Backstory: The Audit Commission – Part II

So after I graduated, in the summer of 1996 (see there’s a whole story there about why I was graduating in 1996 at the age of 31…) I went back as a Research Associate, no, do you know what? I don’t think I was a Research *Associate* because that was a defined job for people with more experience and stuff, I think my title was actually Research Assistant. Anyway I went back and settled into doing very similar work as I’d done when a student, except for half as much money again and on a study of public libraries and with the knowledge that I was probably here to stay.

Until I saw an advertisement. I don’t know exactly when it was but it wasn’t long in. There was an internal advertisement for Information Manager for the newly-formed Joint Reviews of Social Services, a team to be jointly managed by the Commission and the Department of Health. A team had already been working for a year on developing a methodology for carrying out wholesale reviews of an Authority’s Social Services function from a service-user’s point of view. The idea was to blend the “professional judgement” of the Department with the “analytical rigour” of the Commission.

The project director was Andrew Webster who went on to become Director of Social Services at Lambeth and Surrey. I asked people in the pub about Andrew and the project and what I should do. And got a whole-hearted shove in the right direction. I felt terrible about jumping ship so quickly, but the job really did have my name written all over it. It was to design and manage information systems to collect data both from national statistical collections and from individual reviews and provide data analysis support to the professional social workers and auditors who formed the review teams.

I got the job and started work on the team in a little office in Grosvenor Gardens, next door to the Peanut Council of America and other luminaries.

Just before I started, my (now ex-) wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The kids were 3 and 5 and although I’d just got a dream job iI faced losing my partner and bringing the children up on my own. I took as much time off as I could while she had her surgery and recuperated. She, we now know, lived long enoughh to become my ex-wife 10 years later and continues to thrive cancer free. At that time, however, I had no idea how this was going to turn out. My reaction was to throw myself into work. In the time up until Christmas, I worked on an analysis tool for the team to be able to get a statistical picture of an authority’s performance before a review started.

I pulled it altogether in a spreadsheet containing a database of the core performance indicators that the team had identified as important. For most of these indicators we had three years of data. the Commission had, at the time, defined “families” of authorities for profiling, putting similar authorities (based largely on demography) into groups.

My tool presented the data for a particular authority in the context of its family group and a particular indicator in the form of a boxplot for three years. You could see quickly, once you understood the format, what trend an indicator might be following in relation to other similar authorities. You could also see where an authority fell within the middle half or above or below the quartiles for its family and statistically where they were outliers (this really needs an illustration doesn’t it?). The central team loved it, got it straight away. It took a bit longer for some of the other reviewers to catch up.

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