How Data Can Improve Your City’s Decision Making

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This is a guest post by Oliver Wise, Digital Government Principal at Socrata.

As government leaders, we all know that we need to do more to take advantage of the power of data to improve the communities we serve. One of the biggest challenges to realizing this goals is that our employees often lack the critical data analysis skills needed to derive actionable insights from data, our most abundant resource.

We are witnessing a wave of leading governments take an employee-centric approach to creating data-driven culture in their organization. This approach empowers city employees with the tools they need to create innovative solutions to their own problems, which they know better than anyone. Not only does this strategy create the potential for greater innovation, it improves staff morale.

While it may be not in every government’s budget to hire a staff of PhD data scientists, governments both large and small have found a high return on investment in upskilling their existing employees.  Here are some emerging lessons from this exciting trend.

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When you improve any staffer’s data-analysis savvy, the whole organization benefits. That’s why it’s important to offer courses broadly and make it easy for everyone to participate, whatever their level.

Here are approaches to keep in mind as you’re planning:

  1. Learning is available to all. You may be surprised by which staffer proves a great problem solver with data. Allow all staff to participate in classes.
  2. A step-by-step approach. Lessons are broken down into phases so everyone can take the initial courses and then those who want to do more advanced work can self-select to participate in later classes.
  3. Courses are tailored to solving real problems. People learn best by doing, and nowhere is this more true than in data analysis. The best curriculums we see incorporate “capstone” projects where employees develop data skills by analyzing an actual dataset that’s germane to an important policy challenge the government is addressing.

Where can you start with teaching your staff data analysis skills? I would focus your initial lessons on critical thinking, with “how-to” topics like:

  • Scope the problem correctly
  • Gather information
  • Understand the true goals of the analysis
  • Define what needs to get done by when
  • Put this all together in a clear and concise written problem statement that gets signed off on by all stakeholders

Here are some examples of data-analysis education programs that are already in place around the country.

Both the city and county of San Francisco and Kansas City have developed their own internal “Data Academy” programs to up-skill their employees. The Department of Commerce has done something similar for their employees, as well.

Alternatively, the cities of Boise, Idaho, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Denton, Texas, were featured in a blog post by the Center for Government Excellence as having partnered with GovEx to kickoff their data analysis education programs. And, the Socrata Data Academy has recently launched and showcased the work we’ve been doing with Metro Nashville & Davidson County to raise the data analysis skills there.

There are numerous approaches municipalities can take to data analysis education. Whatever work you do to teach new skills at your organization is time well spent. The key is simply to be proactive: find ways to educate and track the learning of government information workers in your organization.

For more information, city leaders and staff can explore free online data analysis classes offered through the Socrata Data Academy.

Picture1.pngAbout the Author: Oliver Wise is the Digital Government Principal at Socrata. Oliver is responsible for leading strategic engagements with governments, helping to develop and advance performance programs, and acts as the principal consultant to our Blueprint methodology.