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.

Contact: Mark Johnson, Head of Analysis, Essex Police

The ECDA is at the core of the ‘Essex Innovates’ programme, a data science and AI partnership between Essex County Council, Essex Police and Essex University (University of Essex is home to the Institute for Analytics and Data Science). The ECDA is currently in the pilot stage of a project relating to businesses of risk (under the theme of modern slavery) with Nesta and is a good example of applying an agile approach to project management, being responsive to findings in a discovery phase.

Origins and funding

ECDA builds on the foundations of the existing Essex Data (ED) programme.

This programme began as a pilot in 2016, funded by a grant awarded to Essex partners to support system wide transformation. It brought together people and technology to offer a way for councils, police, health, and voluntary and community organisations in Essex to use the power of data to tackle some of the most challenging issues. A tool was developed in partnership with PredictX to store and match multiple data sets from different organisations.

During the ED pilot, the tool was tested within different services in Essex to understand the potential of this type of technology to address some of the big challenges, such as predicting school readiness, preventing escalating domestic abuse, identifying organised gang activity, and understanding A&E admissions, and use the insight to transform the way public services work together.

This ED programme provided the foundations for the Essex Centre of Data Analytics, which is now a collaborative effort, jointly funded by Essex County Council, Essex Police and Essex University.

Vision and objectives

The ECDA is a programme designed to create a 'whole-system approach' for integrating data and predicting risk across the region, identifying the contribution all partners make in tackling the issue of vulnerability.

The vision for ECDA is to make Essex national leaders using the power of data science and AI to tackle public policy challenges. The aims are:

  • To make Essex a place that is an exemplar for the integration of data across public bodies
  • To have the skill, capability and technology to undertake predictive analytics based on ethical, high standards
  • To have a sustainable data infrastructure
  • To have the best data science / analytical capabilities in the UK to benefit its people and communities

It will deliver this through:

  • A Data Sharing Platform - having a sustainable data infrastructure to allow organisations join-up and analyse data from multiple sources to tackle local challenges.
  • A Research and Development Platform - A ‘What Works’ Centre that will also host academic research and expertise from a range of institutes and universities, contributing to the existing knowledge of what works in reducing risk and vulnerability. The academic network will also support the evaluation of ECDA projects, thereby demonstrating value for money and continuing to enhance their relationship with academia.
  • An Analytical Hub - It is the aspiration that ECDA will bring together people with the skills and expertise in using the latest analytical techniques (e.g. big data and predictive analytics) in a central, jointly owned 'hub', in order to identify patterns, minimise risk and allocate resources in the most effective way.


ECDA is overseen by the Essex Partnership Board. It now has the strategic and operational governance structure in place, which is working on the development of ECDA as the delivery platform for the Essex Innovates programme.

The partnership does not have a single leading organisation, there is equal involvement from each partner through both funding, staff and consistent senior sponsorship.

An analytics partnership board will provide governance and sign-off to drive the direction of the Essex Innovates ECDA work stream, ensuring the delivery of the long-term vision. The board will set a clear and ambitious direction of travel, monitor progress, have oversight of all major analytical projects involving partnership data, and will help to promote the work done so far.

The board will also hold the Analytics Delivery Board to account and help address any issues or barriers to progress. A number of smaller working/delivery groups will sit below the delivery board, specialising in each project and formed of partners from a range of other organisations.

There will also be an independent ethics board, representing all key stakeholders including the public. The purpose of this board is to ensure all work carried out by ECDA is done to the highest ethical standards, with the greater public-good central to its purpose.

Team structure

It has not been decided yet whether ECDA will become a physical hub or a virtual one, but it is likely that it will be a physical hub.

The current team consists of 12 people, with representatives from Essex Police, Essex University and Essex County Council, however all are currently working on ECDA alongside other commitments. The core focus of the team in the early stages is governance, project discovery, and ethics. The analytical capabilities are primarily provided by analysts in Essex County Council and Essex University and the head of analysis currently sits under Essex Police.

