Meeting the Workforce Challenge: Strategies from Kansas City and Massachusetts

August 9, 2018 12:48 pm PST | Data as a Service

Government organizations across the country are adapting to a shrinking workforce by using data, technology, and broad employee education on data analysis.

I’d like to highlight organizations and leaders profiled in Socrata’s recent paper, The Public Sector Skills Gap: Empowerment Through Data in a Time of Change, that are not only addressing an evolving workforce and associated skills gap, they are turning a moment of change into an exciting opportunity to improve processes.


Leveling Up Through Data Academies in Kansas City

With nearly 50 percent of its management staff up for retirement in the next five years, Kansas City, Missouri, is facing a Silver Tsunami. “We’re going to have a lot of knowledge walking out the door,” said Chief Data Officer Eric Roche, “but we’ve realized the flip side of that is also that there is an opportunity to reexamine how we do things and adapt because a lot of those positions may not be filled due to budget restrictions, and maybe there’s an opportunity here to be more effective.”


“…the more we can get people using data now, the more they will rely on it as they move into director roles. I’m playing the long game.” —Kansas City Chief Data Officer Eric Roche


Roche sees the effective use of data as the means to be more efficient and more sustainable, but also more equitable in Kansas City’s policy delivery. To this end, Roche’s office instituted its own data academy as a solution to leveling up and attracting a new workforce, focusing first on reaching the analysts class with relevant education. “We wanted to invest in the current analysts we have because, like other governments, money is tight and you can’t just add 50 or 100 new analysts whenever you want,” he said. “We also saw that this group will likely move up into leadership positions, so the more we can get people using data now, the more they will rely on it as they move into director roles. I’m playing the long game.” This investment, over time, will establish a cultural norm around data in the organization.

An interesting side effect to empowering the front lines is a shift in attitude about data’s place in policy. For many civil servants, edging into policy feels uncomfortable or too political in nature. Roche found the need to encourage analysts to go ahead and make arguments using the data. “We want people in these positions to not just run averages and hand them to the manager,” said Roche. “We want them to say what those averages mean and what the policy implications are.” Use of data puts everyone on the same page, Roche says. It removes anecdotes and results in objective decision-making by those who have firsthand knowledge of the effectiveness of policies.


Organizational Flattening and New Recruitment in Massachusetts

Records show that 30 percent of the Massachusetts state workforce is retirement-eligible, and 45 percent of staff will be at or near retirement age in the next five years. Comptroller Tom Shack relies on implementing innovative technology to keep the state sustainable through this spike in retirements.

The CTHRU open data records platform arose from Shack’s desire for a new model of data management to address the inevitable reduction in staff. The legacy system for maintaining and sharing the state’s finance data required hundreds of business and technical man-hours to support, while the new portal hosted on Socrata, which shows payroll, budget, and spending data, runs at only 14 percent of the former cost. In addition, easy access to the information by citizens and journalists frees up valuable staff time in responding to information requests.

“We literally cut out not just the middle man, we’ve cut out a whole group and a layer of bureaucracy around those public records requests,” said Shack. That the portal offers agile and engaging opportunities for external data analysis is also beneficial as a recruitment strategy. As nearby students experiment with the data, some may feel inspired to go to work in Shack’s office.

Learn more about how government organizations can embrace the digital transformation to succeed in citizen service delivery, and delve deeper into these organizations’ recipes for success in The Public Sector Skills Gap: Empowerment Through Data in a Time of Change.


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