Build a Culture to Value Data as an Asset

January 27, 2020 by Courtney Smith

Build a Culture to Value Data as an Asset

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The success rates for data projects is — frankly — low.

VentureBeat AI reported in 2019 that 87% of data science projects never make it into production. Gartner estimated in 2018 that 85% of big data projects would fail to go beyond piloting and experimenting within two years.

More often than not, the problem isn’t technology.

Culture is routinely cited as government leaders’ number one challenge for scaling a data program.

Public sector employees recognize that data is an integral part of their jobs. They see that data in one department may be valuable in another, and that data can tangentially be important in other decisions. However, the challenges to get there are vast.

Varying standards of data quality, ad hoc data-sharing agreements, and fear of misinterpretation, misuse, or reprimands can stifle a culture that supports the collaboration needed for data-driven decision-making.

There are four key ways to shift government culture to one that values data as an asset.

  1. Create active participation: You can’t be the only person driving the program. Appoint data stewards within each department or establish a data committee that looks at ways to incorporate data into decision-making across the organization.
  2. Collect useful data: Often times, the question is not “what data do you have?” but rather, “what question are you trying to answer?” Collect data that gives insights into the work you’re trying to do. If no one is using the data, evaluate why it’s collected in the first place.
  3. Formalize a policy: Outline how data is governed, the responsibilities of staff to make data available, and in what format it must be available. Many concerns that stifle a shift to a data culture stem from a lack of policies — will my data be misinterpreted? Who will have access to it? How will it be used? Formal policies will address this.
  4. Facilitate leadership buy-in: Leadership can set the culture by using data themselves and by asking for it. Fulton County secured executive level buy-in to get its data program off the ground, but also needed support from department-level partners, the custodians of data, and staffers who frequently engage with the data. It established a 20-person centralized committee with members from legal, purchasing, finance, IT, executive management, and others to ensure a wide range of stakeholders were at the table.

Most governments aren’t at the point of being able to fine-tune their culture around data — they’re still on the first leg of the journey. Our passion at Tyler is working with public employees to navigate that journey and make sure their data programs are successful.

With these four steps, the culture around data and how it’s leveraged can begin to shift.

When that happens, public sector leaders can begin to know where they’re doing well and where they can improve, and even more crucial, actively work to make improvements based on evidence-backed insights.

The key is to start small and grow a champion base. With a few wins under their belts and a few champions on their side, data leaders can share a story that inspires others. Some call this theory “wash, rinse, repeat,” but I like to think of it as the snowball effect. People may seem resistant at first, but by scoring a few easy wins, you can build support and grow the demand for data and insights.

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