On the sidelines of the 5th International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics that took place in Kigali from 29 April to 3 May 2019, experts came together to discuss what it takes to successfully harness the power of data science.

Among the speakers at the event are representatives from the UK Office for National Statistics, whom National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) began a productive partnership since last year, while working together on joint data science projects and capacity building. 

In the UK presentation on “Building Capacity at ONS Data Science Campus and Beyond”, Ceri Regan and Tom Wilkinson, Head of MI and Analytics at the Department for International Development (DFID) revealed what has worked and what has not worked to successfully harness the power of data science for the UK government.

Here are their main reflections:

Partnerships: Collaboration is key! The strength of the ONS Data Science Campus comes from their partnerships with academics, industry and government departments both within the UK and internationally. ONS has developed their own data science training courses (including a Masters) in collaboration with academics, run joint data science projects for the public good in collaboration with industry, and tested innovative new methods with international partners.

Grow your own data scientists: Whilst it is tempting to overcome capacity gaps by outsourcing to data science companies, there is a risk suppliers won’t fully understand subtleties of the problem and maintaining outsourced solutions can be challenging. The UK have found that staff within government understand government’s challenges better than anyone else, which is why the ONS Data Science Campus has developed training materials for building data science capacity in-house!  

Start small and grow organically: It is not necessary to have expensive equipment to do data science – open source platforms such as the UN Global Platform make data science possible on a basic laptop. This means it is easy to start working on meaningful data science projects, produce valuable results, and use the learning before investing in big systems.

Communicate: Celebrate data science successes! The ONS believes it is important that all staff know what data science is, and how it can be used. And of course it is especially important to show Senior Managers from across government the potential benefits of data science and “the art of the possible”.

By: Rose Drummond