How Investing in Data Literacy Can Strengthen Your Workforce, Improve Operations, and Help Optimize Services to Residents

How Investing in Data Literacy Can Strengthen Your Workforce, Improve Operations, and Help Optimize Services to Residents

Americans manage more and more of their daily lives through digital means, from fitness apps to e-wallets to ever-present smartphones. Those digital-first expectations now extend to their interactions with state and local government. Residents increasingly demand that agencies provide them with electronic experiences and digitized services.

In response, agencies have invested in digital transformation – not just in how they serve constituencies, but also in the way they manage day-to-day operations. Especially in the past few years, organizations have gained capabilities in cloud computing, mobile apps, hybrid workplace, data analytics, team collaboration, low-code application development, cybersecurity, and more.

But those digital advances place a premium on data literacy – the knowledge and skills required to work effectively with digital systems and data. It’s no wonder workforce development is a growing concern for state CIOs, according to a recent NASCIO survey. CIOs say their top talent priority is reskilling employees for modern tech demands. In short, state and local agencies are getting serious about investing in data literacy.

Six Advantages of Data Literacy for State and Local Agencies

A technical skills gap can threaten the progress your agency has made in digital transformation. But investing in data literacy can deliver crucial benefits, giving you a greater ability to:

  • Attract and retain top talent

    Professional workers today, especially younger cohorts, value technology and want to work for an organization that provides the latest digital capabilities. To compete with private-sector enterprises vying for top talent, your agency needs to offer employees the training and development they need to keep up with emerging technology. Prioritizing data literacy can signal your commitment to leveraging technology tools and data to drive decision-making and service innovation. It will help you attract and retain talented individuals with the right technical acumen – and help you build a data-driven culture.

  • Support evolving missions and programs

    Agencies evolve their missions over time to meet changing needs. They fine-tune existing programs and introduce new initiatives. Increasingly, missions and programs will be built on a foundation of digital tools, data, and analytics. Emerging technologies like machine learning (ML) and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) will become crucial enablers. You’ll need data-literate teams to fully leverage your digital infrastructure and growing data stores. Data literacy will enable stakeholders to understand resident needs, make data-driven decisions, and leverage the best technology.

  • Share a common knowledge base for better collaboration

    Employees should possess a shared understanding of technology tools, data concepts, and analytics techniques. Equipped with a common set of knowledge, they can better understand insights, communicate findings, and collaborate on making decisions and identifying solutions. Data literacy helps break down silos between teams and facilitates cross-functional collaboration. As your agency and others build data literacy, you’ll be better positioned to leverage collective expertise to address complex problems.

  • Respond to unexpected changes

    The pandemic showed that agencies need to be prepared for sudden, technology-enabled shifts in strategy and operations. Governments will always face new challenges to which they need to quickly adapt. Data literacy can help your organization understand emerging trends, recognize potential solutions, and leverage the right tools to pivot in the face of rapid change. Your teams will have the skills and understanding to make agile decisions and help sustain trust in government.

  • Run operations more effectively

    Efficient operations are crucial to effective government. Data literacy helps your teams leverage available technology tools, continually improve workflows, and perform more productively. For instance, data-literate workers should be better able to identify inefficiencies, conduct root-cause analysis, and implement evidence-based solutions. They can monitor performance metrics, track progress, and make data-driven adjustments to reduce costs, optimize resource allocation, and improve performance.

  • Deliver better services that drive better outcome for residents

    Ultimately, improved data literacy can help employees provide higher-quality services to the residents your agency serves. Data-literate workers are better able to anticipate demands, track KPIs, align programs with evolving needs, and measure real-world outcomes. Team members can take advantage of technology tools and data-driven insights to identify public needs, evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs, and design new initiatives that will serve residents more effectively.

Making a Use Case for Data Literacy

Innovative government initiatives increasingly depend on agency employees understanding how to capture, analyze, and interpret data. Even solutions designed to be easy to use can benefit from data literacy.

An example is the Virginia Analysis System for Trafficking (VAST), a data-driven solution for combating human trafficking in the Commonwealth of Virginia. VAST provides the Department of Criminal Justice Services as well as health and human services (HHS) organizations with insights into victims, offenders, and factors that increase incidence.

Data analytics and visualizations are central to use of the system. Stakeholders view color-coded maps and breakdowns of incidents by type of trafficking. They also have access to charts and graphs that show victim and perpetrator demographics, locations, and related issues such as drug possession. Such visualizations can reveal hidden correlations and lead to effective interventions.

The solution is designed to unite previously siloed data and make it easy for users to consume data. But the better stakeholders know how to work with data, the more they can benefit from analytics outputs.

As agencies depend on more digitized processes and as residents demand more digitized services, the government workforce needs the knowledge and skills to leverage technology tools, understand analytics, and make data-driven decisions. By investing in data literacy, organizations can build their future workforce, make their operations more agile and efficient, and optimize services to improve outcomes for the people they serve.

Interested in improving your agency’s data literacy but don’t know where to start? Here are five tactics for maximizing data literacy in your organization.

-Voyatek Leadership Team