Data Science Campus

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Data Science Campus was set up to work at the frontier of data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI), to deliver research with impact and build capability across the UK public sector. We build skills and apply tools, methods and practices; creating insight to improve decision-making for public good. We work with UK and international partners, drawing on their expertise and resources, sharing the benefits of our education and research programs widely.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

In March 2017, the Campus launched with a core of well-qualified professionals, recruiting mainly from industry and academia to strengthen ONS and government expertise in data science across the UK. The Campus has delivered a series of high profile data science projects providing insight into key policy themes and stakeholders across government, making the results and code widely available for others to use.

The objectives of the Campus are to (i) deliver data science projects for public good in collaboration with stakeholders in the UK and worldwide; (ii) grow data science skills and support the data science community; (iii) assess the value of non-traditional data sources and new technologies; and (iv) develop data science methods and apply them to provide decision makers with greater insight.

Data science for public good

Our research programme is delivering tangible results in 2018 that have been used by policy-makers and analysts across the UK and internationally. Examples include:
• Analysis of new big data sources on ships and goods to inform trade, transport and environmental policy in the UK. We have worked with Statistics Netherlands and assisted the UN Global Pulse Lab in Jakarta to use our findings and methods in their own work.
• Development of a re-usable interactive open source tool to enable the UK and other governments to monitor performance against Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This tool was published by ONS and reused by numerous international partners.
• Analysis of free-text manifest data collated by ferry operators to understand port-level trade flows. This project applies modern techniques of natural language processing (NLP) to process these datasets automatically and generate a classification of the type of goods being transported.

We now have a pipeline of innovative projects, including using street level image recognition to identify trees in urban areas, automated free-text analysis to identify trade at UK ports and assessing the ease of access to services across multiple transport modes.

Capability for innovation

Since its launch the Campus has grown to nearly 60 data scientists, academic managers, and business delivery support officers. In addition, two cohorts of apprentices have been trained in the Campus and are now contributing to official statistics in other parts of ONS.

New learning and development pathways in data science were created at a range of different levels from Apprenticeships to providing Doctoral and post-doctoral project support. A new Masters in Data Analytics for Government is being delivered by three universities and modules from this course are being provided to UK civil servants. By 2018 we have trained over 150 civil servants and are on track to help train over 500 Government Analysts in data science by 2021.

International and cross-sector partnerships

Data Science is most effective as a team sport, depending cross-sector working to maximise impact. Our partnerships with industry and academia helped to jump-start the operation quickly and the Campus draws on their vital expertise as we grow and develop. Agreements are in place with over a dozen universities and the UK’s Alan Turing Institute for data science and AI. These have led to several successful learning and research initiatives. Agreements with commercial organisations are in place. These have already led to some effective joint research and learning activities. For example we are working with Barclaycard to analyse their payments data to provide new insights into the modern economy.

Internationally the Campus is working with several National Statistics Institutes, including helping to develop data science capability in Rwanda and help implement the Institute of Statistics there implement the code developed by our research programme. Around 150 delegates from across the world who were attending a Data for Development Festival toured the Campus: feedback from this event was particularly positive, such as this Tweet:
“Think official statisticians can't innovate? Visit [email protected] [email protected] for amazing example of #datascience research and excellent practice of transforming #NSO from within through #datainnovation and capability building #data4devfest”

With the International Monetary Fund, we are leading work to make use of mobile payments data to create methods for monitoring the remittances SDG indicator

The reputation of the Campus has grown rapidly. We have shared our experience and learning at international events - including the UN World Data Forum - and with visitors to our Campus in Wales from statistical agencies from across the world, including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, China, Singapore and Rwanda.

Based on the recognised success of the Campus to date, the ONS is planning to extend its operations, significantly expanding the learning opportunities offers and the increasing the scale and impact of the innovative research programme.

Innovation Description

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