Innovation: More than following the data

Data is critical to spurring practical innovation at agencies, but deriving real intelligence requires context and focus, experts say.

Government innovation is being sparked by advances in artificial intelligence, cloud, on-demand technologies and data analytics, according to Stephen Goldsmith, director of Harvard University's Innovations in American Government Program.

The flood of data being made available by government can also be fuel for innovation and efficiency,  but only if it is properly managed and interpreted, he said at an April 25 workplace innovations event at the National Academy of Public Administration. Most importantly, analytics of that data, he said, can ferret out where government agencies fall short in delivering public-facing services.

In breakout sessions at the event on innovation techniques, the growing importance of those technologies, as well as cloud were apparent.

One federal manager said AI and robotic processing automation have helped reduce time-consuming repetitive tasks. A former federal agency employee said software-as-a-service applications had allowed her agency's IT workers offload tedious data-entry tasks. Outsourcing those duties to SaaS allowed those employees to step up to the jobs they were hired to do.

Data is critical to spurring practical effective innovation at government agencies Data is critical to spurring practical effective innovation at government agencies. But deriving real intelligence from data requires context and focus, Goldsmith and others said.

By way of illustration, Sharon Kershbaum, chief operating officer in the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services, pointed to a program developed by her agency to help unemployed residents connect with jobs. The program, driven by data input on job openings, was initially successful. However, six months after it began, those same successful job seekers were back looking for work because their new jobs were in areas they couldn't easily get to or because day care for their children hadn't been factored into the placement.

The program, said Kershbaum, didn't look at the reality of what its users were facing.

A deeper look from the customers' perspective would have shed light on their goals. Innovating for users, she said, "is not just about following the data."

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

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