Building a Data Science Movement within the Public Sector — Learning from the British Government’s Experience

Ioannis Tsalamanis from Data Science Campus facilitating a workshop session at the Lab

We recently had the distinct pleasure of hosting a couple of colleagues from Data Science Campus (DSC), a data innovation initiative attached to the Office of National Statistics of the United Kingdom. It was inspiring to learn about how the Campus works across government to support data science and ultimately better delivery. Below we share a few highlights and an area of collaboration between Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ) and the Campus.

A Campus Dedicated to Advancing Data Science in Government

Much like the labs in the Global Pulse network, Data Science Campus is tapping into the rich streams of data that are being generated by new technology to inform public policy and programme delivery. Sonia and Ioannis, a couple of data scientists at the Campus, joined us for two days of workshopping and brainstorming. They also presented on the Campus’ project portfolio and governance to representatives from the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics, the Indonesian Institute of Statistics, and the Ministry of National Development Planning.

The way the Campus interacts with the rest of the UK Government was of particular interest to us here at PLJ, as we are a joint initiative of the Government of Indonesia and the United Nations. What could we learn from the way the Campus supports policy and delivery units?

The Campus mixes demand-driven in-house data innovation projects with support to managers and budding data scientists across government through training, mentorship and an accelerator programme. The ‘data science movement’ component of the Campus’ work was also interesting, as this begins to answer the question of how to scale one’s impact without growing the team, an ongoing topical debate in the Lab.

A Data Science Movement

The training courses range from seminars for public sector managers on the value of data science — the art of the possible — which helps to scope projects, to short courses on R and Python, as well as machine learning. The Campus has also worked with three universities to develop a Master of Science in Data Analytics for Government which is available to public servants for free, both as a complete course as well as discrete modules.

Sonia Williams from Data Science Campus giving an overview of the Campus’ projects.

The mentorship component is delivered by a consortium of organisations, of which the Campus is a member, to support project teams across government in overcoming challenges and delivering results using data science. The accelerator, however, is more focussed on individuals, as the intent of the programme is to build skills as well as make progress on a research problem. Applicants must demonstrate an intent to learn, arriving with some basic skills in R or Python, as well as have access to the necessary data. From here, the Campus gets these individuals to a sufficient level of skills with which they can complete their projects. Exit from the accelerator is connected to gaining skills not completing the project, although strong progress is the norm.

This blog cannot fully cover the range of data science wizardry going on at the Campus, so we are only highlighting the activities that sounded like a good match for Indonesia and the UN. We would be interested to hear from public servants and UN employees across Southeast Asia if PLJ replication of any of the above would be of interest.

Boaty McBoatface

Thanks to the workshops, PLJ and DSC have discovered a lot of options for joint projects; one that is especially interesting is working with data from the global marine vessel identification system, called AIS.

The Campus has already made great progress with this data set, for example investigating port utilisation. The Global Pulse Lab network has also been dabbling with AIS data, for example the initial analysis of port network connectivity conducted with a team of inter-disciplinary researchers at a recent Research Dive, and a study on rescue patterns of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.

There are plenty of other project options, but these will be the subjects of future posts. One thing is for sure: data science in government is here to stay.


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia.