“We collect and have a lot of data, but we don’t have enough analytical capacity to make it usable and actionable or to support decision-making.” This is the mantra of city government employees across the US. While city staff are willing, able, and available to grow their analytical capacities, they often lack the necessary resources and tools to make that happen. A solution many municipalities are looking toward is starting internal training programs to improve analytical skills. Here are 10 proven, logical steps to get your city staff trained to use data analysis for decision making:
- Identify data champions
The first step in creating an analytics training program is to figure out who can conduct the training. People with high interest and passion to using data often make the best champions — getting others on board during planning and training strategies development phase. Your champions promote the program and facilitate awareness about the training to encourage other staff to participation, as well as address questions or concerns at the early stages of the training program’s rollout.
- Conduct a skills survey
To guarantee that training is responsive to the needs of the staff, you should conduct a survey which not only identifies skills gaps among city staff, but also determines the analytics resources, tools, and applications available in city departments and agencies.
- Inventory technical resources
The market offers many technical tools for data analysis and, no doubt, many of these software packages will be used across your organization and with varying levels of efficacy. For instance, it is common for city staff to have access to Microsoft Excel, but there is likely less access to Tableau. You’ll need to determine which departments have access to which software applications. Based on this information, you’ll be able to best select the tools your training will use.
- Develop training structures
Once you understand staff training needs, you’ll need to determine how those fit into the city’s data analysis objectives. Identifying or creating these citywide objectives will help champions establish training priorities, as well as the appropriate tools and materials. After establishing the training objectives and priorities, the next important step is developing the content, methods and materials for the training. To get started, identify who would teach the course, how many staff could enroll in a class, and how many sessions would be offered and for how long. Develop a syllabus that clearly outline time commitment, grading rubric if any, readings and case studies as needed.
- Select a challenge
Training should not be theoretical. The best and most meaningful trainings are ones which are based on real data and real city issues. For example, the city of Gdansk in Poland is experiencing rapid demographic changes as a result of internal migration and wanted to improve its anticipation of this phenomenon to better predict trends in the future. The city selected this issue to work on for its analytical training in order to understand which districts it should invest in infrastructure (preschools, playgrounds, etc.) for its younger generations and its aging population (accessibility, open-air fitness, etc.) in the future. Give training participants a hands-on, real-world experience to address their problems for which data is readily available. If your city has identified several issues such as blight, economic development, public safety, infrastructure, etc. you should survey staff and residents to prioritize which of those issues would be ideal for the analytical training.
- Use what you have
Avoid the commonly held misconception that your government needs advanced and sophisticated tools or needs to make huge investments in new software to be successful. This is usually not the case. Tools such as Microsoft Excel should not be disregarded because they are ubiquitous and not flashy. Microsoft Excel Software is available at almost every level and department and is great to get most of the job done if not all. If you are in the market for something more “cutting edge”, there are dozens of open source analytical tools on the web that data champions can access with minimal investment.
- Look to other governments
A handful of cities are building structured training programs and could serve as an excellent example to the creation of your training program. Denver’s Peak Academy program teaches several tools and methods to equip their employees (at all levels) with analytical skills to improve their performance and make better decisions through data. Or you can look to partnership models like Kansas City, MO’s collaboration with Code for America to create Data Academy.
- Explore [free] technical and expert services
There are a number of free online platforms including Coursera and DataCamp, etc. that offer great training and resources on analytics. You can also check out the resources GovEx has put together providing online and in-person analytics training. (For more information regarding on-site, in-person trainings, please email us.).
- Pilot and iterate
Slow and steady wins the race, so take a methodical and scaled approach to launch your training. Launching citywide programs is extremely hard, so start by offering your training to one or two departments. From there, you can make adjustments to your offering and generate momentum for citywide training. Take an iterative approach to your build out. Regularly review all aspects of the training to improve the process, adapt it, and build on its successes. You can do that by going back through this list of steps. That will help you continue to improve the training content and methods. Over time, you’ll broaden the program’s reach to benefit as many staff as possible. Select projects with available datasets that participants believe in and are comfortable working through to generate insightful and meaningful results. Use the project to monitor the momentum and take action midcourse to correct any kinks that may be identified.
- Celebrate success
Keep the energy and momentum alive by applauding the successes of the training program. Celebrating success could be as simple as getting your team together for lunch or dinner to enjoy the spirit of camaraderie at the end of the training program– it doesn’t have to be complex. Also, celebrate and recognize individual staff who excel and distinguish themselves in the training with special presentations and awards. Awards could range from certificates, gift cards to job promotions. The greatest resource for the training are all the participants, so take time off and congratulate yourselves.