Government leaders should encourage officials to be more inquisitive in order to create a data-driven culture, according to a report by Johns Hopkins University.

“Good analysis flows from curiosity and inquiry” and “Governments should seek a “culture of inquiry” and ensure that culture is informed by data,” stated the report, published by the university’s Centre for Government Excellence (GovEx).

It advises government leaders on how they can bring about this change in their organisations. First, it should not be communicated to staff as a “culture change”. “Instead, focus on changing the factors, behaviors, and conditions that affect and reinforce culture”, it says – like people, incentives and structures.

Officials should focus on developing skills and recruiting the right talent. “Governments need the best and brightest working on society’s toughest problems, but struggle to identify those with advanced skills in data and analytics,” GovEx says.

Agencies must look for a mix of technical programming skills and good communication skills when hiring analysts.

Officials should also identify existing data and analytics talent in the government. They can create an “analytics community of practice” in their agency, and promote it to any official who has a passion for using data to solve problems. Agencies can also build specialised teams to work on analytics projects that cut across government programmes.

Leaders must also be specific about their vision for the organisation. “Do not describe the culture you want in vague terms (e.g., more innovative, collaborative, customer-centric),” it says. The vision should describe specifically what an agency should feel like from within, and employees’ views should be taken into building this.

Successes should be celebrated internally. This creates “healthy competition” inside the department and “signals that data-driven behaviours get rewarded”, the report says.

Such rewards will also catch the attention of teams which are not contributing to the goal, and inspire them. “If a competing department gets more money in the budgeting process or more positive attention in the media because they practiced one of the model behaviors, then the stubborn department might pay closer attention in the long run,” GovEx says.

Progress towards the vision should be measured across multiple dimensions including: core operations, critical thinking behaviour, implementation of specific changes, and staff’s attitude.

Government leaders should identify “key influencers” in their organisation – officials who are respected regardless of their hierarchy. They should regularly check with them to “assess whether they see evidence of culture change”.

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