Data Analysis: Explore and Refine the Problem You’re Trying to Solve

February 21, 2018 7:29 am PST | Data as a Service

In the previous blog post from our Socrata Data Academy team, you learned how to identify the problem you’re trying to solve. The next step is to leverage what has already been figured out by others. You should be willing to revise your problem with new information.


Exploring What You Know 

No data analysis problem is novel. Sometimes when someone attempts to solve a new data analysis problem, they reinvent the wheel. Instead, a good way to start is by leveraging what has already been figured out by others who have solved similar problems. A 15-minute conversation with someone could end up saving you hours or even days of work.

This could involve:

  • Reach out to colleagues – There are likely those in your department who have unique perspectives on the problem, an understanding of what resources are available, or knowledge of related analyses that have been done before.
  • Interview subject matter experts – Interviewing subject matter experts on how the different parts of the problem interact with each other might help narrow your research.
  • Consider the work of other government agencies – Many other government agencies in your city or in other cities have likely tackled similar problems.
  • Look into online research – Look for published reports, blog posts, or online message boards from groups that have solved similar problems.

You can learn what others have done and either decide to stick with it or improve it. Doing this bit of research will definitely be your most efficient route.


Be Willing to Change Course When Needed

As you talk to others, it is very possible that you will learn information that forces you to change the way you view the problem. You might learn about data or software limitations, about new factors that could be causing the problem, or about a new way to define the problem. As you learn new information, it’s important that you are willing to change course when needed.

It’s OK to change course. No data analytic process ever goes as planned, and you shouldn’t let that discourage you because you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s all part of the process!

Some of the most successful businesses changed course early in their history. As Mike Cassidy at BloomReach pointed out, “Netscape started as a gaming company, Apple was strictly a computer maker, Twitter was going to be a podcast platform. None of them ended up where they started.”


Socrata Data Academy

Socrata has created Socrata Data Academy, a series of free, online courses designed for government workers, in order to teach basic to advance data analysis skills. “Exploring and Refining the Problem You’re Trying to Solve” comes from the first course, Introduction to Data Analysis for Government.

Learn more about how to explore and refine the problem you’re trying to solve by signing up for the free course today.

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