The time has come to move on. I’ve been with Data Cymru for 16 years and during that time some things have stayed the same and many things have changed. This is a reflection on all that’s happened and the joys I’ve experienced working for this unique organisation.
I joined the Local Government Data Unit ~ Wales in 2003 when the Welsh Government had commissioned us to manage the Living in Wales surveys. These national household surveys had a house condition element built in. My role as the statistician was working with policy leads to develop questionnaire topics. I was fresh from university and quickly learnt everything there was to know about surveys and house conditions. Information that I plan to use again in my new role at Newport City Homes.
I also learnt there’s a right and a wrong way to present data. I wish I had seen our guide to Presenting Data sooner as my PhD thesis is almost a perfect example of how not to publish tables and charts! Over the years I’ve given lots of advice on improving data presentation as well as delivering training courses. It’s come full circle as this year we are planning on giving all our Good Practice Guides a revamp, it seems that the need for good advice never goes away.
As part of the Statistics and Surveys Section I was involved in the Free Swimming pilot which ignited my interest in social research. The scheme is still going strong and is a constant reminder of the power of policy to change culture and opportunities. Over recent years we have seen an increase in the need for high quality social research to contribute to the policy cycle and we have introduced more social research roles. I’ve developed our Social Research Strategy and we plan to make even more of a splash in future years.
Long before the introduction of the Future Generations Act we were working collaboratively. I’ve had the pleasure of being on a range of networking and advisory groups with colleagues from local and central government.
The Welsh Statistical Liaison Committee will always have a special place in my heart. I’ve learned so much, met such interesting people, been inspired and supported. I’ve always come away from those meetings with a list as long as my arm of things to follow up on or to share with colleagues. Those days have been tiring and stimulating in equal measure. The vision of a very small side plate piled with sandwiches will remind me of how much we crammed into such small gatherings!
Wales has come together on numerous occasions to create Welsh specific data and the introduction of the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation in 2005 is the epitome of this. I’ve been involved in the calculation of indicators, spending a week in Probation Service offices working on sensitive offender data, and advising on the dissemination of results. I have a feeling that I will continue to be involved by using the data and promoting the usefulness of such a well-constructed index.
It is with a wry smile that I note that I will be working with the Welsh Housing Quality Standard in my new role. During the 2004 House Condition Survey I worked closely with Welsh Government and HouseMark colleagues to find a way to measure this aspirational standard. In 2018, 91% of social houses are compliant, this compares with a figure of 0.8% reported in 2004!
I’m staying on the Housing Statistical Analytical Resource working group to continue to contribute to Welsh housing statistics. Data Cymru will continue to have representation and I look forward to bringing greater links between Housing Associations and local government in a data sense.
Making my mark
By 2006 I was expecting my first child, a daunting time and a very different one in terms of maternity rights. I returned to work after just 6 months and shortly after the Wider Data Environment team was expanding. I took on a role to support access to data and population statistics. I thought I knew about most of the data available by this point, but I was proved wrong! There was so much more than I had imagined. It became clear that we had to do more than just publish a CD of data to help local government colleagues find what they were looking for.
In 2009 I gave birth to my second child just weeks before my Data Unit child, InfoBaseCymru, was born! Whilst I can’t lay claim to thinking of the name, it is with great pride that I look upon it as the solution to many people’s data needs. This year marks the 10th anniversary of InfoBaseCymru and we have plans to improve it and promote it. It continues to go from strength to strength and I will continue to use it as my first port of call and am looking forward to being the customer, someone we are so keen to understand.
The good, the bad and the ugly
If InfoBaseCymru is the good then there have definitely been the bad and the ugly too! In house condition surveys we used the good the bad and the ugly method to provide us with lots of “ugly” or poorer quality housing in the sample. This means we can more accurately measure housing quality and therefore target resources for improvement.
This is also true of statistical work, the more projects of a tricky nature you work on the better a statistician you will become. With this in mind, I look back fondly on the work for the Go Safe partnership to analyse traffic speed cameras. We knew this would be an important one to get right. Methods had to be spot on and details just right. It was with a sigh of relief that the results were verified by a professor in the field. Of course, not everyone was pleased with the results, nor the methods. Conversations with a campaigner and with the Office for National Statistics gave me sweaty palms, but also made clear the responsibilities we have when producing such material.
