GDS to ramp up programme to encourage Whitehall data-literacy

Courses set to be added to GDS Academy this year, after successful completion of pilot training scheme

The Government Digital Service has developed a programme designed to help senior civil servants and policymakers use data to best effect.

Over the last few months, GDS has worked with Civil Service Learning and the Civil Service Leadership Academy to offer data-literacy training to managers and policy professionals in various departments. The programme sought to “demystify data” and showcase examples of how it has been effectively used to design policy or improve operational efficiency.

The initiative also conducted research into how data specialists in Whitehall currently work with non-specialist colleagues. The findings will help GDS design ways to help the two groups work together, and will also inform training initiatives for non-specialists.

At some point this year a data-literacy strand will be added to the range of courses offered to civil servants by the GDS Academy.

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In a blog post, GDS policy advisor Dawn Duhaney wrote: “There is lots of interest in technical applications of data science, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. But this isn’t matched with a clear understanding of how or why these techniques might be used in problem-solving. We’ve also seen how important it is to give people a good grounding in what data is, what the limitations of data analysis are, and how guidance such as the Data Science Ethical Framework can ensure government uses data responsibly.”

She added: “We’ve learnt about how important culture is to making better use of data in government. Data scientists often work in an iterative way, and benefit from being embedded in a team to help solve problems collaboratively. It’s important that non-technical audiences understand the experimental way in which many data specialists work.”

Having begun life as a digital training unit within the Department for Work and Pensions, the GDS Academy was rebranded and relaunched last year, with the aim of offering education programmes to more than 3,000 civil servants per year. It currently offers 10 courses in areas such as digital awareness and agile development. These are offered from sites in London, Leeds, and Newcastle.

Increasing the Academy’s range of locations and courses was one of the goals picked out by GDS director general Kevin Cunnnington in a recent blog post about his priorities for 2018.

Sam Trendall

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