Data 101: Embracing the Power of Data – A Guide to a Smart Government

By Syazwani Tajudin (Wani), Data Strategist at Derilinx

For public service bodies (PSBs), data is like a treasure trove of insights that can lead to smarter decisions, improved services, and better policies. But how do we create a culture in the public sector that loves data and uses it wisely?  

In the second blog post of the Data 101 series, we will explore the tactics essential for nurturing a stronger internal culture of data proficiency within public sector bodies. We will put a spotlight on key factors like leadership, training, the art of clear communication, and unlocking the full potential of our “Data Dream Team.” Get ready for a journey into the world of embracing the power of data! 

Why Data Matters for Government

Imagine if your government could make decisions based on facts and evidence, not just gut feelings. That is the power of data. It helps PSBs to better allocate resources where they are needed most, provide better citizen services, and make policies that serve the public needs. 

1. Leadership: The Guiding Light

LeadershipTransforming any organisation starts at the top. This is especially true for the public sector; the key stakeholders in PSBs, such as department or business unit heads, must lead the way in valuing and using data. PSBs can effectively utilise their current internal data resources and facilitate better open data sharing across public agencies and published information to keep citizens well-informed.  

Example 1: Ireland’s Open Data Portal and National Public Service Catalogue 

At the end of 2018, the government published ‘Public Service Data Strategy 2019-2023‘, a comprehensive plan outlining its goals and better-managing data resources internally and across the public service in general. 

To support the Strategy, the government laid out two initiatives to improve how data is handled in the public service sector. The first initiative is the ‘National Open Data portal’ (data.gov.ie), a central portal that provides access to all governmental open data. This portal provides access to Irish public sector data that are free to use, reuse, and redistribute. The second initiative is the ‘National Public Service Data Catalogue’ (datacatalogue.gov.ie),  data held by Irish public service by cataloguing and describing public service data. The catalogue provides the key data of Irish public service, including personal data, business data, and data critical to business decisions or service delivery.   

These two initiatives play an important role in shaping a data culture within the public service bodies (PSBs) and the public by promoting openness, accessibility, and collaboration around government data. It empowers PSBs and the public to leverage data for various purposes, ultimately leading to more informed decision-making, innovation, and positive societal outcomes. 

2. Training: Making Everyone a Data Hero

To make our government more data-savvy, we need to teach everyone how to use data, not just the techies. Training should be easy to understand and follow by staff from all business units and functional areas. 

Example 2: Ireland’s Open Data Training

In Ireland, PSBs are given open data training opportunities where staff can learn about general introduction to open data, training on the open data directive, training on data audits and data publication, training on data analytics and visualisations, training on data anonymisation techniques and introduction on linked data. 

This empowers all staffs within public service bodies (PSBs) to utilise data for enhanced decision-making, regardless of their individual roles. It serves as a clear illustration of how smart governments, such as the Irish government, provide customised training programs to boost knowledge and skill development, ensuring that their staff is well-prepared and aligned to the strategy. 

3. Communication: Sharing the Data Story

Data alone is not enough; we need to tell a story with it. That means presenting data in a way that anyone can understand, not just data wizards. 

Example 3: Usage of Open data in Ireland (Showcases) 

The Irish government presents a collection of the best examples of public datasets in use, to provide further insights, ideas, and inspiration. They have been featured in articles and written about in news reports and blog posts. The public datasets have been used to build apps, websites, and visualisations. These examples vividly illustrate the effective utilisation of public datasets to gain insights and address real issues that concern both public service bodies and the public. This promotes transparency and encourages innovative public sector data applications that are accessible to everyone. 

4. The Data Dream Team: Heroes Unite

TeamTurning a government into a data powerhouse is not a one-person job. It takes teamwork. That is why PSBs need their own “Data Dream Team” made up of people from different functional areas within the organisation. 

Example 4: Read Data 101: The Data Dream Team – Exploring the various roles in data-driven organisations

5. Sparking Innovation with Data Challenges

InnovationTo get everyone within and across the public sector excited about data, government can host and incentivise data challenges and competitions. This encourages various departments within and across public service bodies (PSBs) to get together to solve an existing data or business problem. This provides an opportunity for a fun and interactive platform drawing ideas from public service staffs to improve the current work process through embracing the power of data.  

Example 5: UK’s Civil Service Data Challenge 

The United Kingdom government host an annual Data Challenge where public service staff can pitch ideas for how the government could make better use of data. The public service staff know how to address the weaknesses of the current data and realise their potential better since they are the ones who manage, maintain, and use the current systems on a daily basis. The winning team would win £5,000-worth of technical support and the backing of top civil service leaders, and the idea will be moving toward the implementation stage. 

Example 6: Singapore’s GovTech Data Arcade Tournament 

Since 2018, Singapore Government Technology Agency host an annual Data Arcade Tournament for public service staffs to compete in and derive meaningful insights from a real-world dataset. From knowing their target audience to appreciating a diversity of perspectives, participants picked up important lessons on using data for public good. 

Conclusion: A Bright Data-Driven Future 

Becoming a smart government is an ongoing journey, not a final destination. However, this journey offers numerous advantages. It involves having leadership that values data, providing training for all staff, ensuring clear communication, fostering teamwork, and embracing exciting challenges. These components work in harmony to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of our government. Data serves as the key to a brighter future for a smart government and delivers benefits to its citizens. It’s time to lead the way towards a future where facts and evidence guide decision-making, ultimately improving government performance for everyone. Furthermore, this approach builds trust and engagement by wholeheartedly embracing the power of open data for the societal benefit. 

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