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David Terrar: Hi, I’m David Terrar. I’m the founder and CXO of digital strategy consultant at Agile Elephant. Today we’re going to be talking about something very exciting, something that started as a kind of a tactical reaction to the COVID pandemic and actually is going to be the future way that the NHS tackles innovation. So I’m delighted to be talking about this topic. I’ve got Sukhmeet Panesar with me. Sukhmeet, can you introduce yourself and what you do and how you fit in?

Sukhmeet Panesar: Dave Thank you very much for that. So I’m Sukhmeet. I’m the Deputy Director for Strategy and Development within the data and analytics teams in NHS England and NHS Improvement.

David Terrar: Excellent. Now we’re going to be talking about something called the analyst X community. Can you tell me what that is and what it’s all about?

Sukhmeet Panesar: Well, David, thank you for the very kind introduction. So no pressure there. So if I start a little bit with the pandemic and then I’ll come to analyst X, I think we all recognise that the pandemic had taken a huge toll on us emotionally, physically, mentally. It’s affected not only some of us directly, but our loved ones as well. And I think what it has demonstrated is no health system was really ready to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. And in a way, we needed to think very differently about how we provide health and care to our patients and citizens. But fundamentally, how do we work as NHS staff members? Because we don’t seem to have innovated on that front. So I work in a data and analytics team which consists of about 600 data professionals and analysts. So one of the largest around probably. And one of the things that we had been trying to do before the pandemic is how do we get our analysts to start collaborating and working more closely with each other? So very simple things such as create some dashboards, don’t create them 42 times or 500 times, create one, have a discussion around it, refine. But the idea to reduce a lot of the duplication that goes on within the NHS because within the NHS, unfortunately we tend to duplicate a lot of the stuff that we do because you can imagine. So we had a very low bar which was essentially get about 30 or 40 of our analysts to actually start collaborating. And what we’ve been really surprised by through this social movement called analyst X is over time, it’s been two years now we’ve managed to get about 16,500 data professionals and analysts, not just from within the NHS, but the private sector, the volunteer sector, all coming together, wanting to learn from each other. So we’ve actually been able to bring a profession that was perhaps not heard of before in a unified way, working and doing all the things that they need to be doing.

David Terrar: Excellent. And you started this literally just a few days before lockdown in March 2020.

Sukhmeet Panesar: This is true. So so so we were told on March 20th that we needed to start working from home. So it was literally created 3 hours before we were told we needed to leave the building. And we use a very famous online collaboration platform within the NHS set up by someone known as Pollyanna Jones, the future NHS platform. And we essentially just put a few things together and said here are some dashboards that people need to look at and create a few discussion forums. And then we all headed our way home and then one thing led to the next, led to the next. It’s now become a community with lots of sub communities. It almost feels like a world on its own where all sorts of things happen. David As you found out.

David Terrar: But now that’s exciting because if you know you’re expecting maybe 60 in the first month and you’ve got 2000, and then it was growing at about 1000, correct? Now towards the end of last year, you asked Agile Elephant to actually write a report for you to tell us what you wanted us to do and why you asked us.

Sukhmeet Panesar: So I think one of the things I was very keen on is, yes, we know anecdotally that we had done some good stuff and what we’d heard from some of the users. But we’re very much in the mindset of we think there’s a lot more we need to do. We made mistakes along the way. What can we learn and how can we do better than what we traditionally do in the NHS, which is have something that has a short life and then move on to the next thing. So I, we build on to that. So I think David, for me it was how do I bring an independent organisation to actually show the mirror in front of us? And you know, you guys did a brilliant report for us and the findings have been really good, which we can talk about in a bit. But essentially, I want you to know, are we hitting the right sweet spot for the analysts and data professionals? How do we compare against other similar entities? And is there any return on investment, not just necessarily monetary, but in terms of time, in terms of upskilling? And of course, what homework do we need to take from your report going forward?

David Terrar: Now, that’s important. So it’s for us, it’s all about, you know, what works, what doesn’t, and what do you do next. And yes, so it’s been really interesting to get involved in doing that for you. And obviously we interviewed a kind of like a representative sample of the users and. No, no, no, no, no, just and the NHS and the partners that work. With you. We benchmarked your community against against five others, a long standing one from IBM, one called Kaggle, that’s owned by Google. That data community, D.C., which is a non-profit one, there’s a new community for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for Data Analysts and Analytics that we looked at. And I mean, the good news is that actually you guys came out very well against all of those few and you’ve got all of the I mean, the collaboration platform that you’ve already had in use that you mentioned, future NHS is global, the functionality you need and I guess the way that this particular community has been set up for an index, however, wasn’t necessarily as easy to get around and find your way around. That’s what the interview interviewees told us. So one of the things we’re recommending is a kind of like a redesign of the site, and there are other recommendations to what do you think about what we’ve what we’ve suggested so far?

