Case study: ODI training during Covid-19

Mon Jan 25, 2021
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Find out how about training at the ODI during the coronavirus pandemic

At the Open Data Institute (ODI), our learning, training and skills work aims to enable people, teams and businesses across the world to develop new data skills to help them get value from data. Since the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK in March 2020, we’ve moved our training offer to be entirely online.

Since the ODI launched in 2012, we have grown our training and learning offer, expanding from our first course, Open Data Essentials, which has been running since 2013, to now offering 10 courses, and a wide range of on-demand webinars and podcasts. Our courses are designed to help people and organisations feel confident and comfortable talking about data, and we have trained trainers all over the world who are qualified in delivering high-quality training in open data.

As well as more traditional training, our learning approach includes peer learning, interactive workshops and games.

We work with organisations from a range of different sectors and industries to identify the data skills they need, using our Data Skills Framework, and then put in place bespoke training that provides real value.

In response to the pandemic, we’ve also developed guidance and support to help make the data, models and software being used to address the coronavirus crisis as open as possible, while building and maintaining trust and working towards a future where data works for everyone.

Data Skills Framework

The Data Skills Framework breaks down the complex landscape of data skills into the sets of skills required by different people in an organisation. We developed the framework to help organisations identify the right balance of data skills they need.

It illustrates how technical data skills must be balanced with other skills – such as service design, data innovation and change leadership – to help ensure data projects are impactful and lead to the best social and economic outcomes for everyone. The framework provides a holistic view of data skills by breaking the domain into topics and showing how these topics connect. This makes it easier to understand where to start, and where to focus.

Current ODI courses

Key facts and figures


ODI training

The ODI provides training for individuals, teams and organisations. Traditionally (pre Covid-19 restrictions) we offered a mix of online, blended and face-to-face courses. Since March 2020, training has been a little different. The global pandemic has meant that our courses are online only, and we have introduced a range of virtual classroom and interactive online courses. We’ve supported people and businesses to develop new data skills to help them adapt and thrive in tumultuous times.

We offered a range of courses throughout the year, and ongoing free access to our eLearning courses, including Open data essentials and Finding stories in data.

Hundreds of people built their professional data skills with our courses, which include Open Data In A Day, Data ethics, Strategic Data Skills, Anonymisation, and Applying Machine Learning and AI to Data.

At an organisational level, we’ve worked with companies to identify the data skills needed across their business, creating training to meet their specific needs. We’ve trained people from organisations across a range of sectors and industries. In 2020, we created customised training courses for WPP and Lloyds Bank. This builds on our experience of building bespoke organisational training in previous years: creating custom content to help the BBC build trust and confidence in the work it does with data; and working with Co-op to inform its data literacy programme.

The first ODI Learning Month took place in November 2020. We ran a series of events, courses, webinars and workshops, designed to give people the opportunity to immerse themselves in the topics being discussed at the online ODI Summit. This boosted interest and attendance for our key courses around data ethics, anonymisation and AI data techniques. And over this period, we received over 1,000 requests for further information on specific ODI courses. The combination of ODI Learning Month and the ODI Summit (held at a time suitable for several timezones) in November 2020 also helped generate interest from across the Atlantic, with US companies booking on to the data ethics course following the summit.

We launched Datopolis, a board game to engage teams in the value of data, in 2015 and made an online version in 2020. Datopolis is a board game about building things – services, websites, devices, apps, research – using closed and open data. The different scenarios in the game challenge players to think carefully about data ecosystems and how every individual decision can affect the health of an ecosystem, be that a town or a business. We have used Datopolis to help businesses like Rolls Royce and Roche to develop data literacy, stimulate debate and get people excited about data skills programmes. Datopolis is now online, and free for everyone to play.

What was challenging?

Moving to an entirely virtual format forced us to rethink how to present training materials so that they would still be engaging. The face-to-face training that we do is very interactive: we use physical movement, whiteboards, flipcharts and card games, for example. This keeps it interesting for all participants. When the pandemic hit and forced us to move to online-only training, we had to think of ways to keep it interactive, even when people are sitting in front of a screen. We use interactive online whiteboards, we put the card game online and we hosted a learning tool on Github.

