A significant group met at Sunderland Software City last week to move on the proposal for an Office for Data Analytics. I say significant but I can’t tell you how many there were. Perhaps there were twenty five or thirty. There was a photo taken if you need to count them. A smaller group of us had met on several other occasions to look at setting up an office that focuses on the role of data in solving problems across the region. I think the idea came from something similar in New York. The whole thing was supported by NESTA.
We had settled on trying to do something around the role of data in tackling alcohol abuse and the people there were those who were interested in this aspect as well as the data. NESTA recognise that data has some sort of role to play in public sector challenges and had set out two objectives.
Objective 1: to prove the value of sharing, analysing and acting upon public sector data at a region wide scale.
Objective 2: to assess whether a permanent Office for Data Analytics could benefit the North East.
During the day we were to try and come up with a small number of challenges which we could get our data teeth into and prove the case (or not). To be a good challenge, apparently, requires six things: It needs to be simple; It should be a specific and well defined problem; There needs to be actionable insights that are within our control; With a series of interventions with short term measurable results; Good data non personal needs to be available; A minimum viable information product must be definable.
Five questions had been posed at a previous meeting and we split into groups to look these. My group addressed the sale of illicit alcohol. Each of the groups tried to frame two questions about how they would use data to provide valuable insight and then we got to vote on the best three. My group came up with using data to prove if there was a link between alcohol abuse and illicit alcohol (I suspect there isn’t) and using data to identify the sources of supply. Our group didn’t get the votes to go forward.
I learned a lot at the event. Firstly, I found out that in Sunderland there is only one Super Output Area (SOA) in which there were no providers of alcohol. Providing a link between supply and abuse would therefore be difficult. More importantly I found that it is very hard for people to think outside of their own position and not to present their current solutions as the only way forward. I also found that these are extremely hard issues to try and come to terms with.
I am still of the view, however, that rather than finding a solution to a problem we should be looking to bring data together to provide insights that we may well not be looking for.
As John Locke said from Lost, ‘The best way to find something is to stop looking’ but that’s a whole different ball game.