Making a difference with a career in government data science

By Roger Halliday

I joined the civil service because I wanted to make life better for people, and to use the skills I’d got in my degree in bringing insight from data. Testament to me still being here years later is that this is exactly what I have done. For example, I did some work directly for Gordon Brown when he was PM on whether people can access their GP. I pulled data together to understand people’s attitudes and experiences, their commuting patterns, information on GP opening hours and how many patients GPs had. I painted an evidence-based picture of the issue and modelled some options. This led to a £250m investment in GP practices in the most deprived parts of England, and changed the arrangement for when GP practices opened.

We’re moving that on now to use data to tailor public services for individuals – not what works best for everyone, more what is likely to work best for you. For example, we’re testing our whether we could use the data for someone arriving in hospital to predict whether they would need social care, what they would need and when they need it. This would allow services to be put in place quicker meaning reductions in delayed discharge: saving money and improving people’s quality of life.

I’ve loved the variety of opportunity with working in Government. Within five years of leaving university, I’d worked on welfare, poverty, health, universities, finance and put together a quarterly GDP series for Scotland. I’d worked in London, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow. I felt I had the chance to shape my career based on what I was interested in, and where I wanted to live and work. We work across 20 or so public bodies and while based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, have statisticians working in many locations, from Galashiels to Aberdeen.

Interested? Visit the website and search “statistician” for more details.

Often the greatest buzz is when you see what you are working on being talked about, both in the media and with friends: we’re fortunate that what we work on matters to everyone – it is what people are talking about. Just looking at the news over the last week, our statistics are all over it: be it employment and earnings data, house price statistics, A&E waiting times, or attitudes to government, migration and the EU.

I’ve seen people using data science to improve the quality and efficiency of public services, but I think we’ve just seen a fraction of what is possible. As such, we’re launching a graduate recruitment – for people just finishing up their studies and for people with a few year’s work experience. We’re looking for people who want to use their talents to improve people’s lives, who can both use data to tell us something we don’t know and then influence decision makers with that insight. Interested? Visit the website and search “statistician” for more details.

Roger Halliday is Scotland’s Chief Statistician, responsible for the quality, trustworthiness and impact of official statistics in Scotland. He is speaking today at DataTalent Scotland, part of DataFest2017.