The Data Strategy for Federal Agencies

November 11, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

The Data Strategy for Federal Agencies

Photo credit: Wonderland/Flickr

It’s often said that data is the one source government organizations have in abundance. Nowhere is it truer than in the U.S. federal government.

Federal data use has made some notable headlines this year. The OPEN Government Data Act passed in January as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Making law and, this summer, the White House released its Federal Data Strategy Action Plan.

While federal agencies vary wildly in missions, budget, and strategies, they now share a common overarching goal under the Federal Data Strategy Action Plan: leverage data as a strategic asset.

“New tools, technologies, and norms are creating opportunity to use data to bolster the federal government’s mission delivery, service design, and tax-dollar stewardship for the public,” wrote Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget in a memo about the Federal Data Strategy. “In order to leverage these opportunities, the Government must address consistency in skills, interoperability, and best practices in how agencies use and manage data.”

The strategy sets up three guiding principles: ethical governance, conscious design, and a culture of learning.

To build a high-impact data strategy, federal agencies need to focus on building momentum. Check out our recipe for success:

1. Build your team: One of the key pieces of getting started is building the right team to provide checks and balances that protect and serve the public. While privacy, security, and confidentiality must be maintained where appropriate, government leaders recognize the value of transparency. Public agencies that have appointed data stewards have experts on their side to implement the best practices for data use. With a strong team and governance processes in place, government leaders can promote transparency and build public trust.

2. Solve problems and let the rest follow: You don’t have the luxury of limitless time and resources. Focus on solving problems and build foundations as a by-product. As you deliver wins, improve iteratively, and leave the organization stronger with each cycle. This ties back to an organization’s ability to improve data collection, analysis, and collaboration with ongoing input from users and stakeholders. As cycles grow stronger, you can establish a baseline, gain support, collaborate, and refine.

3. Use data to deliberately bust silos: Often the greatest opportunities to improve programs, service delivery, and workstreams is between silos, not within them. Look for projects that cut across bureaucratic silos to solve cross-cutting issues. When taking this approach, organizations can harness their existing data and ensure relevance by leveraging existing data and demonstrating future use of that data.

4. Put people at the heart of your program: Successful data programs aren’t just about technology. They’re about people, culture, training, and making sure your stakeholders are onboard with your short- and long-term roadmaps. Not only do organizations need a culture of making smart use of data, but a culture of valuing data for the public good. It also requires an atmosphere of accountability. Organizations need to assign responsibility, review and audit their data practices, learn from their results (good or bad), and make adjustments. When organizations invest in learning, they develop data leaders and build the cultural elements to be successful.

By empowering government workers, policymakers, and the public to share, communicate, and use data more effectively, federal agencies are on the precipice of a monumental shift in government.

With this framework, these agencies can implement a modern data platform that strengthens collaboration, provides actionable insights, and maximizes the impact of data to solve real-world problems.

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