A recent White House webinar on Big Data helped launch a major campaign on big data in government. Studies from the McKinsey Global Institute show that government has much to gain as a sector, from getting the right returns in big data, but an open question remains. Is ‘big data’ going to stitch together disparate agencies, siloed information systems and distinctly different ways of thinking about mission? Is data, in fact, the solution, or is it actually the problem?
This is a key conclusion of an article CEB just published in the Harvard Business Review. In previous posts we described how IT should respond to this insight deficit . For example, offering a choice of BI tools, targeting the design of dashboards and reports, and making information easier to aggregate and filter. But as the article makes clear, this is not just an IT problem. Better tools and usable data must be complemented by employees capable of “big judgment” when using information to make decisions. So what should government leaders across the rest of the organization be doing in addition to providing and linking big data? They need to bolster training for data analysis. In a recent cross-industry survey , we found that 82% of employees conduct at least some analysis as part of their jobs. Without adequate training, agencies need to invest not only in PhDs and those schooled in advanced analytical methods, but they need to find individuals with those skills who can also coach and teach. Most importantly, agencies should encourage collaborative decision-making processes. The processes must encourage critical and non-linear thinking, make biases and assumptions explicit, and acknowledge and account for unknowns. Processes that encourage collaborative (not to be confused with consensus-driven) decision making often share these traits.