Our work for Sport Wales probably falls into all three categories as it has provided me and the team with both highs and lows over the years. I have worked on both the Active Adults and School Sports surveys since 2012. The work involved analysing the huge data samples and producing the thousands of dissemination tables. Every iteration of the work has spawned improvements around the methods that we use and highlighted the need for me to bring so many skills to the work. This is the ultimate test of project management to stick to timetables, budgets and changing needs. A detailed understanding of the statistics you are working with is needed and being able to manipulate large quantities of data is essential. This is one of the few pieces of my work that really hits the headlines. Thanks to great publicity by Sport Wales there are numerous news stories showing the value and use of data that I help to provide.
The measure of time
Statisticians count, or so the badge I picked up from the Royal Statistical Society conference in Cardiff last year says. It’s thanks to Data Cymru’s support that I gained the status of Chartered Statistician. I’ve strived to do the continued professional development required and to keep my skills up to date.
It’s true that statisticians do love to count everything, that’s one of the things that my Data Cymru colleagues and I have a in common. We record employee and project time and this has been both a burden and benefit during my working life. On one hand you are acutely aware of the minutes that you spend trying to work something out, but on the other, we can reflect on the value for money we provide and find efficiencies to drive improvement. Using this type of administrative data in different ways has been a focus of mine for a few years. During the development of our recent business strategy I championed the need to build our data science capacity. It’s one of those sexy new titles that is being used; analysts are now more commonly referred to as data scientists and their voice is being listened to all the more for it.
I started my working life with an interest in programming and I am continuing it, but now I call it coding. I find myself reflecting on the fact that I may have always been a data scientist, but never have known the name for it! We have taken on more data science colleagues and have produced a Data Science Strategy to integrate this into all we do. I know Data Cymru will go from strength to strength in this area and my skills will be used to support my new organisation as they begin their journey.
The unwavering constants
The one thing that stays the same is that everything must change. This is true of both the work and the people.
I joined Data Cymru just as the 2001 Census results were being released and we were running a roadshow to promote the results. For the 2011 Census I was on the Census Advisory Group for Wales and helped to produce a Welsh language section in InfoBaseCymru. For the 2021 Census I’m on the same groups to advise on the digital by default approach and I’ll look on with interest as I complete my online form. I also advise on the census transformation to an Admin Based Data Census. This will see greater use of routinely collected data and potentially do away with the need for a traditional census. This really shows how nothing stays exactly the same.
While the people in the organisation continue to come and go I feel privileged to have worked with great people at Data Cymru throughout my 16 years. That is one of the few things that hasn’t changed. We have laughed, cried and shared the highs and lows that all jobs provide. It has been like a family to me. We have moved home on more than one occasion, but in typical Welsh style we haven’t moved far. Despite having been in three different buildings and had countless desks (mostly due to our hot-desking policy) I have always been surrounded by the best technology to enable me to do my job. Combined with the enthusiasm, creativity and intelligence of the people this has been the most successful formula to help me grow and flourish.
Lessons learnt or always learning?
I’ve been reflecting lately on my Ikigai, my reason for being. It’s made up of a variety of areas and helps you identify what you are good at to help you live a full and prosperous life.
At Academi Wales’ Summer School in 2018 we were asked to give ourselves a hashtag. I choose #alwayslearning. I think this sums me up, whilst my thirst to learn remains insatiable I have so much more to give and I also know that my desire to teach is ever present.
From my postgrad days of teaching SPSS to doctors through the delivery of training courses on surveys and data and to a more recent focus of delivering undergraduate modules I continue to complete the circle and feedback what I’ve learnt by teaching others. I think it is in my nature. I have realised that I love data and I need to continue to help others find their love for data too.
Life is a journey and through it we gain experience. My need to grow has made me brave enough to leave an incredibly rewarding and varied job. I take with me a sense of pride and accomplishment and the knowledge that all there is yet to do remains in safe hands. I need to thank all those that have contributed to this experience and wish those that remain the best of luck as I know they will continue to work tirelessly in areas that will forever remain close to my heart.
I’ll continue to check in on Data Cymru and hope that our paths cross again as the world of data really is a small one.
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