How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), an integral part of Test and Trace, aims to provide evidence-based, objective analysis, assessment and advice to inform local and national decision-making in response to Covid-19 outbreaks. This includes:
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
The demand for data and insights and use of this to lead decision-making has been unprecedented this year due to the effect of Covid-19 on each of us in the UK. In April 2020, I moved to DHSC to lead the Covid-19 analyst function, co-ordinating the new flows of data into insights and onwards in a range of products to give clarity on the state of the virus in the population to government.
We published some of the first data from the newly-formed Test and Trace programme and collaborated on a suite of research outputs supporting SPI-M. In response to the crisis, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the Test and Trace operation were stood up and in October I was asked to join the JBC as the director of data and data science, leading innovation such as the use of waste water as an early warning indicator, building and assuring our new analytical system.
We support the development of key models and data science outputs, which feed directly to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. In this role I am building, delivering and innovating at pace and in unprecedented times, leading a new organisation and a new workforce, and where the majority of us are working from home. I work closely with a wide range of academic partners, bringing the best of data science and statistics into the JBC.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
The JBC, which will merge into the National Institute of Health Protection in Spring, will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions to ensure our responses have the greatest impact and has made great strides in understanding potential early-warning indicators so decision-makers can respond sooner to emerging outbreaks. We will continue to develop insights to ensure local and national decision-makers have timely access to the information they need to respond most effectively to outbreaks, including infection rates, the national Covid-19 alert level and the factors driving transmission.
We will bring together expertise and data sources, including from the app, enhanced contact tracing, wastewater analysis, and local “soft” intelligence to develop early warning indicators. These enable us to identify local clusters to halt them before they become outbreaks, and share more analysis and data with local and national leaders and the general public to inform decision-making individually, locally and nationally.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
My career has focused on working in public service where data can lead to high value for the public through new insights and efficiency. JBC’s remit is broadly the surveillance of infectious disease to protect UK citizens - it is created as a data and science-enabled organisation to meet this purpose.
What has been your path to power?
Leaving academia in 2010, where I trained as a comparative psychologist, I joined the Civil Service as a statistician. I landed a role with the Office of Statistical Regulation in 2014 where, through the assessments of National Statistics, I recognised the value of data/operations and systems to high-value outputs.
I moved to HMRC to lead the newly-formed central data team, writing HMRC’s first data strategy before being selected to deliver a data-enabled business transformation at The Pensions Regulator. I moved to DHSC in April 2020 to support the Covid-19 efforts.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
2020 has left me proud to be civil servant, working alongside many incredible people who have worked tirelessly to deliver insights at huge pace on new systems and with new data flows. It’s been an incredible experience to work in collaboration with a large number of partners and build new capability from scratch. I’m proud to lead the teams and develop the insights.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
The JBC will follow a transparent approach to the assessments and analysis it undertakes. We will ensure peer scrutiny and challenge of our analytical methods and seek to crowd-source new approaches to incorporate in our work. This will require new ways of working and will build new acceptable norms in the government transparency agenda for the future.
How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?
JBC brings together data science, assessment and public health expertise to provide analysis and insight on the status of the COVID-19 epidemic in the UK, the drivers and risk factors of transmission. The centre is designed to be data-enabled and will maintain its excellence through close collaboration with academia and industry.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
Understand what the customer needs, create an environment of multi-disciplinary working to ensure the end-to-end delivery, deliver high value, iterate, automate, enable - then expand.