Working as a government statistician – Ross Waddell

November 2, 2023 by No Comments | Category Working in statistics

By Ross Waddell, Assistant Statistician in Education Analytical Services

The Scottish Government has launched an external recruitment campaign for B1 and B2 Assistant Statisticians. Applications close on 13 November 2023. An information session to find out more about the application and assessment process will be held on Monday 6 November 2023 from 12:30 to 14:00. You might be wondering what statisticians do on a day-to-day basis. This blog series offers some insight into the diversity of roles available in the statistics group.

I joined the Scottish Government as an Assistant Statistician 1 year ago and have been working within the Administrative Data Research (ADR) Programme. The ADR Scotland programme is a partnership between Scottish Government and the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR). The aim of the programme is to facilitate data linkage of public sector data, which can be accessed by researchers to generate insights that are used to inform policy and practice. A portrait photograph of the blog post author Ross Waddell

It goes without saying that I had never heard of ADR Scotland prior to getting the email to say that is where I was being posted, nor had I any prior experience of data linkage or working with administrative data.

Looked after children data

My first main project was to improve the utility of a dataset on looked after children in Scotland. The aim was to create a method for dealing with various data quality issues in the data, to give researchers who use the data set more time to do their important analyses. The team did this using a statistical software called SAS (another thing I had no experience of!); therefore, my first task was to enrol on the Scottish Government introduction to SAS training course.

After completing the SAS course, I was able to start accessing the real data. Having never seen an administrative dataset before I was unsure what to expect. The dataset itself is innovative, in that it combines the annual returns of children in the care of each local authority in Scotland going back to 2008, meaning you can follow a child’s journey through the care system in a way that was previously not possible.

After doing some exploratory work on the data to gain some familiarity, I began to understand some of the realities of working with administrative data. It has been collected purely for administrative purposes and not for research use. It has often been collected many years prior to being reused for this purpose and can contain missing and erroneous records.

I created a set of logical rules in SAS that a ‘clean’ version of the data should follow and am currently working with users of the data to quality assure the clean version of the data, ensuring the code is readable so that it can be easily re-used by others.

Another aspect of this project which I have enjoyed has been working with a variety of different stakeholders. As a new member of the Stats group and Government, this project has allowed me to build relationships with people both internally within the Stats group and external experts, providing great learning opportunities along the way.

Data and children’s rights

I was recently invited to a training course on children’s rights by the Charity Children in Scotland. The training explored the details of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and allowed us to reflect on how the UNCRC is relevant to our work. This was an eye-opening session as it contained feedback from children on how they expect their data to be used and was a poignant reminder that there are real lives behind the data we work with.

Supporting the Ukraine response through data

Another project I have been involved in has been volunteering for the Ukraine Data Service. They urgently needed staff to meet the demand of applications to match displaced people in Ukraine with accommodation in Scotland, through Government schemes like Homes for Ukraine. As a new assistant statistician, this was exactly the kind of project that attracted me to working in Government in the first place. The work involved data management and analysis, for example, creating daily lists of people who had been matched to a home in Scotland and providing this information to the relevant Local Authority. This allowed me to brush off the cobwebs on my Excel skills that I gained at university and learn a lot more about how different public organisations work with each other such as National Services Scotland (NSS), who provided the data that we processed and how Central Government interacts with Local Authorities.

In summary, I have had a great first year in my career as an Assistant Statistician in Scottish Government. I have had the chance to take ownership of projects from the start and have learned a lot. I am looking forward to going on rotation in the new year to start a new challenge.


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