Sukhmeet Panesar: So so first, David, I think it’s it’s really good that you managed to speak across the board to and get different opinions from people. I think in terms of the redesign, in a way, we were expecting you would say something along those lines. Now, you weren’t with us at the start of the journey, David, but we’ve probably been through two or three redesigns already, and I think that’s what’s very exciting because we change, we evolve, it’s not the same old, same old. And I think we’re at that stage now because this community very much brought people together during the COVID pandemic. And then I’m hoping we’re going to get out of the pandemic soon. And, you know, people will move away from COVID, but you want them still to coalesce around common topics. So, yes, we do need to do a bit of redesign. And I think the team are working out how they’re actually going to do that. I think the bit that we need to work on what we have recognised is yes, we are getting a lot of the analysts and data professionals excited by this community and upskilling them, but we’re not really touching data literacy and digital literacy in the non data number two community. So if we upskill ourselves to the nth degree and don’t do anything about the other community, then we almost have a mismatch. And our customers, no one know what to buy from us, so to speak, in a very loose term. So I think that’ll be the next thing. Which one of the recommendations as well? We need to focus on that. And I think what we have done is we’ve very much gone with the grassroots movement, bring willing, enthusiastic people who want to work outside their job to do the stuff they do on analyst X. But we’ve now probably reached the scale where we do need to have some dedicated resource. So we welcome that, that report and thankfully haven’t said we need hundreds of people for that because we need some more ways to get things done. But I particularly like the other part that you’ve said is we’ve we’ve created something that is more than just the technology, more than just the platform, but actually winning hearts and minds. And then how do we continue doing that? Because technology comes and goes. But you need people to be in tune with the different waves of technology and not lose them along the way. And I think that’s what we’re really trying to do.

David Terrar: Jenny Parkinson, one of our team, has recommended a new model approach to kind of structure it, specifically aiming at that that, you know, that the and the people you want to bring in. Yeah. So it would just be here at the laser model it’s learn, ask, share, accelerate to kind of divide into areas where people know what they need to do and what they can get out of this. We’ve also suggested some a revised champions programme so that the community can actually develop and add some gamification in that to actually reward those, those champions. What do you think of that, that recommendation we’ve made?

Sukhmeet Panesar: So it’s. Well, we like your recommendation in terms of the framework. Yeah, we think it’s generic, but it’s going to sound fairly specific to get action and momentum going. It goes beyond our traditional layout. I think the trick that we will need to pull off, given all the assets we have, how do we start reclassifying them or doing in a way let the old world just collapse within any new communities we build, stick to that framework so the old collapses and the new builds up. So kind of working out what model we do, but definitely up for the framework, the Champions Programme. Yes. In fact, you know, you’ve, you’ve reminded us when you presented the report, there’s a lot more we need to do and we probably need a larger champions programme. And at the moment we have a very how do I say to home build version of rewarding and incentivising the Champions? We probably need the right technologies to support that. And those exist, as you know, David, at the moment. So we are talking to some of our strategic partners right now on how would we make that happen.

David Terrar: Excellent car should just to take a take a step back and tell us who’s the audience, this community, who you want to be involved.

Sukhmeet Panesar: So our primary audience has been all the data professionals and analysts within health and care. But again, who is an analyst? Is it a clinician who’s interested in analysis or someone who has traditionally been an analyst, gone through some analytical training? Or is it someone who just is genuinely curious about analysis? So we become a rather broad church. So we’ve said anyone who is interested in the discipline, because I think, David, you will know this better than most. As technologies evolve, as analysis becomes the main thing, many people are going to have to retrain into these professions anyway. So we could probably become the third, fourth, fifth career. And so we want to capture that a lot. So that would be our primary audience. The secondary audience is probably going to be more our customers, but we see that as a sort of a slow but. But one of the things we’ve realised during the pandemic actually is we have very many non analytical folk who are actually quite terrified of interpreting dashboards or even interpreting simple piece of data, and we need to do something on that front. So that is the secondary audience we’re looking at.

David Terrar: Great stuff. One of the things that when we were talking to people, one of the things that you’ve done as well as the collaboration platform itself is you’ve put people together in huddles. Tell us what’s a huddle.

Sukhmeet Panesar: So I’m quite impressed. Say that a huddle has become a thing in the NHS and then we have the second chief cuddling officer as the title. Someone actually has that brilliant. But essentially it comes very much from the idea, the way they operate in NASA and other industries. You need to bring like minded people together to discuss debate ideas, learn from each other and then move forward. And so huddles have become these weekly gatherings on a bad Friday. We probably have about 100 people joining us on a Good Friday, about 600. And then that says a lot for a Friday because people should be doing other things. But they’ve come on to these huddles to basically learn from each other. And the huddle created very much with we at the centre don’t have all the answers and we generally want to learn from local systems. Now can start flattening that false hierarchy we have between the national, regional and the local areas. And now we’ve got variants of the huddle. David as well. We have something called mini huddles, machine learning Mondays. It’s tending the whole enterprise on its own. So I think it’s is becoming a thing, basically.

