The public sector and data literacy

To meet consumer expectations in today’s market, there needs to be a data culture shift across the public sector. Simon Blunn explains why

Employment in Great Britain is at an all-time high, with the most recent findings revealing that the jobless rate is the lowest it’s been since the 1970s. During a time of continued uncertainty, UK employers have kept a stiff upper-lip and continued with their hiring plans – that is, apart from the public sector.

Findings show the public sector is least likely to recruit new staff, and is in fact looking to reduce the number of jobs to cope with austerity cuts from the government. This a worrying revelation, particularly when you consider the skills gap is growing all the time, and the sector is continually in the spotlight for issues related to productivity and performance.

What’s more, as data and the digital world takes over, public sector employees have become stuck in a catch 22: no new talent is coming in because of austerity measures, and existing staff haven’t been able to develop and upskill due to a lack of resources and training. This has unfortunately resulted in civil servants having to train themselves – in their own time – in order to digitally upskill.

Given the high expectations citizens now place on the public sector for greater and more efficient services, it is hard to understand why the data literacy of employees is not being prioritised.

Making data our second tongue
To meet consumer expectations in today’s market, there needs to be a culture shift across each organisation. Data is at the heart of everything we do, and the ability to understand and master the huge amounts of digital information available to the organisation is intrinsic for success. Key to this is instilling a culture of data literacy across the entire workforce – meaning employees at all levels can access and have the ability to read, work, analyse and argue with data.

We’re already seeing some public organisations move towards a model where staff are empowered to use data. Take Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) for instance. The trust has created an application that provides live A&E intelligence to all staff – doctors, nurses, clinicians and the board, giving a greater understanding of where patients are in their journey through the hospital. The trust has decreased waiting times by 30 minutes, saved over £1 million due to improved workforce planning and are, ultimately, all using data to save lives.

The key to WWL’s success was empowering all staff to work with data analytics by creating an easy to use and visually appealing application. Information generated from this application also feeds into a live, interactive screen in the A&E department – giving real-time updates into trust performance, and fostering inter-departmental collaboration and discussion.

Change from the top down
Encouraging the development of these skills needs to come from the top. Public sector organisations must not only be willing to invest in data training, but drive a culture change across the organisation. This requires five important steps:

1. Change will come, so be prepared:

There are bound to be changes to a business when more people become data literate. The key is to embrace this change – but still ensure the new ways of working align with the organisation’s culture, mission, and strategy.

2. Resistance is inevitable:

Whenever there is a change in to the way we work, there will always be hesitancy, resistance and barriers to adoption. Organisations will need to address the reasons for these barriers head on to overcome them, and prevent disruption to innovation.

3. Communication is key:

The leadership of an organisation must explain the benefits of using data – not just for the business but for individual job performance. Employees have to believe that the change will benefit them in their day to day work in order to be successful.

4. Define your roles:

As with training, a blanket approach should not be taken when it comes to roles and responsibilities. It will be vital to define how each job role will affected with regards to working with data, and ensure that this message is fed back to employees.

5. One size does not fit all:

Your employees are all individual, with different roles and facing differing challenges. The enablement of data literacy should not be a one size fits all approach, and leadership should recognise that there are different training needs and tools required at different times, for different users. As austerity continues, public sector organisations need to become far more digitally and data-savvy to make the most out of the information available to them, and providing staff with the opportunities to develop their data skills lies at the heart of this. If they can instil a data-literate culture across the organisation now, the public sector has the chance to become a digitally driven, money-saving and thriving sector with improved services in no time.

Simon Blunn is UK managing director for Qlik.

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