People-first approach: developing the data strategy for the Office of Rail and Road (ORR)

Natasha Bance

Why we needed a data strategy

ORR (Office of Rail and Road) regulates health and safety on the railways, protects the interests of rail and road users, and holds National Highways to account. Data and information are vital to everything we do and the industries we regulate. It informs our scrutiny, decisions, and reporting. We use data for:

  • monitoring compliance
  • internal operations
  • publishing Official Statistics

Visit the ORR Data Portal to access our publications and interactive dashboards.

We started developing our data strategy in early 2023 with the aim of ensuring we gain maximum value out of data and insights across ORR. We believe this will ultimately improve outcomes for rail and road users.

Listening to colleagues

From the very start, we were clear that we should design a data strategy that would work for our people. Our people are one of our most important assets, and it is vital that we empower them to succeed in their work. With this mind, we started a programme to engage our people in developing the strategy.

We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to engage with the data strategy. So, we designed a staff survey to gather views, ideas and requirements from colleagues. The conversations we had while designing and testing the survey itself generated useful insights for us about our data environment. We held dedicated workshops to explore some of the survey results in more detail with participants from across directorates and in different office locations across the country.

As the Head of Data Strategy, it was also important to me to personally talk to as many colleagues as I could to help improve my understanding of the current situation and future requirements. I was able to have one-to-one discussions with over 50 colleagues spread across various teams in the organisation.

By listening and engaging with our people we gained a strong insight into the areas to prioritise in the data strategy. This helped us recognise the strengths in the system and the areas that needed addressing. We also gained some great ideas from colleagues on using data, promoting innovation, and embedding a data-led culture in the organisation.

We wanted to gain a more structured understanding of our data maturity for developing the strategy, and also a baseline measure of data maturity which we could track in future years. To achieve this, we held a data maturity assessment (DMA) exercise in the organisation. DMA participants were selected from across different teams, roles, and salary grades. The Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) had recently released a DMA tool for government bodies, which became our tool of choice for this exercise.

Listening and learning from others

As part of developing the strategy, we engaged with other organisations to gain understanding of their data journeys and priorities. These included members of the UK Regulators Network and other government departments, as well as industry bodies. Recent government publications also provided us understanding of government’s priorities and initiatives in data, including the:

Our data strategy

The evidence gained from listening to our people and the DMA were vital to developing ORR’s data strategy.

The ORR data strategy has 6 core themes:

  • culture — transforming ORR to deliver a data-led culture
  • oversight — strengthening our data leadership and governance
  • people — having the right skills, guidance, and opportunities
  • tools — modern, fit-for-purpose tools, analytical techniques and high quality data
  • engagement — stronger external collaboration for greater impact
  • regulation — more rigour in monitoring compliance using data, and better transparency and innovation in the industries

Since the launch of the strategy in October 2023, we have been engaging colleagues in the strategy through a range of seminars, blogs, and meetings. We have opened up the workstreams designed to implement the strategy to colleagues across different directorates. This has allowed us to secure diverse skills needed to achieve the aims of the strategy, including skills such as:

  • project management
  • policy
  • regulation
  • engagement

The momentum created in designing the data strategy helped ORR to top the league of Civil Service departments participating in One Big Thing, the government initiative on data literacy and skills. There were 87% of ORR staff who registered for the One Big Thing platform.

But more importantly, the data strategy addresses issues that matter the most to our people, including:

  • data literacy and skills
  • data quality and accessibility
  • guidance on our data assets and use of data
  • analytical capability and support
  • using the right tools and technologies
  • innovation and new methodologies

While we are aware of the challenges that we may face in achieving the aims of a data strategy, we are happy that our people-first approach is allowing us to embed the strategy in the organisation.

Vikas Dhawan
Natasha Bance
Vikas Dhawan is Head of Data Strategy at the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).