David Terrar: Excellent, that’s exactly what you need. So one of the things you’re doing is from is refocusing from that kind of very tactical looking at COVID thing to it to a much more generalist approach now and what happens next? Luck with anything, any good senior sponsorship? How are you going to go about, you know, getting that for what you do next?

Sukhmeet Panesar: So so I think we’re very lucky in terms of it being a grassroots movement. And we’ve had this sort of like touch approach from very many senior NHS leaders across all the arms length bodies who are getting more and more interested in analyst X and what it could be. So I think what we’ve done is had distributed senior leadership and similarly distributed way of working as well so that this stays regardless of any organisational change or configuration, which I think is very, very important for sustainability of the community. But I think the other thing that we are very, very keen to do is how to make sure that people actually see this as a way of working in the future. At the moment they’re sharing knowledge, they’re sharing dashboards and assets. But what we would like this to be is almost the place where you get a lot of the work you do as an analyst. So you can imagine what would be fantastic is if we had a national backlog of all the analytical questions and challenges we needed, and then teams could sell form public private sector, bring their tools and say, Yeah, we’ll take that off, we’ll take that off, we’ll take that off. So almost as a community, you just start solving all the questions that you have. And I think that would be fantastic, actually.

David Terrar: Excellent. Can we talk a bit about the business case? Yeah. Now we and Patrick in our teams that the ombudsman is looking into this. So we’ve looked at it at the flight productivity in terms of analyst time, analyst impact and we’ve looked at it kind of the various upside cases which we haven’t quantified, but we know there’s goodness there. What do you think about the business case we’ve put forward and the justification of 6 to 7 more for decades to help support this?

Sukhmeet Panesar: So so I think a few of us have looked at your ROI calculations and we appreciated the caveats you had put in it, and I think we were quite polarised in our view on. So we all agree that there is goodness, we all agree there’s an hour away. I think some folk are perhaps even more conservative than you are.

David Terrar: But the thing from our point of view, the best way to do this is to make a conservative and defensible case which still is a solid good case and recognise that actually it’s going to be better than that.

Sukhmeet Panesar: Correct. And you’ll. Realise my biases. I wanted it to be even more positive than what it was because I think there was so much goodness that I didn’t know.

David Terrar: I agree. Yes. Excellent stuff. The end, I guess. It sounds good. I guess one of the things is how does this fit in with the overall strategy? I mean, you’re connecting data and people analyst expertise. Does that fit in with where the NHS wants to go next?

Sukhmeet Panesar: It does. So we have been quite lucky and we’re humbled. Actually. We’ve been mentioned in the draught NHS data strategy that is going to be published quite soon as an, as a, as a good example of a community of practise, how you bring people together within analyst X. We also promote the use of latest technologies, be platforms or analytical tools. There’s a huge drive in the strategy to do that as well. So we very much are about how do you move beyond analysis to the so what and the decision making part, because you can have all the numbers in the world, whether it’s what I see there for you or someone else’s is fine, but you can’t do anything about that number. What’s the point? So given that we want to be insights driven, the data strategy talks a lot about driving insights within the NHS to design these new models to make integrated care work so very much part and parcel of what’s happening on that front. And I think if we look very much at the recovery plan as well, that that relies fundamentally on collaboration and people working together. And that’s been the ethos very much of our mistakes. So thankfully, we we’re no longer a rebellious outfit, but very much part and parcel of what we think will be the future going forward for all these different communities of practise based on this specialism coming together.

David Terrar: Excellent. So from our point of view, we think the community will become the go to place for analysts, I think, and, you know, to come and actually get upskilled and and really drive forwards and and it’s essentially a model for how the NHS is going to innovate for the future.

Sukhmeet Panesar: Yes. And in fact, I’ve just come from a meeting today where we were talking more broadly about the digital profession and informatics more broadly. And then we will become bold again because the feedback we’ve got is and this is quite as actually an exemplar for what this could look like in the future, but that doesn’t mean we should rest there. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I think we’re looking forward to that next phase.

David Terrar: That’s excellent. I’m looking forward to it, too. And I think the fact that you’ve actually kind of reinvented the community a number of times already up to now, then we’ve made some recommendations. I think you’ve got to think in terms of a permanent state of reinvention. It’s got to be always developing.

Sukhmeet Panesar: Perpetual beta, as you call it. Yes.

David Terrar: Exactly. Well, Sukhmeet, that’s been fantastic. Thank you very much for telling the story for us.

Sukhmeet Panesar: Thank you very much for being a part of this very good stuff.

David Terrar So I hope you enjoyed that. If you want to find out more about analyst X, if you go to the Agile Elephant website or if you just Google analyst with an X on the end, you’ll find out some more. Thanks very much.