District Councils are also involved, although to a lesser degree. Discussions are ongoing with Essex Fire and Rescue, and Health organisations, and it is hoped that both will be fully involved in the near future.

Working practices

Data Sharing: Currently both on-premise and on-cloud, they will be developing this aspect early next year.
Data Storage: Essex County Council is currently hosting part of the data on PredictX, although this is due for renewal. The three partners are currently looking at different cloud-based solutions.
Languages used: R
Data visualisation tools and statistical programs: PowerBI, IBM, SPSS

Penetration testing undertaken on their storage to ensure data can’t be compromised
Dedicated data protection officer
Information Commissioner’s Office engaged in their work

Data projects

The county council through the ED board has already successfully completed three pilots Domestic Abuse, Gangs, and School Readiness.

The first ECDA pilot led by Essex Police is now entering the implementation phase and will soon be ready to present its first prototype: a tool to provide a multi-organisational picture of business inspection and service touch points.

Pilot overview: mapping business inspections to identify those of concern

Problem: it is hard to identify businesses most likely to be engaged in exploitative labour practices

Solution: to create a map of business inspections across the county by collating a range of business inspection data. Also, to provide a profile of each business to complement existing intelligence.

Outcome and lesson learnt:

The main outcomes of the pilot are:

  • To reduce the risk, harm and vulnerability associated with businesses of concern in Essex. Businesses such as car washes or nail salons are known to engage in exploitative labour practices in Essex, but other businesses are also likely to be the front for alternative criminal activity such as money laundering, fraud or perhaps breaches of standards or compliance. They often remain unidentified because they fall under the radar of different inspecting agencies.
  • To increase the impact of limited resources available for business premises inspections. Since 2010, local authorities’ capacity to conduct both reactive and proactive premises inspections has fallen drastically. We could therefore help target inspections of businesses that are most likely to be in violation of standards and increase the efficiency of resource and time strapped services.

The project initially focused on targeting businesses exploiting modern slavery victims. While the aim of the ECDA project remains the same, the topic of the pilot has been modified as a result of findings in the discovery phase. This has revealed a number of challenges around data availability and quality due to the age of the legislation and both working and data collection processes.

It also highlighted a lack of multi-organisation approaches to business inspections, with organisations having little or no insight of what the others are doing. Therefore, it was recommended that harnessing this data, intelligence and insight could better identify employees, customers, or even members of the public, who could be in vulnerable situations due to irregular business practises more widely.

Next steps: The tool is to be created and deployed at a strategic and operational level to help inform inspection and change business inspection practises

A second version of the tool is to be developed to incorporate an algorithmic prediction of risk, using the risk factors identified during development, testing and usage of the tool in version one.

Work plans for the future

Assessing partnership capabilities

ECDA in the next few months will identify existing capabilities and infrastructure across the partnership to assess their current situation in relation to their analytics maturity journey. For this reason, ECDA is now encouraging partners from across Essex's public sector to contribute to the Nesta Data Maturity Tool, an online self-assessment tool whose results will contribute towards aggregating scores for each partner organisation’s roles and business functions. These will feed into ECDA phase one diagnostic along with other evidence being collated and will help the partnership understand what needs to be done in this field.

This phase will also include a mapping exercise of all existing work that has been done. It is in fact a partnership self-assessment, which is currently being undertaken to identify assets, capabilities and capacity across the system, and to measure what impact has been made so far and where efforts need to be directed next.

Following the initial assessment, partners will develop joined up skills and capabilities across the whole system to implement data-driven solutions towards prevention and benefits for local people and businesses.

Create learning opportunities for social good

There is a need to have a continuous view on what best in class / cutting edge looks like, ensuring they are constantly learning from others and developing talent locally to the benefit of the citizens and local businesses of Essex. There is also an element of engagement with the public, therefore in the nearest future they will need to understand how to engage with public and communicate the work done so far.

Undertaking projects

Future projects will be assessed within the pipeline framework, the plans for projects in the next four years include the implementation of existing projects and a number of new areas that will be soon ratified by the board.


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