A Data Reform Strategy for the Victorian Public Service – Good news but have we reached data utopia?

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A Data Reform Strategy for the Victorian Public Service heralds a new regime of data management skills, processes and culture within government. It’s good reading if you can get past the jargon.

Reading through the recently released report A Data Reform Strategy for the Victorian Public Service, I am reminded of an episode of the ABC satirical program, Utopia. In this particular episode, a minister receives a report from his department and is so clearly embarrassed by the fact he doesn’t understand it, given its language and jargon, that his ministerial advisor quietly asks another government executive to read and interpret it for him.

The Data Reform Strategy seeks to embed new skills, processes and culture to drive the development of better government policy and supporting services across the Victorian public sector. However, while this is a timely and necessary initiative, I challenge anyone to read the report all the way to the end and feel as though they clearly understand it. But more on this later.

Data Reform Strategy

Regarding the intent of this Strategy, the Victorian Government should be applauded. The Government recognises the need to bring the analysis of data into the core function of agencies to ensure the best use of the data available, within and external to Government. It is also an opportunity to create new forms of data that can be shared and utilised across organisations. This will lead to a more effective and efficient government and better outcomes for citizens.

The Strategy has three core objectives that will build foundations for deeper data reform:

  1. ensure capability uplift
  2. achieve process improvements, and
  3. build a data-driven culture.

Using these foundations, the Strategy discusses the need for an extended timeline for achieving the significant transformation required across the Victorian public sector, out to 2030. This will require a commitment to a sustained set of rolling actions across government.

It will be the role of the new Victorian Centre for Data Insights (VCDI) within the Department of Premier and Cabinet to drive the implementation of the Strategy, even if other agencies carry out some of the work.

Public Sector Reform

The Data Reform Strategy is positioned within the overall context of Public Sector Reform. And certainly as you wade through the Data Reform Strategy, there are some nuggets of gold around the Victorian Government’s reform agenda. These include:

  • Public Sector Innovation Strategy – fostering innovative work practices
  • Behavioural insight – using business intelligence to improve policy and service design
  • Outcomes approach – a consistent approach to measuring outcomes
  • Public participation – refreshing how the Victorian public sector consults and engages with the community
  • My Victoria – a place-based open data portal
  • Victorian Centre for Data Insights – the newly created centre will have a broad portfolio of work, including coordinating and leading data reform
  • vic.gov.au
  • People capability uplift within the public sector
  • Evidence strategy – fostering the use of stronger evidence in policy development (including data analytics), and
  • Victorian Government ICT Strategy.

Within the context of the ICT Strategy, the Data Reform Strategy notes: “Government is increasingly a designer, manager and steward of systems, rather than a direct deliverer of services.” This is a mature way to look at Government’s role in service delivery.

The Strategy continues: “As systems steward, the public sector will set goals, monitor performance, and ensure the systems work smoothly. Data is key to unlocking optimal system-level visibility and real-time monitoring.”

In the same theme, the Strategy notes that: “Government must also have maximum access to data generated through its service delivery supply chain, and the data capabilities to be able to dynamically interact with it.”

Priority Areas of the Strategy

The Data Reform Strategy has been developed around five high-level areas of priority:

  1. Incentivise better use of data
  2. Establish a data linkage and analytics environment within Government
  3. Develop people capabilities
  4. Strengthen and streamline analytics processes
  5. Drive data analytics innovation

Against these five areas of priority are 20 actions that form the Strategy’s Implementation Plan to be undertaken over the next 18 months. A significant number of the 20 actions are concerned with establishing new guidelines, policies and practices to underpin the transformation journey.

Of interest to the technology industry is the action to “Scope and establish the Victorian Data Partnership“. This partnership appears intended to provide a collaborative mechanism between the public, private and research sectors for ideas exchange and incubation, as well as technology trend advice. While this concept needs to be further developed, we welcome industry engagement being put at the forefront.

The delivery of the Strategy is also heavily premised on the implementation of the Victorian Data Sharing Act 2017 and we applaud this action as well.

Like the ICT Strategy and Cyber Security Strategy, the Data Reform Strategy has a helpful summary table in one of its Appendices summarising the actions against planned delivery.

The Strategy is comprehensive and far-reaching and provides a strong case for the reforms it advocates. It also provides opportunities for industry to identify how they can help the Government in achieving these reforms.

And, don’t forget, you are more likely to get a meeting with Government to discuss data management if you can tie your initiative to the actions within this Data Reform Strategy.

Utopia?

Now, back to the point I made in the first paragraph. While the Strategy document has, no doubt, been written by authors who are highly skilled and knowledgeable, it is quite ironic that a report all about the use of data for greater clarity and insights is rendered almost unreadable, in parts, by the style and type of language used.

I felt at times as though I was reading a doctoral thesis.

I have noticed a tendency over the years that some Government reports tackling complex issues, and published for public consumption, seem to have been written in an echo chamber. That is, they use phrases and jargon that seem to be meant to impress one’s peers and thus render them somewhat incomprehensible to readers outside of this cohort.

In contrast, there are good examples of well-constructed and clearly and concisely written Government documents that explain complex issues and communicate well. The Victorian Government’s ICT Strategy and Cyber Security Strategy come to mind.

The authors of the Data Reform Strategy would do well to heed one of Mark Twain’s rules of good writing – never use a $5 word when a 50c one will do.

 

To obtain a copy of the Strategy, please email publicsectorreform@dpc.vic.gov.au.

1 comments in this article

  1. Paul Rosham

    David, is their report available on-line as well? The link would be really handy!

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