Employee Skills and the Virtuous Cycle of Data Use
As the public-sector workforce shifts with retiring Baby Boomers and incoming millennials, data is emerging as the new knowledge base, or critical asset, for seamless transition and ongoing organizational sustainability. Especially in periods of change, moving raw data to actionable insights will create efficiencies and help governments solve problems and achieve strategic goals faster, and with less waste.
“If the data is there and the technology is there, but people can’t bridge the gap between the two, the organization cannot capitalize on the data’s potential.” —Kevin Merritt, President at Tyler Technologies, Data & Insights Division
A Virtuous Cycle
Effectively utilizing technology to leverage data for those useful insights requires leveling-up of new and existing employees so that the skills essential for bridging the gap between attrition and adaptation are solidly present. Kevin Merritt, President at Tyler Technologies, Data & Insights Division, offers this analogy:
“The ability of government organizations to effectively use data to weather challenges and improve program outcomes rests on a three-legged stool. The first leg is the data itself, which is always going to be there. The second leg is the technology that is in place for staff to access, manage, clean, analyze, and communicate around. The third leg — the leg that our Data Academy provides — is employee skills. If the data is there and the technology is there, but people can’t bridge the gap between the two, the organization cannot capitalize on the data’s potential.”
Once all three legs of the stool are firmly in place, employees can access and reuse data easily. With even foundational skills in place for employees to know how to work with data, a virtuous cycle begins: people using data; people asking for more data; people contributing to the maintenance and cleanliness of data; and, finally, people using data to analyze and identify insights for programs or policy.
The Socrata Data Academy and the Data Culture
The existing skills gap in public sector organizations is the impetus behind data-literacy training at all levels, and for all positions. In order for governments to fully leverage the potential of data, their most abundant asset, 20th-century public administration skills simply won’t suffice. The skills that specifically need to be addressed are those that enable staff to contextualize, analyze, glean insights from, and share data using appropriate technology; to frame any problem (or goal) of core service delivery in a data-driven context.
The successes and effect of data knowledge stretch across demographics — everyone, regardless of career longevity, can demonstrate in their own way an interest in data.
The Socrata Data Academy has engaged nearly 500 students through in-person and online workshops to date. The Academy exists to empower government leaders to leverage data using the right tools to boost their program delivery and outcomes. The successes and effect of data knowledge stretch across demographics — everyone, regardless of career longevity, can demonstrate in their own way an interest in data. In my experience working with Data Academy attendees, the best students are the ones who will talk about data — not in a structured way, but in a way that shows excitement and enthusiasm about its possibilities.
The Data Academy also contributes to knocking down the notion that data analysis is for IT staff only. The underlying philosophy that quickly catches on is that data is an every-department resource and something that any department can successfully use. Through the Data Academy, people gain the skills and know-how to execute analysis and gain insight.
As staff across an organization have the opportunity to learn, build, and practice skills, individual career movement is enhanced while staff also contribute meaningfully back to the organization. An added benefit to the organization is the emergence of a shared data culture once training begins. When employees across departments start using the same vocabulary and operate in the same context with similar frameworks and resources, collaboration increases and the organizational data culture moves forward. This data culture can extend even beyond an organization for regional benefit, a notion that is seeing momentum across the country. Agencies that previously operated independently are better able to collaborate on problems and issues facing their collective communities through the lens of data with shared terminology and similar tools and experience.
Download Socrata’s paper, The Public Sector Skills Gap: Empowerment through Data in a Time of Change, which discusses the new era of professional development in public-sector organizations and examines data’s ability to transform the workforce challenge into opportunity.