This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide “Analytics in Action: How Government Tackles Critical Issues With Data.” In this guide, we share firsthand accounts from government employees at all levels who are using analytics to identify critical issues and find solutions. Download the full guide here.
As government’s mission grows in complexity and scope, so has the amount of data that agencies are expected to manage, analyze and use for decision-making.
For data stewards operating in an increasingly digital environment, this is no small feat. Consider the sheer volume of data that agencies use to make decisions about the citizens they serve, their workforce and the programs they manage. They’re relying on data from the public, internal sources and from other agencies and organizations.
With so much information from multiple sources, agencies need a way to connect the dots, and that’s where data analytics comes in. “It helps us to get a 360-degree view of the citizen and the program or service that they’re delivering,” said Robert Dolan Jr., Market Segment Director for Public Sector at Tableau, a data visualization software company.
Data analytics is a key enabler for agencies — regardless of their mission. But before agencies can reap the bene ts of what analytics has to offer, they first have to create a culture that embraces the right tools, skills and mindset.
“Analytics has to be pervasive,” Dolan said. “Everybody in the organization needs to have access to the information to consume it. If you look at the promise of analytics, it’s in large part about the consumption of information, keeping people informed and driving transparency and accountability.”
When you embrace a culture of data analytics it eliminates the silos of decision-making that can hinder government’s ability to deliver optimal services. Another benefit is that employees can consume data and information in a way that best suits their role. For example, a senior executive may require a high-level view of what’s happening at the agency, while an analyst may need information about a specific program.
To reach that point, agencies have to understand what questions people are trying to answer, how information can be presented to best answer their questions and how the agency can enable employees to drill down and answer detailed questions.
These are the types of capabilities that Tableau users depend on, Dolan said. And he’s not just talking about super users who are highly technical, but also non-IT employees who rely on the Tableau analytics platform to combine data from different sources and find new trends.
“It’s not just about creating a dashboard, although that’s very important, but about self-service analytics,” Dolan said. “We want to make data analytics easy for people to use” without creating an added burden for the IT department.
By adopting a powerful analytics platform that offers robust self-service capabilities that all employees can use, agencies enable their workforce to improve collaboration and reduce government silos, increase operational efficiency, and improve transparency and security.
Dolan highlighted a state department of juvenile justice that has reaped those benefits. In terms of boosting collaboration, analytics allowed this agency to create a more holistic view of at- risk youth in their system and how best to target those with the most pressing needs. This assessment was made using internal data and information from the department of education, children and family services and other agencies. Analytics helped the agency to align data from these sources around each youth and create a collaborative plan to best serve them.
To improve efficiencies, the department used analytics to determine which children to assign to each social worker. They used data to determine which pairings would maximize the time social workers spent with each child, by grouping youth in the same vicinity with the same social worker. This cut down on travel time.
Another benefit of data analytics is transparency. Government’s at all levels are investing in dashboards that provide performance metrics to the public on a number of programs. In Ohio, for example, residents can view the state’s budget and assess whether agencies are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Some federal agencies are also pushing more performance data out to the public in response to the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.
“All of this alignment of data helps to shed a bright light on those mission goals and really allows government organizations to report back with confidence whether they are hitting their goals and objectives, or if they need to make some course corrections,” Dolan said.