Showcasing our collaborative community

In November 2023 the Data Science Campus hosted the Data Science Community Showcase: an online conference for the Cross-Government and Public Sector Data Science Community.

Over the course of three days, we brought together more than 2,000 attendees from 280 organisations to celebrate the power of community to foster relationships, solve problems, and build data science capability across the public sector. There were 32 sessions across three themes: your career in data science, the data science toolshed, and making an impact with data science.

How did we deliver the Showcase?

One of the key messages we share with our members, and an important tenant of the Community itself, is “Collaboration over Duplication”. We believe that bringing data scientists together and sharing projects, challenges, and learning can lead to problems being solved quickly and collaboratively, instead of silo-working.

This message applies to us as coordinators of the Community, as much as it does to the data scientists within it. By delivering alongside a range of stakeholders we were able to create a diverse and engaging programme for our audience.

For the event to be inclusive, it was essential that our speakers and presentations represented the diverse range of organisations within the public sector. We worked closely with Data Cymru to curate the programme, with their involvement ensuring that the voices of colleagues in local and devolved governments across the UK were incorporated: with talks from colleagues at the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government, and NHS Wales.

The second day of the Showcase was themed around the data science toolshed: how data scientists across the public sector are building tools and adhering to open source principles to enable collaboration, accessibility and reproducibility. To plan this, we worked alongside the government Analysis Function’s RAP Network and NHS-R Community who are recognised experts in these themes.

Guided by their experience, we created an engaging programme with highlights including a keynote from Kirsty Whitaker (lead developer of The Turing Way), and a panel discussion on version control.

We also wanted to ensure the event represented a wide range of data science methods and applications. We partnered with the sub-communities for Linguistic Data, and Privacy Enhancing Technologies who delivered open community meet-ups, creating the opportunity for these special interest groups to reach a wider audience and grow the networks.

Finally, we took the opportunity to work with networks that we hadn’t reached before. The Government Science and Engineering profession promoted the Showcase to their members, amplifying the message that data science tools are not just for data scientists.

We also hosted a collaborative event with the cross-government Emerging Technology (EmTech) community (led by the Government Office for Science), in which we discussed how building more collaborative ties between EmTech and Data Science Teams could impact adoption of new technologies such as generative AI.

Did we meet our goals?

Our goals when hosting the Showcase were:

  • To support the mission of the Data Science Community, to increase the use of data science through sharing best practice; and
  • To strengthen partnerships with other networks, communities and stakeholders across the public sector.

The sheer number of attendees (2,000 people from 280 organisations) speaks to the success of the Showcase to knowledge share within the community, and by curating the ‘Data Science Toolshed’ day we ensured the focus was as much about best practice and sustainability as it was on innovation.

By actively collaborating with a wide range of partner organisations and networks we helped to foster new and stronger links across the growing public sector data science landscape. The feedback we received from our collaborators was overwhelmingly positive with many partners expressing an interest in working together again. By working together we were able to increase our impact and reach wider audiences greater than our individual networks.

Although it wasn’t one of our formalised goals going into the Showcase, we were pleased to get feedback from speakers about the value they took away from presenting at the event. For example, one session designed for two-way learning was the “Splink in Action” session, where we invited colleagues from the Ministry of Justice to talk about their data linking package Splink alongside three end-users from local and central government organisations.

As well as inspiring the audience with ways in which they could make use of Splink, the session gave the end-users the opportunity to connect with the Splink developers and the developers the opportunity to understand how their product was being used.

What did we learn?

  1. By working collaboratively to expand our network of speakers and reach new audiences from across the public sector, we were able to deliver a broad and engaging programme that appealed to people at all stages of their data science journey.
  2. Throughout the process of curating, planning and delivering the Showcase we learned more about the diversity of our target audience, “people in the public sector with an interest in data science”, and how this audience includes local and central government departments, scientists, policymakers, and leaders.
  3. Finally, we learned that there is great enthusiasm for collaborative ways of working especially in developing tools for analysis. The feedback for the Showcase was consistently excellent, and it is clear that our audience agrees with us that collaboration is a powerful tool.

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