The 3 Essentials For Analytics

“My challenge for you is to think about how you could use analytics to accomplish the mission of your agency.”- Patrick Fiorenza, Senior Research Analyst, GovLoop

Data analytics is transforming government and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of services, is your agency being left behind?

GovLoop put together a panel of analytics experts at our September 17 Agency of the Future Event. The panel discussed innovative uses of analytics that are impacting every day operations at agencies and delivering a personalized experience for customers.

Keynote speaker Haley Van Dyck, Senior adviser to the U.S. Chief Information Officer, Patrick Fiorenza, Senior Research Analyst, GovLoop, and Joseph Porcelli, Director, Engagement Services, GovDelivery shared their tips from working with analytics. If you could not attend the event or wanted a chance to review the key points, here are a few of the key insights from our speakers.

1. Not just “big data,” but “important” data

The main ingredient for analytics is not an algorithm or a software expert. The most important part of analytics is the data that goes into it. That’s why Haley Van Dyck is streamlining the effort to make government data open, accessible and useable. “Simply by making our assets available for citizens and the private sector allows the data to do much more than we would have if we released all this data separately or restricted it,” said Van Dyck. Private sector firms such as Zillow, iTriage and OPower have taken advantage of Project Open Data to develop their own analytics and apply the results to their missions. In addition, the government has made use of this centralized data bank to better understand the impact of government programs. Van Dyck supports the effort to make this data available because she believes, “access to information will change the role of government.” Analytics makes sense of this newly accessible data to transform missions.

2. Adapt your agency to run on analytics

The benefits of analytics are so critical, argued Fiorenza, every agency should begin using analytics as soon as possible. Fiorenza shared some key information from a recent GovLoop survey exploring analytics in government. In the GovLoop survey, 82% of respondents agreed that analytics drives improved decision-making. The number one benefit from analytics was transparency. Analytics provide an unparalleled internal accountability that any agency can benefit from, according to the survey. Despite this consensus, 85% of agencies do not believe they are using analytics to its fullest power. Fiorenza explained the consequences of this disconnect with a powerful image. He described a science experiment where researchers used a block to disrupt the normal swimming pattern of fish to their food. Even though the fish could easily avoid the block, they were so used to their usual path, they continued running into the block and eventually starved. “This example shows the dangers of being conditioned to one way of thinking.” Adopting analytics may require you to change your typical path, but it will be well worth it.

3. Measure What Matters

“Analytics are not about the like,” stated Porcelli. Porcelli argued that it is not enough to be using analytics. Agencies must learn what metrics and measurements matter to their mission and which do not. For example, certain metrics do not need to be analyzed in real time. “If we are trying to get people to a shelter to avoid a natural disaster, we do not need to be monitoring in real time which engagement strategies work, we must just focus on delivering our outcome,” said Porcelli. Porcelli also argued that analytics should strive for leadership, not just engagement. “If someone ‘likes’ your status, they are engaging with you, but is that enough? Leadership is when stakeholders take action on behalf of your mission, passing along information to a friend.” After adopting an analytics strategy, Porcelli also advises, “Never stop asking yourself if this is the right solution.” Agencies must continually analyze their analytics to see if they are delivering the qualitative or quantitative options that are essential to the agency of the mission.

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Jaime Gracia

The problem that I am facing right now is that the government does not understand that you need the right tool for the right job. You would not use a screwdriver on a nail, but that is exactly what some agencies are doing.

In the continued need to “do more with less,” organizations like OMB and OFPP are using Google Analytics for data analysis. This is simply the wrong tool for the job they need. This product will not help you understand where redundancy and waste are occurring, yet leaders at these organizations are touting the analytics they are performing, simply out of ignorance of not understanding private sector methodologies , skill sets, and analytical capability that private sectors companies are employing to save hundreds of millions.

It is a lost opportunity, thanks in part to thin to zeroed-out budgets for these initiatives. Regretfully, ROI is a vulgarity in this current fiscal environment.