What is a "data-driven" culture?

Many government leaders believe they need a “data-driven culture” to usher in more effective and efficient services to residents – because they see the following scenario(s) inside their organizations:

Leaders and managers rely primarily (sometimes exclusively) on gut instinct and experience to guide their work. Data seems trapped in silos. Employees are not using data to inform their work out of reluctance, fear, lack of awareness or training. Tools used to manage and analyze data are intimidating, and very few people understand which tools to reach for first. All the while, technology becomes cheaper, the world becomes awash with data, and everyone wants to “work smarter” not harder.

Compared to this reality, a “data-driven culture” seems appealing. However, data is not the secret ingredient to a “data-driven culture.” To borrow a phrase from Alicia Dowd: data doesn’t drive. So chasing a data-driven culture is probably the wrong goal. Data requires analysis to generate insights. It doesn’t jump out of the database and into a decision maker’s head on its own. And good analysis flows from curiosity and inquiry, otherwise analysis is just an answer in search of a question. Therefore, governments should seek a “culture of inquiry” and ensure that culture is informed by data.

What does a “culture of inquiry informed by data” look like?

  • Leaders, managers and employees can communicate the government’s return on investment in data and analytics and believe managing with data is good for performance
  • Leaders, managers and employees promote the safe democratization of data, increasing data’s accessibility to those who need it
  • The organization has clear strategic priorities whose achievement is quantifiable and measured - and everyone understands how their work contributes to those priorities
  • Data is part of everyone’s day-to-day operations
  • The chief executive and senior leadership team routinely ask questions whose answers require deeper analysis of the underlying dynamics of every problem
  • The organization has an intentionally designed relationship to its own data which feeds every employee the information they need to be informed and answer relevant questions.
  • Employees spend more time on analysis than producing reports or collecting data.
  • Analytical products created by employees:
    • answer the key questions of decision makers
    • include summary-level and disaggregated/segmented data analysis
    • are easy to digest and understand
  • The organization values, leverages and understands the difference between quantitative and qualitative information
  • The government leverages decentralized analytical teams across programs, but also maintains a centralized analytical unit for enterprise-level analysis and coordination
  • The government’s reliance on external consultants is proportional to their maturity with data and analytics.

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