Eleisha Hawkins, General Manager, Data System Capability, Stats New Zealand, New Zealand

By Yun Xuan Poon

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

I’m the General Manager of Data System Capability at Stats NZ.

The work of my team gives effect to the Government Chief Data Steward (GCDS), a functional leadership role for ‘data’ established by the Public Service Commissioner. The GCDS leads by facilitating and enabling a joined-up approach across government.

In support of these aspirations, Data System Capability sets standards for the government data system, designs frameworks to support agencies to implement system initiatives, and provides direct support and training activities across the data system.

Through these actions, we’re building an inclusive and integrated data system, the benefits of which are manifold. We can save time and money, reduce duplication of work, increase transparency around government decision making, design better policies, and make sure New Zealanders get better service from their government.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

This has been a huge year for Data System Leadership in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Recently, we released the Government Data Strategy and Roadmap, which provides a shared direction and plan for the government data system of Aotearoa NZ. Our objective is to create an inclusive and integrated data system.

For us, inclusivity means anyone who wants to access data to inform decision-making can do so in a way that works for them.  It’s also about ensuring that the people of Aotearoa New Zealand see themselves reflected in the data the system produces.

When our system is integrated, we’ll be creating maximum insight with minimum burden for providers of data. Importantly, we’ll be able to share data easily while also protecting privacy, security, and confidentiality.

We’ve also finalised the first iteration of the Data Investment Plan – a 10-year plan for strategic and sustainable cross-government investment in data.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

It goes without saying that 2021 has been a challenging year. For me personally, working through the restructuring of our wider group has given me some opportunities to reflect.

I’m excited about our new structure and the way we plan to lead the data system, but I definitely went through the ‘grief curve’ in getting to this place – particularly with regard to letting go of some functions.

It’s been useful to consider the ways I process change. I’ve been proactive about shifting my focus from what I have lost, to what I have gained. Learning I’m able to do that intentionally feels like a bit of a superpower.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

In the midst of the pandemic, time with my family this year has been extra special. Dancing and singing around the house with my girls has brought me so much joy (despite their commentary on my singing!).

Professionally, leading the development of the New Zealand Government Data Strategy and Roadmap.

I spent months building relationships and creating opportunities for informal conversations with peers across the system. I was very deliberate about being an active listener, and integrating what I was hearing over coffee, into our draft document.

When the time for formal engagement came, our key stakeholders understood our approach and saw their thoughts reflected in what we’d developed. My diary was a real challenge during those months of meetings, but I firmly believe it’s what set us up for success.

It’s been a significant undertaking and to have the work welcomed so enthusiastically was really gratifying. Our Deputy Government Statistician said he’d never seen anything endorsed so resoundingly by the data system. That’s something I will hold on to.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

If you work in Data or Statistics, you’ll be familiar with the adage, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. With this in mind, we’re developing a Data Maturity Assessment Framework. The Framework will offer a baseline view of an organisation’s data maturity – giving the Government Chief Data Seward a consistent way to assess agencies, and a means to see system growth over time.

What are your priorities for 2022?

I’m looking forward to standing up an Agency Partnering team in 2022, offering a tailored, hands-on service to other government agencies to address weaknesses in the wider data system. And of course when we re-run our Maturity Assessments, we’ll have tangible evidence of what we’ve achieved and where next to focus.

In 2022, we’ll move into Phase Two of the Data Investment Plan. In this next phase we’ll be digging deeper into Māori data needs. Māori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand and as partners of the crown under the Treaty of Waitangi (the country’s founding document), it’s essential their needs, aspirations and priorities are visible in the Data Investment Plan.

On top of that, we’ll be developing mandated standards for use across the system, building a capability programme, producing a report that assesses the health of the data system, working on initiatives to improve the data system for Māori iwi (tribes) and Māori, and Pacific nations… among many other things!

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

I am more inspired by specific behaviours than individuals, but I often think about how a leader I once worked with knew the name of everyone in the organisation, and always took the time to chat. It made such a difference to morale and it’s something I try to replicate in my leadership roles.

I also get a lot of inspiration from working with a coach. My coach knows me well. She always boosts my confidence, reflecting objectively on how I work and the value I bring to my organisation.  Equally, she helps me focus on my goals and identify the actions I can take to achieve them.

What gets you up in the morning?

My children! Literally and metaphorically, but that’s probably not the answer you are looking for.

I am lucky to genuinely enjoy what I do and the people I work with. My best days (contrary to how many others feel!) are leadership team offsites when we build our collective direction and approach, and grow our knowledge and appreciation of each other.

Seeing the New Zealand government data system mature and take a collaborative approach to achieve system-wide wins is huge for me. Of course, it’s a work in progress, but I see change. I love working with colleagues across the government data system to encourage this.