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Our Member Spotlights are a place for us to find out a little bit more about the awesome individuals who make up The Data Lab Community - their background, the challenges they've faced, the values they hold, and their top tips for other members. This week, we caught up with Rowan Morris, Insight and Intelligence Officer at Young Scot. Young Scot is the national youth information and citizenship charity for young people aged 11-26 in Scotland, providing a range of services and opportunities to help young people make the most of their lives.
Hi Rowan! Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I would say that I sort of "fell into" the data world. After studying Psychology at the University of Stirling I landed a role at Sleep Scotland as their Research Officer - aiming to measure the impact of their services on children across Scotland, which is where my love of data and analysis started. I then wanted to grow my skillset, and spent a few years honing my data skills within the Business Science team at MediaCom Edinburgh (a media planning and buying agency). Here, I learned how to code and perform complex econometric analyses to determine how advertising directly impacted sales of products.
Although I learned a lot from my time at MediaCom, the type of data that I was analysing was not of a particular interest to me. I still had a passion for psychology and people and wanted to see past the numbers, so believed a return to the third sector was the best option. When Young Scot offered the opportunity to shape and build a Data and Insight Service, it offered the perfect combination of my skillset and interests. I will have been working at Young Scot for four years in January, and I've constantly been kept on my toes!
When you joined Young Scot, you were tasked with developing and implementing a Data and Insight Service. What were your experiences of introducing a data driven culture?
I would say the number one challenge of implementing a data driven culture within a third sector environment is resource. This is both in terms of availability of technology/software, but also wider staff ability to support data collection. The desire for work to be data driven in the third sector is not in short supply, however the infrastructure can often be lacking and the task of data maintenance seen as intimidating. With the implementation of our first official Impact Framework in 2019, we sought to make a culture change and get buy-in from staff at all levels to see how data driven decisions can be most impactful. Unfortunately COVID halted this progress somewhat, but with the launch of our new strategy imminent, I can see a huge difference in general staff belief in data-driven decisions from a few years ago which is exciting.
You're about to start building your team: what is the most important attribute you're looking for in a new hire?
I’m keen to find someone who is innovative in their thinking and brings their own ideas to the table. For the last few years I have just been doing things my way – but that’s not to say it’s always the right approach! I want to help someone develop autonomy in their role, and to feel free to challenge the status quo once they’ve learned the “basics”. There’s always room for new ideas.
What's the biggest challenge that you've faced in the last year?
In the last year, I think shifting to solely working from home has been a huge challenge professionally. Although technically I am able to do all aspects of my role remotely, there were times that there was a lack of boundary between work and home life (particularly when there wasn’t much that you could do outside of work!) I am definitely guilty of having over-worked, and keen to get some equilibrium back in the next few months.
What are you working on at the moment that really excites you?
I’m really excited to grow the team. This is something I have aspired to for a couple of years and still can’t believe is really happening! It will allow me to fully lead the service into a new, strategic direction and really solidify the importance of what data can do in the third sector.
What is your top tip for aspiring data professionals?
Grab every opportunity! While it was not my favourite role, I learned an incredible amount of technical skills while in Business Science at MediaCom that still informs my work several years later. You never know where your base skills will lead you.
If you could start your career over, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I’m not sure I’d do anything differently. Each of the roles I’ve had since leaving University have served a unique purpose and built up a different skillset area. I’ve never put too much pressure on the opportunities that I’ve taken up, just been curious to see where they lead. I guess that would be another tip – the plan can change at any moment so do not panic too much if your ideal path is not immediately obvious to you.
What resource would you recommend to our community?
I’m a big advocate for the development of soft skills and have a keen interest in emotional intelligence. No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy has been a great resource in how to work with a variety of emotional personalities – particularly useful while our team is fully remote!
The Data Lab values are Support, Respect, Innovate & Grow - which one resonates with you most at the moment and why?
I think that Grow is the most relevant to me right now – we are beginning a new Strategy and Impact Framework in 2022 which provides a new opportunity to expand our data offering. In practical terms, Young Scot will be moving from remote to blended working soon which is something that wouldn’t have been considered before COVID and is a great growth opportunity for us.
What's the most inspirational use of data/AI you have seen to help society?
How do you think you could help other members of our community?
I’m happy to give insight into world of data in the third sector, and also provide expertise on surveying young people as unique audience.
And in return, how could our community help you?
I have to admit that I am not the best at keeping my finger on the pulse with new innovations in data, so sharing expertise and knowledge will be a huge plus to being part of the community for sure!
Massive thanks again to Rowan for taking the time to chat to us - and we can't wait to hear about how your role (and growing team!) develops at Young Scot.