Practicing Data-Driven Policy: Where to start?

As a lifelong policy wonk, I’ve been increasingly fascinated over the last four years with the trend to data-driven policy development models. I’ve invested considerable time investigating the potential for data-driven policy in Alberta, but in many ways I feel no further ahead than when I started – as least as far as uptake of new practices goes.

I’m convinced of the value of data and analytics for policy development, government decision-making, and operational performance. And, I’m well aware of loosely related policies and strategies that move toward open and digital forms of government.

But, it’s been nearly impossible to gain a toehold in bridging from what makes sense in theory to anything resembling application. Not only is there a dearth of tangible examples of data-driven government in Alberta (notwithstanding the City of Edmonton’s pioneering work); there appears to be a complete lack of information or tools to facilitate uptake or early adoption of data-driven practice.

If you’re a policy or public sector professional wondering, “how can data help me?” there are thousands of articles and conferences out there to properly school you. But, if you’re someone thinking “Great! Now how do I develop the skills, tools and partnerships to use data in my work?” – you’ll quickly find yourself out of luck.

Part of me wonders whether I just haven’t looked hard enough, long enough, or in the right places to find what I’m looking for. Maybe this is all unfolding behind the curtain, and we’ll wake up one Monday morning to discover a dramatically different working environment for policy professionals – one in which data is available, linked, and comprehensible.

If this isn’t the case, and there is a genuine lack of action underway to harness the potential of data in government, this gap needs to be addressed – and quickly.

Over the coming months, I hope to document my exploration of data-driven policy: my efforts to better understand it, to practice it, and to support – even champion – the growth of the practice. I’ll post my findings and frustrations here, and as always welcome discussion and suggestions.

One Comment

  • Lori Weber says:

    Congratulations to ADAPT MC on winning the bid for the Post-Secondary Mental Health Review. I think post secondary mental health initiatives may be your answer to your comments above and may be a tangible example of data-driven government in Alberta. The mental health work done appears to be a perfect example of data-driven issues brought forward to the government with a disparate but also complementary adoption of data-driven practice across the province (particularly by UofA, UofC and UofL) . I look forward to working with you on discussing and disseminating a truly great initiate that has the ability to change not only post-secondary mental health programming but also mental health for small communities across Canada….

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