Online-only training throws up a lot of technical challenges. Some participants, especially those from the public sector, have restrictions on what websites they can access, and there can also be hardware issues, with people using different devices. We have had to be very flexible with how we deliver these courses, and able to change how we present the material if the technology and hardware means it won’t work for some people.

Our international training meant we had to carry out a lot more checks on our materials. There are cultural considerations to take into account when training people overseas and we need to draw on examples from outside the UK. We always ensure we have ‘critical friends’ to consult with, who can sense-check the suitability of the language and any references used.

What went well

ODI training is less technical than many people anticipate. Although all of our courses are about data, they are not deeply technical. They are actually based around the spirit of enquiry and critical thinking. Participants are often pleasantly surprised by this, and by the lively discussion that the learning topics instigate.

Thanks for delivering a fantastic course last Thursday, it’s definitely a topic I will be exploring further.

Data and analysis course delegate, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government

 

This was also the case for online training 2020, with the topic of ethics around decision making being particularly relevant in relation to the pandemic. For example, when training people on data ethics, it is all about people rather than data, and fascinating discussions often ensue about different moral codes and perspectives.

“Many thanks for running the session today on data ethics – I really enjoyed having a chance to discuss this with a wider group, and challenge some of my ideas developed in isolation from my reading. It was especially useful to have the morals vs ethics distinction and ethics vs legal also – I have been exploring enterprise data ethics and also ethical assessments of models and high-risk data practices”

Ethics course delegate, Accenture, December 2020

 

Observing ‘Aha’ moments is gratifying. When training people on open data, there are certain points when the penny drops and people suddenly see how it all comes together. These often happen at the same point in the training, and it is rewarding to see this each time. Even in an online setting, this can be witnessed.

All trainers have studied how people learn. All ODI trainers undergo training, which includes studying the different ways in which people learn. It is important to factor this in when carrying out training, and to use varied methods to present the information. This was a particular challenge during 2020, with enforced online learning, and our trainers quickly became adept at keeping sessions lively, providing screen breaks, and building in some ‘non-screen’ activities to help relieve eye/screen fatigue.

The course really engaged the team well, gave lots of food for thought, some new techniques, and more importantly a common language for expressing things that we’ve struggled with. Just what we needed.

James Hastings, HMRC, Oct 2020 [Data & Analysis course attendee]

 

Having a tool to establish requirements and current skills base has helped organisations plan their training. Our Data Skills Framework enables organisations to explore a series of questions that allow them to better identify imbalances in their current approach, and helps them to create plans to address gaps in data literacy.

What we have learned

In group training, it is important for the learning to be new to everyone. Each training participant comes with different levels of technical ability, different skill sets, different amounts of knowledge around open data, and different reasons for being there. Presenting the material in an innovative, interesting way means that it is always new learning to everyone in the room.

How people feel and how they engage with the materials is vital. The training is varied and interactive – from quizzes through to small-group breakout rooms – and we present the materials in an innovative way. We engage people with challenging material and aim for sessions to be fun, challenging and lively. For the online context, we invested in developing interactive card games, and online versions of our tools. Participants can play and collaborate during courses, providing a ‘hands-on’ feel and helping to vary the pace and format. We also use our Datopolis board game in training – which is now available online. Having these tools meant that our learning continued to have high levels of engagement.

It is critical to think about your audiences – how you communicate with them and what tools, technologies support this most effectively. It is important to use tools that are immersive, interactive and educational as ways to maintain attention, and to provide time and space for self exploration and critical reflection. This is when learning happens most effectively. Developing interactive training materials such as online quizzes, games and exercises can achieve huge impact, compared with passive one-way learning experiences.

In moving to an online-only setting, administration and flexibility are even more important. The trainer needs to be even more prepared than usual, as things can go wrong with technology, for example. All our trainers have had to be able to change things at the last minute, without impacting the learning outcomes for participants.

Sometimes, you just have to be patient. The epidemic forced businesses to reassess offers and services, and it took a while, after the initial lockdown in March 2020, to find a new normal. While we realised early on that it would be essential to move our training to be fully online, and were able to do this relatively quickly, some organisations had to put in place processes and procedures – and sometimes technology – to support online learning for their workforces. This meant that it took some months for organisations to settle into the new ways of working. This allowed us to update our materials, but it also resulted in a couple of months of slight delay and adjustment.