Why Data Should Be Your New BFF


The world of public service seems to be split into two groups, “data people” and “program people”. Whatever camp we are in, we tend to avoid the other side like last week’s laundry. For those of us who are “program people”, we have built our career around a mission of service to others. We value helping the individual client or teammate to solve problems and achieve goals. We feel directly connected to the mission of service. We are doers and helpers, while data and outcome measures may be more associated with other parts of the agency that we are less familiar with.

Program people, it’s time to make friends with data and metrics. In today’s government environment, accountability and transparency are of primary importance. Taxpayers demand to know what they are getting for their money. No matter how innovative our program is, if we don’t have the ability to communicate with taxpayers and stakeholders in a common language, we may be doomed to fail. Performance evaluation and results-oriented programming is here to stay. Performance measurement and evaluation first requires determining the right things to measure, collecting the data, and then comparing the results against the expected outcomes. Used to highlight and explain, rather than burying in a pile of number, data helps us make our point like nothing else. Here are some of the many reasons to start getting comfortable with data:

• Data and metrics provide the common language we need to communicate the great work we are doing. Although we have many heartfelt stories from people who benefit from our services, data is what helps us tell the story in a way that taxpayers and funders can understand.
• Data separates fact from feeling. Data helps us sort out trends that are really happening, rather than trying to “guesstimate” what is happening.
• Data helps us better understand who benefits the most from our services. Many times, the people who benefit most may not be the same group of people that are easiest to serve. Data helps us focus our limited resources where it will do the most good.
• Data shows us the service gaps and disparities. Since not everybody may have the same access and understanding of our services, data will reveal where we should concentrate on reaching out.
• Data draws the direct line between program activities and outcomes. In other words, it is our data that proves our program is working in the way it is intended.
• Data is absolutely the best way to argue for the necessity of a particular position. Again, compelling stories are much less effective than clearly reported results in demonstrating how the position benefits the mission of the agency and the people we serve.
• Data helps us determine the effectiveness of individual processes as well as entire programs or agencies. By understanding the effectiveness of a process, continuous improvement tools can be employed to strengthen the effectiveness of the process and minimize waste. Using continuous improvement methods, focus is placed on processes that are not working optimally, rather than focusing on individuals.
• Data results of performance evaluations, performance plans and other evaluation tools inform the process used to generate meaningful strategic plans and projections for the future.
• Data is necessary to collection of performance information mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). GPRA performance information is central to administrative decision making and budget decisions. Customer satisfaction and program quality are also expectations of GPRA, to ensure that our customers get the best service possible, at the best time and at the best cost.

The land of data can be a scary place for people on the program side, but there is no better time to become familiar with data and let it help you showcase your individual and program goals. What ways have you used data to highlight your results or justify your program? Comment below!

Brenda Dennis is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Francesca El-Attrash

Brenda! Thanks for sharing! As a program person, you really sold me on how important it is to make friends with the data side! Good points here.