We work with public sector organisations – such as the police, schools, social care, and health – to help them improve the support they offer to citizens. Public services collect a rich and diverse range of information in their day-to-day business and record this information in administrative records. These records contain important ‘data’ (information) on the lives of the people they seek to serve.
Our Connected Data Analytics programme explores how this routinely collected information can be used to improve service delivery through scientific insights and tools. Importantly, we investigate how combining information from these different organisations can provide a holistic understanding of how different services can act together more effectively to support the most disadvantaged in our society.
One programme, two goals
1. Providing insights into the needs of disadvantaged communities
Our first goal is to explore how administrative datasets – combined with a range of other information – can provide powerful insights into the types of problems that many disadvantaged communities experience. We study the conditions under which these problems emerge, intersect, and become compounded. We explore the ways in which public services are organised to respond to the needs of these communities.
The programme starts with a focus on Bradford. This means that the Connected Data Analytics programme can take a place-based approach, harnessing the District’s trailblazing ‘City of Research’ infrastructure to develop a novel and bold research programme that builds on the internationally recognised Born in Bradford study.
Our approach reflects the importance of understanding how places and communities experience problems, and why and how some people are particularly vulnerable to experiencing a range of harms (from poor health through to being victims of crime). We recognise that people’s lives are not neatly divided into the categories of health, policing, education and social care so we seek to understand how public services can be better coordinated.
The Centre is proud to collaborate with the NHS’s Bradford Institute for Health Research and make use of the Connected Bradford research database. Connected Bradford is an NHS secure platform that links a wide range of routine administrative data from public services, local government and voluntary organisations across the Bradford region.
These datasets allow our scientists to ask important questions and explore patterns in the information routinely collected across public organisations. This analysis has the potential to reveal the unmet needs of disadvantaged communities. It can also identify inefficiencies in public services’ interactions and help us find new and better ways of delivering public services.
Our Connected Data Analytics programme seeks to build the tools necessary to allow local and national policy makers, stakeholders, front line services, and residents to have a shared understanding of their area. Our scientists measure the effects of policies and interventions in specific places and use data to give decision makers new ways of thinking about how to support our most disadvantaged communities.
2. Capacity building for the future of data analytics
Our second goal is to build capacity and skills in modern, socially responsible data analytics. Next generation public service practitioners will not only need the analytical skills capable of capitalising on the increasing quantities of data collected by organisations, but also the critical social science skills required to ask the right questions of that data.
Similarly, policy makers of the future will need to be able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches to effectively inform evidence-based policy.
The Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre seeks to build capacity in these essential areas and support the future of the UK’s public services.
Over the first five years, the Centre is supporting 30 six-month exploratory data science projects (six each year). Each project is conducted by an early career data scientist and supervised by the Centre’s data science team (Dr Dan Birks and Professor Mark Mon-Williams) in conjunction with a specially selected transdisciplinary team of supervisors from both academic and practice backgrounds.
Our scientists work in close collaboration with the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) at the University of Leeds through its Data Scientist Development Programme (DSDP). The DSDP is an award-winning data science programme that has supported early career data scientists from diverse backgrounds since 2016. The programme provides a range of structured development activities providing our team with the resources to access world-leading training.
Our data scientists come from a wide range of backgrounds, often from fields of research far from the study of policing or public service provision. This is a real strength of the programme – our team has included colleagues with backgrounds spanning physics, international relations, and genomics. Each data scientist brings a unique perspective and skill set, and we try to foster an environment where these perspectives can be shared in a safe and inclusive manner. A multi-disciplinary team provides relevant domain and methodological expertise and real-world practice knowledge.
Each project provides a case study exploring the art-of-the-possible. The data scientists typically begin with a research topic and an overarching research question. Topics are identified through consultation with data providers, the broader Centre academic team, and public consultation. Subsequently, the scientists utilise an iterative design framework to select, apply, and evaluate a range of methods to explore, analyse and exploit administrative data relevant to their project.
Further research questions develop as this process evolves. This approach encourages agility and problem-specific innovation while providing early career scientists with the opportunity to take ownership of a project and make it their own. This means that the projects provide:
- illustrative case studies;
- real-world skills and experience that support the scientists in their careers when they leave the programme.
We’re committed to equality, diversity and inclusion so our programme – in collaboration with LIDA – supports Positive Action Recruitment for data scientists from the global majority, who are underrepresented within the data science community. This ensures our insights are driven by a diverse group of people. Doing this enriches our research and provides more opportunities to people from all cultures and backgrounds.
Each data science project aims to generate several outputs and learnings. These include:
- A structured project report summarising the research conducted, methods used, challenges faced, and primary research findings
- An accessible summary of the research for a lay audience
- Visualisation tools – in some cases projects will generate tools capable of visualising insights from data in ways that support decision-making and engagement
- ‘Research ready’ datasets for the Connected Bradford platform – administrative data often requires considerable cleaning and harmonisation. Our scientists ensure that other researchers can build upon this essential preparatory work
Our data scientists are all trained in the use of open research tools for coding. All analytical work conducted by data scientists is documented and made available to other researchers through GitHub, the industry standard in data science collaboration and code sharing.
The current projects all focus around young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) between the ages of 17 and 19. The data scientists will explore how linked local authority, education and health data can provide insights into risks associated with young people becoming NEET, and how these factors play out across the Bradford region.
- Developing tools to estimate vulnerability-related policing demand in Bradford
- Exploring Geospatial Patterns of Situational Vulnerability in Bradford
- Exploring trajectories of individuals referred to social care via the police in Bradford
- Exploring vulnerability-related ambulance provision in Bradford
- Mapping Potential Vulnerability Indicators in Schools Data