Data Strategy: 3 Tips for Building Yours

In a recent GovExec article titled “Can Transparency by Legislated,” Paul Eder makes the case that the availability of data in government is not enough to ensure transparency. Eder writes, “One can draw any potential number of conclusions from data in its raw form.” The question for government leaders then is how to provide that context? How do you justify the decisions you make based on the data available? Government leaders are under scrutiny to show that they are correctly investing their limited resources (time and money), but simply providing the data is not enough. They have to be able to justify these investments to their managers and stakeholders. And if your stakeholders or those beneath you do not understand why the decision was made, your efforts may not be as successful as they could be.

So how do government leaders go about justifying their investments?

Collect and Understand the Data – There is an explosion of data available today to government leaders. It provides a fertile field from which to begin your planning effort. But you also need to understand the limitations of that data. Know how it was collected and for what purpose. Those factors will shape your understanding of it. In other cases, you won’t have access to large data sets. As we’ve written before, not all data needs to be big data. There are many ways to interact with your stakeholders and customers to collect data points that are low cost, effective, and do not violate Paperwork Reduction Act or the Federal Advisory Committee Act. 

Involve Customers and Stakeholders in the Data Analysis Process – Once you’ve collected your data, use your customers and stakeholders to help you provide context and meaning for it. Start by theming your data or consider visualizing it to uncover connections and relationships. This will help your customers and stakeholders better understand the data and provide input on what conclusions can be draw from and ultimately what actions can be taken based on it. In this phase, you want to cast a wide net and get all the input you can.

Use Weighted Criteria to Prioritize – Now that you have broad input on what kinds of conclusions, hypotheses, and actions you can take based on your data, these need to be judged against a set of criteria. What are the most likely factors to affect the prioritization of your range of actions? This can include many factors:potential rewards, how big are the potential benefits of this action; feasibility, how easily can this action be achieved; impact, how far reaching will this action be, and many more. After you land on a given set of criteria, give each of them a weight. Then you can judge all available options against the weighted criteria and score your options.

Once a government leader has used his or her stakeholders to gather data, thought about all possible actions based on the data, and weighted them against a determined set of criteria, you’ve taken a large step to justifying the investments and decisions you are making.