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Analysis in Government Awards Day reflections

Jacqui Alderson

Data Analysts – celebrating the birth of a new profession

Iain Wright is Deputy Director of Fraud, Error and Debt Analysis in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). His work is Highly Commended in the third Analysis in Government (AIG) Awards, Professor Sir Ian Diamond Award for Excellence category. Iain tells us about his experience of being recognised in these prestigious awards and the exciting work of his team.

“We were really chuffed in DWP, to have been Highly Commended for our work to set up the new data analyst profession. We now have a new group of passionate, engaged and skilled analysts, which we are expecting to see grow in both size and capability over the next few years. Here’s our story.

DWP organises its four analytical professions (operational researchers, statisticians, social researchers and economists) into an analytical community, which has been a very successful model and has enabled substantial growth since established in 2011. Over that period, we’ve gradually drawn in a number of people who have been doing analytical work, but who didn’t have the professional badging – often because of the lack of a degree.

As time went by, this became more of an issue, as these analysts could not get promoted and weren’t incentivised to develop their skills – and it didn’t demonstrate the social mobility and inclusivity that our analytical community prided itself on. We set about developing an ‘associate analyst’ classification that would offer a career path and enable us to build this group.

We initially hit a COVID setback – urgent national priorities overtook us and we put the plan on hold. But the delay had two benefits:

  • demand for analysts grew in DWP, and recruitment became our top priority – this created extra impetus for getting the group up and running; and
  • the Analysis Function developed the AF professional role profiles, and we decided to refocus our attention on the ‘data analysts’. This had the impact of elevating the new group to be a profession in their own right, providing a recognisable job title that has much better prestige in the jobs market. The group are bringing new skills to the analytical community, and will get recognition for doing so.

To get us going, the critical first step was to develop a skills framework that would define the profession. We built this around three distinct core skills – data management, data analysis and data visualisation – which has allowed us to keep the profession focused and yet diverse.

We then launched the profession by offering accreditation to existing analysts within the DWP analytical community in autumn 2022, and accredited 11 people across grades Executive Office to Senior Executive Officer (“the first 11”, as our chief analyst proudly calls them). Those 11 are now building the profession and developing their personal skillsets. We are now midway through a recruitment exercise, where we hope to add another 20 people, and our ambition is to grow gradually over the next two years, focusing on quality rather than quantity. One of the critical reasons for the success of DWP’s analytical community has been the “managed moves” process, which encourages personal development and career progression, and the data analysts now have access to both this process and analyst promotion boards.

No doubt we will face some challenges, but we have the people, the goodwill and the structures to make the profession a success. As we look forward, the challenge of growing a cross-government network of data analysts is on the “to do” list, so do let us know if your department is doing something similar.

Although my name was put on the award nomination, as I had elected myself to be the head of profession for the new data analyst group, the real heroes of this story are the two individuals who developed the frameworks and processes, Claire Wilkie and Mel Bowden, and the first 11 data analysts themselves, who have taken the opportunities offered with both hands and are busily working at developing both themselves and the profession.”

Iain Wright

Iain Wright
Jacqui Alderson
Iain is Deputy Director of Fraud, Error and Debt Analysis in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).