Category Archives: Policy Innovation

Practicing Data-Driven Policy: Where to start?

By | Policy Innovation | One Comment

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.

Show me the data

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Data is the new big thing in policy development. This seems a little odd to say since, in leading jurisdictions, data-driven policy and program development has been around for well over a decade. But in many ways it is new, and it’s far from wide-spread, in Alberta.

In the past conventional wisdom, such as the views of practitioners and stakeholders, documented thought leadership, and leading practices from other jurisdictions, was the primary source of guidance regarding future policy options. A major criticism of this approach is its focus on what has worked in the past instead of what is likely to happen in the future.

Data-driven policy relies on facts and predictive modeling rather than conventional wisdom to inform policy and program design, leading to user-customized interactions between citizens and government; and massively better results through prevention, early intervention, and targeted responses. An often-cited example is the use of data to predict where crime is likely to occur, guiding deployment of police resources to “hot spots” to prevent crime before it happens.

With increasing availability and quality of data, the opportunity for disruptive innovation in policy development exists across the board – in all spheres, at all levels. As policy capacity contributes to grow in Alberta’s public service, there is need to also establish the data and operational infrastructure to move rapidly toward new and more effective methods of policy development. The potential benefits are boundless.