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Mission-Focused Analytics

What do we mean by “mission-focused analytics?” That is the focus of a new report co-sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and the IBM Center for The Business of Government and released earlier today at an event with a panel of federal executives using analytics.

“It’s like peeling back an onion. You cry a bit, then peel another layer and cry some more.” That’s how Michelle Snyder, deputy chief operating officer of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), metaphorically describes the use of powerful data analytic tools.

The report, “From Data to Decisions: The Promise of Analytics,” calls for an investment in trained data analysts in agencies, but they could well be called “data detectives” who are out to solve problems and tell stories with the data.

According to the report’s authors, analytics “is the extensive and systematic use of data, statistical and quantitative analysis and explanatory and predictive models to drive fact-based actions for effective management.”

The managerial framework for “analytics” is the use of transparency (which includes accessibility by non-technical staff); accountability (which includes creating a clear “line of sight” so employees can see how what they do fits into the broader picture), and a focus on results.

Collecting data is not enough. Every agency collects data. In fact, Snyder says CMS collects half a terabyte of data a week. But the challenge is how to turn that data into useful information that “can inform and drive decisions.”

Estelle Richman, chief operating officer for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says that the key is to – up front – describe what success will look like. This helps employees understand more concretely what to shoot for. She also said that goals and measures have to be framed in terms of how they affect people, not necessarily process or requirements. Again, the focus is on people.

David Zlowe, performance improvement officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, notes “A prerequisite to performance management is leadership’s commitment to making decisions using analytics,” and OMB’s Shelley Metzenbaum reinforced this by noting that it isn’t just top-level leadership, bur rather leadership at every level in an agency. The report notes: “an analytics program doesn’t have to start at the top. It can start anywhere in an agency.”

Case Studies of What Works. The report examined seven programs using analytics in 8 agencies (one program was a collaboration between two agencies). The agencies were at different levels of maturity in terms of their use of analytics:

  • The Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs — A jointly administered housing program for homeless veterans
  • The Federal Aviation Administration – Safety Management System
  • Center for Medicare and Medicaid – nursing home and transplant programs
  • Coast Guard – business intelligence system
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – “Click It or Ticket” seat belt safety program
  • Navy – Naval Aviation Enterprise
  • Social Security Administration – customer service

The report notes some common practices of successful efforts, such as leadership commitment, staff having a clear line of sight, and agencies investing in technology, tools, and talent.

The report concludes “data is only the starting point. . . The value of the data came from the stories it told.”

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Graphic credit: Marqui

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