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Nesta provides fresh push for Offices of Data Analytics


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Innovation charity Nesta is aiming to set up a community of practice for public sector Offices of Data Analytics (ODAs).

It has made the pledge in a report on the state of play for ODAs in the UK as the latest move in a cause that it has championed since 2015.

The report defines ODAs a model for multiple organisation to join up, analyse and act upon data sourced from a range of public sector bodies, with the aim of improving services and decision making.

It identifies nine initiatives at various stages of development – in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Worcestershire, Avon and Somerset, Surrey, London, Essex, Suffolk and North Yorkshire – and says there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to setting them up.

Each of the current bodies is structured differently and governed through their own frameworks, and they are conducting different types of pilots.

But the model is gaining traction in the UK, with funds being provided and a wider range of partners. There are also signs of it changing the way public authorities work, supporting better collaboration, prediction and prevention.

Strengthen network

This has prompted Nesta to say it will work with ODAs to set up the community of practice, in which resources can be scaled up and shared by members. It will aim to support them by strengthening their network, sharing best practice and tools, and identifying opportunities for joint initiatives.

It will also help them to make the case for wider adoption of the ODA model, acknowledging that there are obstacles and stronger evidence is needed on their impact to secure funding.

“We hope that by providing more evidence on the effectiveness of using data analytics to inform interventions and improve decision making, we can help more cities and regions apply this approach,” the report says.

Among the barriers it identifies to setting up an ODA are that many organisations are slow to understand the potential, there could be problems with the quality and discoverability of their data, existing technology may make it difficult to extract and use, and there are worries about the legal issues in data sharing. Also, it is no surprise that it can be difficult to secure funding when the public sector is already squeezed financially.

Honest assessment

The report also looks at the steps in setting up an ODA, which include an honest assessment of what technology is available and the quality of data, and the need for an architecture with high standards of information security.

In addition, it highlights alternative funding models that include in-house investment, collaborative funding between the organisations involved, a tiered funding structure based on the level of input and usage of the ODA, and grants and prizes. All of these have pros and cons.

In an accompanying blogpost, Nesta says: “The greatest potential can be unlocked when multiple public sector organisations agree to use their collective data to collaborate more effectively.

“Given the complex and geographically diffuse nature of many modern social issues, successfully improving public services requires public sector bodies to join up, analyse and act upon their data at a city or regional scale.”

Image from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, public domain via Wikimedia

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