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Where Data Makes a Difference, Pt. 1

People often use vague language such as “vast troves” and “growing exponentially” to describe the amount of data at the government’s disposal, but those terms don’t say much. To get real understanding, consider some statistics:

By the end of 2025, the world will have generated, consumed, copied and stored at least 180 billion zettabytes of data. To put that in context, one zettabyte is the storage capacity of 250 billion DVDs. It’s the same as 1 billion terabytes. And if you were to download all the data on the internet, it would take you 181 million years.

The United States’ 5,381 data centers — more than 10 times the number in Germany, the country with the second most — handle much of that information. Every time we buy something online or post a YouTube video, we create more. Here are some ways government agencies are using data to make a difference.

Data Storytelling

Facts are two-dimensional: They convey details but not causes or impacts. Yet if you put the data in context — if you tell its story — you make the details relevant to a wider audience. That leads to better decision-making.

After collecting and analyzing data, good data storytellers ask, “How can we maximize the value this data holds?” said Megan Huss, Director of the Process and Performance Improvement Program in the Office of Personnel Management’s Center for Leadership Development. What organizational or societal change can we shoot for?

Storytellers focus on the most critical insights, omit acronyms and jargon, tailor their stories to specific audiences, and guard against possible biases. They use colorful maps and other visuals and explain how the data affects people’s lives.

“One of the key reasons that [storytelling] is so effective is that we’re actually able to share not just what’s happening … but we’re able to convey more about the why,” Huss said. “Until we … make that linkage … and encourage action from that data, the data really — in and of itself — would just have potential value.”

Customer Experience

To deliver consistently positive CX, agencies must identify pain points that stand in the way: the moments of confusion, delay, frustration or cyber risk that erode people’s trust in government. Data helps agencies diagnose the root causes of those obstacles, whether, as the White House’s CX Executive Order explains, they are statutory, regulatory, budgetary, technological or process-based.

Consider: Data “doesn’t give us answers, but it does give us breadcrumbs to follow, so we know where we might need to pay attention and in what way and what questions … we need to start asking.”

Airis McCottry Gill, former Executive Director for Employee Experience and Organizational Management, Veterans Experience Office, Department of Veterans Affairs

Using Data

Agencies use a combination of qualitative data (what people think and feel) and quantitative data (what you can measure and count) to study CX. By analyzing post-transaction survey results, survey responses from employees and customer behavior data, such as average length of time to complete an online form, organizations can streamline service delivery and implement more human-centered design. Key elements of data-driven CX include:

  • Data sharing among agencies to promote consistency and save time.
  • Public-facing employees offering feedback on constituent experiences. Accessibility redesigns based on empirical evidence and public input.
  • Officials using demographically representative data.
  • Agencies prioritizing reforms and celebrating small wins. Understanding that technology is a vehicle to improve CX, not the goal itself.

This article appears in our guide, “A Fresh Look at Data.” For more ideas about how to use data in important and innovative ways, download it here:

Photo by Lukas at Pexels.com

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