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Tere has been huge progress in the deployment of data science over the past year – but there has been the occasional unforced error


Will data make the grade in 2021?


BY KEVIN O’SULLIVAN


If you were writing a report card for data in 2020, it would be tempting to conclude that it would get high marks for effort but must do better when it comes to results. Although there has been much progress in com- municating the value of data to the public, as with the response to Covid-19, trust can be quickly eroded by a single unforced error. Such was the case with the


The Covid-19 data and intelligence network has helped to build complex


layers of information into instant data dashboards


exams’ debacle over the sum- mer, when a misfiring algorithm let down thousands of students across Scotland, forcing a govern- ment U-turn. Next year, the old normal will


return with grades being back into the hands of teachers, not computers. Rightly so, many will say. For all the progress in data science, and despite there being a national artificial intelligence (AI) strategy on the horizon, policy-


makers can ill-afford too many balls landing outside the line. At Digital Scotland, the annual


tech conference for the public sector, held virtually on 1 Decem- ber, there was a great deal of good data work on show, giving cause for optimism. Over the course of the last 10 months, data taskforces have been hastily established by both central and local government to try to come up with ways of combating the effects of the virus. Te Covid-19 data and intel-


ligence network – driven by the Scottish Government but includ- ing elements of local govern- ment, health and academia – has created a spirit of co-operation that has helped to build complex layers of information into instant data dashboards that have been available via the Public Health Scotland website. And the Digital Office for Scot-


tish Local Government set up its own ‘cross-sector data taskforce’,


which brought together Scot- land’s 32 local councils with part- ner agencies to do the same thing, creating granular-level datasets at local level. Glasgow City Council and North Lanarkshire Council have been among the pioneering councils mapping local outbreak data with locations of vulnerable people and communities, includ- ing care homes, halls of residence and high rises, as well as provid- ing safe routes for children to get to school. “Te work that has been


undertaken by data practitioners in individual councils and as a sector as a whole within local government has been absolutely heroic,” said Colin Birchenall, chief technology officer at the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government. “Te scale of the achievements is unprecedented. Tis has underpinned local gov-


Continued on Page 32 FUTURESCOT | WINTER 2020/21 | 31


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