Future of Municipal WebsitesFebruary 16, 2023
By: Ralph Nikischer
A 2022 staff survey at 40+ communities in Illinois indicated that only 22% of respondents were confident they could return all information related to a specific address – a foundational dataset! Data is vital to local government service delivery, strategic planning, and innovation. Local government has been putting data to work for decades, and we now have access to more tools and data from which to derive insights than ever. However, poor data quality is widespread. It inhibits our ability to take advantage of innovative tools that could transform the industry. As a leader, knowing how to prepare for this transformation can be overwhelming, but there are tools that can help.
Creating a data strategy allows your team to focus on the information that is most important. It’s not about collecting more. A data strategy is a plan that outlines what data is needed and how it will serve your community. With it, communities can put data to use in processes like strategic planning, budgeting, purchasing, risk management, advanced analysis, decision-making, and customer service. Creating a data strategy is necessary for modern government and can be done in three parts:
- Identify data needs
- Create a data culture
- Implement the systems
Identify Data Needs
The first step in creating a data strategy is to enroll your team to generate the key questions that your community needs to answer based on its strategic plan. For example, key questions about revenue diversification, a common community strategic priority, might include:
- What are our current sources of revenue?
- What is our revenue distribution?
- What is our target revenue distribution?
Once key questions are generated, identify all data required to confidently answer them. In the key question examples above, you will need revenue data to respond with confidence. With key questions and data requirements identified, leaders need to begin communicating from a data-driven perspective.
Create a Data Culture
When shifting culture to become more data driven, community leaders must agree to this approach and then champion data use. Employees replicate the behavior their leaders model, which is why it is critical for directors and managers to demonstrate examples of data-driven decision-making. The example below cites the data used to arrive at an important decision:
We decided to defer this capital improvement project because our projected revenue for this fiscal year is down 3%. Deferring this project will close that revenue gap. Our engineering inspections indicate this asset can withstand 18 months of deferral. Based on these factors we are rescheduling this project for next fiscal year.
That message is rooted in data and will be passed through the organization. Over time communication like this will encourage others to embrace and use data to make and communicate about decisions. Creating a culture that embraces data takes time and will rely on sustainable systems.
Implement the Systems
Creating and implementing data systems should come after identifying your data needs. This order will allow your team to design systems that are efficient and outcome based. Communities often lead with purchasing a software system to solve what is truly a data problem. The result is spending money and not yielding the desired result. Implementing a data system is more than simply purchasing software. It requires data governance, documentation, management, and security. These elements are necessary for any system or software to sustainably function. Data systems are also dependent on cultures that embrace data. If teams are not supportive of being data driven, they will not invest the effort required to build and maintain data systems.
Data is a strategic asset and will continue gaining value and importance. Current and future tools heavily rely on quality data. A strategy for your data will help your community prepare for what’s next. Creating and implementing the strategy is an organization wide goal and relies on your leadership to make it a priority.