Five steps to putting your people at the heart of the public sector’s data strategy

Five steps to putting your people at the heart of the public sector’s data strategy

In order to drive efficiency within a company’s business strategy, it must operate with a strong data-literate culture. Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy, Qlik, explores the steps that public sector employers can take to ensure their employees are able to confidently read, analyse, challenge and use data effectively.

From helping police forces to reduce crime rates, to better identifying the healthcare needs of patients, we’re increasingly seeing data-informed decisions being made to support and streamline operations throughout the public sector. That’s because governments and organisations realise that being data-driven and data literate are not just nice-to-haves. They are necessary in today’s digital world, not only to improve the efficiency of public sector organisations, but to deliver the agile services that citizens now expect. And in our current climate, this has never been so pertinent.

But while public sector leaders may recognise the value in driving decisions based on data, there is a widening gap between what they want to achieve and how well equipped their employees are to deliver it. According to the Human Impact of Data Literacy, a report from Qlik and Accenture on behalf of The Data Literacy Project, though 45% of public sector workers feel empowered within their organisations to make better decisions using data, the same amount confessed to feeling overwhelmed and unhappy at work at least once a week when reading, working with and analysing data. More worryingly, more than a fifth (23%) said they felt so overwhelmed when confronted with data that they avoided doing the task altogether.

It has never been more important for people to understand the information being presented to them every day, not only to help now but to equip them for the future. What, then, can public sector employers do to close this gap and support their workers to be able to read, analyse, challenge and use data effectively?

Here are five practical first steps that public sector leaders can execute on:

1. Appoint a data champion responsible for driving tangible results

Public sector leaders need to ask themselves two questions: what tangible value do they want to realise from their data? And are they currently set up to deliver the desired goals?

To identify opportunities that align with and will tangibly impact the organisation’s objectives, a data champion must be appointed. Typically, a Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO), their role would be to act as a data ambassador across the organisation, working with stakeholders to identify opportunities to better use data and establish a change management plan to successfully implement them.

Driving a data-literate culture is something that no one person can do alone. Therefore, a key function of the data champion role is setting clear expectations for the data-orientated working practices that need to be adopted in every function and at every level. This helps establish accountability for the adoption of new ways of working – not only for individual employees, but also for senior leadership, who must empower them with the necessary skills, tools and process changes. A top-down approach is critical to delivering true change and will ensure employees understand the positive contribution data can have to both their own role and for the broader business.

2.  Get prepared

Just as you wouldn’t commit to organisational restructuring without carrying out thorough analysis, nor should you embark upon a data strategy without an accurate understanding of the current state of data-informed decision-making across the organisation and the potential barriers to success.

When armed with that information, work with the senior stakeholders of each department and the data champion to ensure that every employee has access to the data and tools, as well as the appropriate skill level required to succeed with data in their role. This is critical, as the Human Impact report exposed a disconnect between leaders’ perception of their workers’ capabilities and actual employee experience. Indeed, 46% of public sector respondents believe that all or most of their employees have the tools they need to work productively with data, compared with just half of middle managers and below.

To gain an accurate view of data skills across the enterprise, coordinate focus groups with different teams to understand how they are currently using data and what further access and tools they need. An understanding of skill levels can be ascertained by using a data literacy assessment, which measures the ability to read, understand and work with data, rather than technical expertise. There are also free individual assessment tools available online, while bespoke, enterprise assessments can be provided by data literacy consulting services.

With this holistic view of employees’ use of data, the data champion will identify and dictate the investments that will empower employees to deliver against the organisation’s goals and for enterprise to action.

3. Arm employees with the right tools

As Mark Singleton, Associate Director of IM&T at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, said, ‘As data and analytics professionals, it is key that we are able to consolidate and simplify data, so it’s quick and easy for our workforce to consume’.

That’s why it’s essential to work with the CTO and CIO to ensure that the data tools serve the needs of each user. Not only will these tools look dramatically different across skill levels (for example, a finance analyst compared to a HR manager), but they must be easily integrated into existing working practices to encourage adoption.

Therefore, to support the uptake of data-orientated working practices, tools that are put forward for business users must meet the following criteria:

  • Relevant – Does this tool provide appropriate and useful insights that can inform the decision-making process for that role?
  • Consumable – Is the information presented in a way that can be easily digested?
  • Embedded – Can this tool be embedded into existing software, such as HR or CRM, so that it’s easy to integrate data insights into the user’s working practices? 

4. Educate to improve data literacy

The true benefits of data are realised when everyone – no matter their level or function – is comfortable and confident using data to inform the decisions they make every day. Yet, we are facing a significant data literacy skills deficit: just one-fifth of the global workforce report that they are fully confident in their ability to read, communicate with and make decisions using data.

Overall, 35% of public sector employees believe that data literacy training would help them be more productive. This can take many forms, with some integrating data literacy training into existing skills initiatives, while others provide standalone e-learning courses or specialised classroom training for staff. However, it should always be a continuous learning programme to ensure that skillsets are continually reinforced and developed. The data champion must therefore work closely with HR teams to evolve the programme every year in line with the organisation’s changing use of data and employee needs.

5. A constant state of evolution

To extract the greatest value from data, public sector organisations must constantly be exploring new opportunities to better inform processes and decision-making.

In collaboration with the data champion, leaders have two critical responsibilities here: firstly, they must ensure that this process becomes ingrained in the organisation’s DNA so that data is always used to effectively improve its competitive advantage. Secondly, they must ensure that employee skill levels, access to data and tools are continuously reassessed to ensure that they can deliver on these new opportunities.

People at the heart of successful data strategy

We are living in a time when we all understand that having access to reliable, accurate and up-to-date data is critical to decision-making. Yet, too few leaders actually lead from the front and recognise that success is dependent on their ability to empower employees to comfortably and confidently use data. Following these five steps, public sector bodies can put people at the heart of their data strategy to unlock the potential for data-informed decision-making and deliver the services and experiences that their citizens demand, as well as drive more efficient services during these unprecedented times.

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