The month that was – October 2017

This is our monthly update for October 2017 – one of a series of regular snapshots that highlight some of the things we’ve been doing to support data science for public good in the Campus. There’s more detail on how we’re delivering projects, building skills and supporting the data science community in our blogs. For more information about any area of our work please contact us.


It has been another busy month as we begin to draw a number of our initial projects to a close and prepare to share the outcomes.

We continue to carry out project scoping exercises every two weeks to help us line up our next research projects. Some in the pipeline include: corporate analytics, social media analysis for the National Assembly of Wales; horizon scanning with satellite data including the potential to support Sustainable Development Goals, crime text analysis, analysis of patent texts to explore emerging technologies. This is by no means an exhaustive list and we welcome ideas from a range of sectors.

We have also been adding more detail to our projects page. Take a look at the projects profiles under each of our five themes to help you learn more about what we are working on.

We have been working with our partners at Statistics Netherlands’ Center for Big Data Statistics on a joint Campus project using ship tracking data. We are also building a collaboration with the United Nations (UN) Global Pulse Lab in Jakarta based on this dataset.

In addition to the shipping work, the UN Global Pulse Lab has also taken an interest in our work to map the urban forest. We have shared our code for identifying trees in urban areas from Google Street View and they have started implementing the process developed by the Campus for Jakarta and downloading Google Street View images.

We have developed new, state-of-the-art, technical environments to enable our data scientists to carry out and collaborate on Big Data research projects in a virtual environment with full internet access. Our data scientists will be experimenting with these new environments and prototyping solutions for wider use across ONS.

We outlined a draft self-assessment process for undertaking internal ethical reviews of our data science research projects to the National Statistician’s Data Ethics Advisory Committee (NSDEC). The process will be piloted on the next tranche of Campus research projects and presented to the ONS Data Governance Committee before returning to NSDEC in January 2018 with some worked examples.

Data science community and partnerships

At the invitation of our local Newport West Assembly Member (AM) Jayne Bryant, we presented to several AMs, their staff and the then Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, (now Leader of the House and Chief Whip) at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff Bay. This event gave us the opportunity to discuss our collaborations with Welsh Government on well-being research, our part in setting up the “Economic Intelligence Wales” unit for the new Development Bank of Wales and our links with several local universities.

We hosted a workshop with Public Health England, Public Health Wales and the ONS Health Analysis and Life Events team to explore ways that the Campus can collaborate on data science research and capability building.

A share and learn event for data analytics apprentices from ONS, Welsh Government and Barclaycard took place in the Data Science Campus, jointly hosted with Government Statistical Service (GSS) Careers. Over 50 people attended the event with a mix of data scientists, economists and managers from Barclaycard and ONS attending along with the apprentices. One of our new apprentices has shared their experience of the event.

Colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spent a day at the Campus where we identified opportunities for us to assist DCLG with building data science skills and several potential applications for a planned research project using satellite image recognition.

David Johnson, Deputy Director for Knowledge and Partnerships, shared our approach to building geo data science capability in the Campus at the Association for Geographic Information event: SMART Geospatial, while Managing Director, Tom Smith spoke on “Innovation at the ONS: Novel exploration of new challenges” at the Data Analysts User Group Conference.

We hosted visitors from the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council to discuss opportunities for collaborations. CDRC and ONS presented analysis from commercial data and exchanged expertise, discussed challenges and identified exciting areas for joint research – including a very interesting one around the use of mobile phone sensors to measure populations dynamically in specific geographies, such as town centres.

We attended the launch of the BBC’s Data Science Research Partnership. Earlier in the month, we had hosted the BBC’s new head of statistics Robert Cuffe and Amanda Farnsworth, the editor of the BBC Visual Journalism Unit and deputy controller of 24/7 News at BBC News. They welcomed the opportunity to hear what we have been up to in the Campus and were treated to some impressive presentations from our new apprentices.

We also welcomed colleagues from across government to the first Designing a Modern Data Architecture for Government workshop led by ONS. The Campus provided a venue and an opportunity to present our work, which was received with great interest. We followed this up the next day for an international audience at the UN Global Platform Technical Workshop

Growing skills

The next cohort of the Government Data Science Accelerator Programme started on 26 October 2017. The Campus is again hosting the Newport hub and mentoring four new participants: from the UK Hydrographic Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and ONS. They will spend one day per week in the Campus over the next three months working on a data science project under the guidance of one of our data scientists.

The Campus held its first off-site development event in October 2017. Around 35 members of staff from the Campus and from other ONS business areas that support our work took part in activities aimed at enhancing teamwork and culture. We came away with several specific initiatives to make the Campus an even more inspiring place to work.

The first students enrolled on the new MSc in Data Analytics for Government (MDataGov), a programme designed to equip the next generation of government data scientists and statisticians with an advanced set of skills and abilities. The MSc was developed in partnership with the Government Statistical Service (GSS) Learning Academy and is being provided by Oxford Brookes University, University College London and the University of Southampton.

The month ahead

Our Managing Director, Tom Smith will be presenting at an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) event in Paris on innovations in measuring the economy. He will be talking about how Big Data can inform national accounts through data science techniques. Tom will also be presenting to the Government Statistical Service annual conference in Sheffield.

We will welcome visitors to the Campus from the Alan Turing Institute, Government Digital Service, National Institute for Health Research, University of South Wales, Ordnance Survey, and many more.

We will be publishing more results from the first tranche of our research and kicking off some new data science projects.

And finally, we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed at the GO Awards Wales presentations on 9 November 2017 where the Data Science Campus has been shortlisted for Infrastructure Project of the Year.