About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Three highlights from the ODA report launch.

The ‘State of Offices of Data Analytics (ODA) in the UK’ report was launched at the Cabinet Office What Works Local Authority Network meeting, followed by the third National Analytics Forum organised by the Office for Data Analytics (Avon and Somerset) in London.

At both events, participants were representatives of the National Government, local authorities (including leads of UK Offices of Data Analytics) and the private sector.

The topics of discussion were varied, but here we’ll summarise the key points that inspired interesting discussions amongst attendees.

Michelle Eaton presenting the Paper at the Cabinet Office What Works Event

Michelle Eaton presenting the paper at the Cabinet Office What Works Event


A core feature of an Office of Data Analytics, underlined in the report, is the adoption of a collaborative approach by partner organisations.

From this initial idea, two considerations followed from attendees:

  • Lack of continuity in language can be an issue. This can be due to not only disparities from within organisations themselves, but also as a result of private companies selling analytical products, and often using different terminologies to differentiate themselves from the competition. However, as the public sector needs to drive the supply of services, through procurement in an often diversified market (i.e. vendors), a common language and consistent frameworks are needed to underpin data analytics work and strategy within one and across multiple organisations.

    At this regard, the Home Office is developing a taxonomy to support national and local authorities in aligning their understanding and communication around data analytics.
    This will, for instance, address the uncertainty of what we mean when we talk about analytical capabilities? Does this term refer to the skills required to perform data analytics or does it refer to the actual technology?

  • Secondly, one of the major concerns for public sector organisations willing to adopt a collaborative approach revolves around negotiating incentives, i.e. how they can get partners with different strategic priorities and objectives to sign up and work towards delivering a shared vision? The prevalent answer seems to be that the vision must be articulated from the outset, with mutual agreement by, and equal opportunity for all involved.


Most people in the room(s) have experienced, and still experience, the same challenge when setting up an Office of Data Analytics; the difficulty of demonstrating the value of such an approach upfront. For this reason, the section on benefits in the report was particularly welcomed.

An infographic showing benefits of an office of data analytics

Screenshot from the ODA Report section on benefits.

If on one hand it is unlikely that ODAs will produce immediate savings, on the other hand we believe this is one of the few approaches that could truly revolutionise the way services are delivered.

We also discussed how to develop the narrative around non-cashable benefits. Conversations were focused around how can we help leaders recognise and value these benefits in an environment of shrinking budgets, where all possible efficiencies have been nearly exhausted; meaning initiatives are first and foremost prioritised on cost savings.


Another pressing priority for newly formed Offices of Data Analytics is the need to establish a causal link between their existence and more informed and efficient delivery of services in the public sector. The need of proving positive outcomes, together with the increasing need to identify what works, where, why and for whom are currently at the centre of many discussions within the ODA community.

There is clearly a gap in the evaluation methods that might be applied to ODAs initiatives. Although this is understandable, considering that most pilots run by ODAs in the UK are currently at a relatively early stage, there are a few interesting options that have been contemplated for future scrutiny, including the adoption of randomised controlled trials.

In addition to the above...

The mutual responsibility across agencies in providing good quality, comparable data is amongst the benefits of setting up an ODA.

It was very pleasing to hear of the growing appreciation of the importance of data quality and maturity. ODAs could respond to the observed poor quality of public sector data, which we outline as an obstacle to the production of meaningful insights and the adoption of increasingly complex analytical tools.

Future scoping

There was clearly an appetite for us to think about what’s next for data analytics in the public sector. We’ll continue to work with the What Works for Local Authority Network and the National Analytics Forum to develop new ideas and support innovation in this space.

...Stay tuned for more in the new year!


Michelle Eaton

Michelle Eaton

Michelle Eaton

Programme Manager

Michelle worked in the Government Innovation team on how the smarter use of data and technology can help civil society and public sector organisations deliver services, better.

View profile
Camilla Bertoncin

Camilla Bertoncin

Camilla Bertoncin

Project Manager and Researcher

Camilla was a Project Manager and Researcher working in the Explorations team on the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design.

View profile