justifying your investments

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.

Stakeholder Engagement: 4 Tips for Taking It Online

I’m sure you’ve noticed a bit of chatter lately surrounding federal agencies’ pursuit of smartphone apps, data portals and other stakeholder engagement platforms. Leaders intend these innovations to attract visibility to agency activities and establish themselves as digital leaders in an industry that typically has been slow to deploy consumer-facing technology. The underlying enthusiasm behind improving stakeholders’ digital experience is well intended – government should always seek better ways to understand the needs and expertise of constituents. However, too often agencies will rush to procure a new toy without doing proper due diligence. Questions regarding cost of investment, cost of ownership, potential readership and application maintenance need to be considered before acquiring any digital tool. Without sincere requirements gathering, a new engagement platform might be seen as a leader’s pet project and negate the benefits of transparency, co-authorship, time effectiveness and stakeholder satisfaction that were originally intended. I have written about the upside of experimenting with low cost or Open Source solutions, and these gains are especially apparent when considering a stakeholder engagement platform.

 

Here are 4 success factors to incorporate into your online stakeholder engagement strategy:

1. Defined Intention: Market demand should prompt the launch of a new stakeholder engagement platform, not technology push from in-house decision makers. Agencies should gauge the success of “engagement” by the community it fosters, so it only makes sense to make sure that the platform satisfies a stakeholder or programmatic need before rolling it out. Be specific in defining why your organization needs stakeholder input, how much access you want to provide them, and what types of interaction they’ll respond positively to. This helps narrow the myriad of nuanced, low-cost technology options that are at your disposal. For instance, a content aggregator might fit if your agency wants to establish itself as the nexus of an emerging thought leadership community. A crowdsourcing Wiki page is best suited for data collection and stakeholder authorship on a topic that internal staff doesn’t have the bandwidth or expertise to master.

Sadly, most citizens won’t download an app only to read about new contract awards and speaking engagements. And that’s okay since you wouldn’t want to use this one-way engagement model anyway. Most agencies’ missions are too complex to define success by simply counting clicks or pages per visit in isolation. Modern engagement in the public sector renders technology into sustained, positive relationships with stakeholders that improve the discourse surrounding an organization or program. Aim for an engagement platform to foster two-way communication – where agency leaders raise public awareness on agency vision and receive direction from stakeholders.

2. Avoid Unnecessary Cost: Entry-level web development shells to build these engagement communities are available for (next to) nothing, and allow staff without HTML and CSS experience to build clean, functional platforms. These development engines alone won’t get you all of the capabilities that modern web users want without a little work, but they’re quick to market and avoid sunk time, cost and productivity. Plus, nearly all can be easily integrated with free, off-the-shelf plugins like Google Apps, jQuery, and these landing pages. These low-cost additions will invite more conversation and traffic to your cause without the time or headache that results from manual development.

Web-hosted communities will also save your agency countless hours by reducing the need for 1-on-1 conference calls and out of town meetings by engaging stakeholders at scale. Pairing this convenience factor with minimal tech overhead will boost productivity, budget execution and goodwill with stakeholders.

3. Transparency & Visibility: Regardless of their level of involvement, executives, staff and stakeholders can continuously monitor progress on an effort when an engagement community is hosted online. Entire teams can contribute ideas, pose questions and network amongst themselves at their own convenience – and all parties involved will thank you for it.

The online collaboration model also harnesses the power of peer Review and the“Wisdom of Crowds”. Gathering as many data points as possible from a diverse stakeholder base will stress-test your agency’s direction without the need for separate research efforts.

4. Motivated Coalition: Transparent, web-based platforms allow your core stakeholders to invite peers to the cause, creating self-sustaining momentum around your program. Transform an ordinary working group into motivated evangelists by capturing this momentum in final products and strategic development. Stakeholder advocates represent trusted communication channels to state and local constituencies, and ensures that your agency’s knowledge products gain traction (and don’t just gather dust on a shelf somewhere.)

 

What challenges does your organization face when engaging stakeholders? How could low-cost online platforms help mitigate these challenges?