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.

The Essex Centre for Data Analytics Pilot

This report celebrates the end of the first phase of the Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ECDA) pilot on business inspections.

Following on from our previous blog at the end of the discovery phase, Nesta’s involvement in the Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ECDA) pilot on business inspections has come to an end. In this report, we have outlined the origins, methods and lessons learned to date in conducting this pilot.

This has been an incredibly interesting journey and we’re happy to announce that the Essex Centre for Data Analytics has been now officially launched, championed by three Chief Executive sponsors, to cultivate a system-wide cultural shift towards an evidence-first philosophy.

While we wish the best of luck to the brilliant ECDA team, we hope this report will be a useful resource for public sector bodies embarking on similar collaborative data initiatives.

"Support from our partners, including Nesta, to shape our methodologies and approach, provided critical check and challenge and identified a series of key learnings that we used to inform our work. This enabled us to pause, reflect and to not be afraid to change our focus when needed, collating evidence to help us reframe the problem."

Key findings

  • A discovery phase is essential, not just good practice. In this project, through undertaking a discovery phase we were able to test a number of assumptions and ideas that could have dramatically impacted the legitimacy and effectiveness of any data product produced. Early insights, unlocked through the discovery phase, have increased the likelihood that the product will be accurate, useful and tangibly introduced into working practices. Without this, the project would have overlooked the foundations needed to execute a multi-agency approach to businesses for any issue, let alone modern slavery.
  • Fix the foundations to enable radical thinking. Thinking of big ideas and exploring the 'art of the possible' is a key part of the process in aspirational projects like the ECDA pilot. These aspirations, however, should not be blindly strived for without thinking deeply about whether the foundations for success have been laid. In the example of ECDA, it was critical to lay solid foundation (an ability to share and display data on businesses, with relationships in place to allow this to happen and in turn be useful) before pursuing a data project on a high-harm, complex area such as modern slavery.
  • People and communication are the key to action. For a whole system approach to be successful, having the right people in place and forming effective relationships is critical. People, roles and responsibilities should be made clear from the outset to ensure the smooth running of a project and for good communication to be maintained, it is helpful if these roles remain consistent and have sufficient influence over the project. Where this falls short, significant delays in progress are seen.
  • Marginal gains and non-cashable benefits should not be underestimated. Although a project may have one big output in mind, such as a data product, a new source of information, cashable savings or new process, there are often many incidental benefits that emerge, which should not be underestimated. Throughout this project we identified ‘quick wins’ that were useful for some of the organisations involved.
  • Designing and delivering should be done with users. The second diamond did not entail the same amount of detail or time as the first, for a number of reasons, however the second diamond should receive as much prominence as the first, with emphasis on user design and generating a range of solutions.

For more information about the Essex Centre of Data Analytics go on www.essexfuture.org.uk/ecda/essex-centre-for-data-analytics


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.

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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.

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