Today data is fundamentally important to meeting the mission. But in order for federal government agencies to use it as a strategic asset to inform decision and policy making, the agency at large must be rooted in a culture where the ability to read and understand data is the norm.
“As you’d expect, [many] federal chief data officers are highly data literate and are able to articulate the value of data to the mission,” explained John West, managing director of Defense and National Security at Verizon. “They understand where the risk is and the legal issues are with data, which creates a solid foundation for launching their agency’s vital data-driven work.”
While executives including chief data officers and chief information officers are critical for success, data literacy must be deeply rooted in all areas and at all levels of agencies – from executive direction down to tactical, entry level, processes. In building a culture of data literacy there are three strategies agencies can implement.
Build a Community and Recruit Champions
From executive to entry level, all employees must be data literate and understand that it is a priority for the agency. Agency pioneers “can include data scientists but also people who can think critically and strategically about data,” explained Andrew Churchill, vice president of federal sales at Qlik. “This core group leverages the organization’s data, people, processes and projects; has relationships and partnerships inside and outside the agency; and possesses an innovative spirit and dedication to the agency’s mission.”
Listen to Your People and Data
With a community rooted in the ability to read and understand data, it’s critical for agencies to understand how employees are using it. If employees feel that their data impacts decision-making and even change within the agency, data usage will ensue. Beyond that, federal agencies should be willing and open to question preconceptions about data and how it’s read, managed, manipulated, and understood in order to adapt strategies and cultivate new ideas.
Encourage Experimental Projects
To create a cultural change, agency leaders must be willing to support and advocate for new and innovative ways to use data in support of public policy. “At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, its data-literate community helped fight the water-pollution crisis in Flint, Michigan by developing an app to analyze the chemistry of water samples and track the degradation in quality over time,” explained Churchill. “The app played a crucial role in quickly improving water quality and safety for Flint residents.”
In recognizing data as a strategic asset, a culture of data literacy is essential for federal agencies. There are several strategies that can be implemented to cultivate this change. Once data literacy is woven into the fabric of an agency, executives and even entry level employees are better able to fulfil their mission of delivering services to citizens.
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