have made to date in making smarter use of data is thanks to civil servants from numerous professions (including IT, digital and analysts) working together. In the Home Office, this collaborative approach has led to the use of open source standards and data science software without compromising on security. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has also benefited from multi-disciplinary teams developing data science capability to work on scraping price data from the internet to inform inflation estimates.

Building data capability

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills data science capability is being built through new technology alongside interdisciplinary collaboration to improve data dissemination. Thinking about what users want has driven their innovative interactive visualisation of UN trade data, providing a user-friendly information service to a global audience.

Similarly, the Department of Work and Pensions is harnessing the power of Universal Credit data to increase the effectiveness of departmental operations. Interactive maps allow Jobcentre Plus offices and organisations like housing associations to better understand the claimant caseload by location, while the public can find the timetable for roll- out of Universal Credit in their locality.

Data science competition

I know that there are more examples out there! With this in mind, I am really interested in the analytical professions’ data science competition, supported by the Government Data Science Partnership (Cabinet Office, Government Digital Service, Go-Science and ONS).

A few weeks into the competition and I have not been disappointed. It is encouraging to see that Big Data techniques and software are being used to answer business questions or visualise information across a wide range of departments. It is also pleasing that alongside the energy of larger projects, there are people taking the initiative and developing their own capability in data science.

Civil Service modernisation needs this spirit of curiosity and initiative to develop and thrive, and people who enter the competition are demonstrating this. The sharing of their learning will help drive further advances in services. For this reason I want to encourage people from all professions to share your skills and join the growing analytical data science community. Please enter the competition before 1 October – details can be found on the GSS website.