Making data count
With the economy struggling and the nation, states and municipalities making painful spending cuts to rein in their budgets, the importance of thoughtful decision making based on tangible information has never been greater. Yet government entities often make programmatic decisions without data, or without sufficient data, to be sure that they are spending their resources wisely.It’s not that they wouldn’t prefer to use data. Consulting firm Deloitte reports:

In a November 2011 Government Business Council survey sponsored by Deloitte, more than 70 percent of federal government managers surveyed believe budgetary cost constraints are increasing the importance of data collection as it relates to making decisions about their programs; however, 58 percent of respondents report that using the data externally in a “meaningful” way remains challenging.

The difficulties reported include insufficient staff and lack of technical expertise. Ironically, many managers are faced with the need to downsize their staffs to reduce costs, but don’t have adequate data to know which positions create the greatest value.

Collaborative government expert Vincette Goerl recommends a strategic, next-generation management approach to making sure scarce funds are being directed in the most efficient way possible. Recommendations include:

  • Modernizing and standardizing information management systems across agencies
  • Increasing transparency and ease of access by making all data publicly available
  • Making changes incrementally in agency-specific contexts
  • Committing to investment governance

Translating recommendations into practice requires a bean-counter outlook and a commitment to one-step-at-a-time improvements.

  • Make the goals of every project measurable. If the goals and objectives contain no performance metrics, they need to be rewritten. Remind all staff members of the importance of measurement with logo’d handy key chain measuring tapes and training on metric and key performance indicator development.
  • Use existing data to increase efficiencies. A centralized data storage system, shared among departments, improves access and encourages data-based thinking. Tap a data-savvy staffer to mine existing stores of data to generate new ways of looking at outcomes.
  • Make your data transparent. Posting information on the Web, in publicly accessible forms, not only allows other agencies to make use of the available data, but makes operations and results known to constituents. Transparency increases trust—a quality often lacking between the public and the government. Communicate the information you are sharing on the Web by promoting the URL on pens, magnets or notepads.
  • Data can also be displayed locally at community events or roundtables. A table-top display kit provides tools for explaining the work and demonstrating the outcomes.
  • Determine in advance how you plan to use the data and ensure that it is part of the communications plan. Data for data’s sake is a waste of resources. But, data that will be put into action is priceless.

Data has always been collected. However, now, more than ever, government agencies have an opportunity to utilize data in a truly meaningful way that will benefit the multitudes of constituents. Focusing on transparency and collaboration of data will also enable the best use of the outcomes as a means of allocating resources.

“Using Data to Drive Missions and Meet Mandates.” Deloitte. Deloitte. Web. 29 Jan. 2012.

Laurent, Anne. “Building a Vision of Data-Driven, Next-Generation Government Management | CGI Initiative for Collaborative Government.” CGI Initiative for Collaborative Government | Partnering for Mission Results. Initiative for Collaborative Government, 19 May 2010. Web. 29 Jan. 2012.

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