Data-driven decision making

by Will Gruber ([email protected]) 725 views 

Is state government most effectively utilizing its data to ensure cross-agency collaboration? According to the some Arkansas lawmakers, the answer may be no.

On June 20, 2019, a legislative committee began discussions on this timely and highly consequential topic —  how to harness big data to provide collaborative solutions.

Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, the sponsor of the enabling legislation, described the importance of data-driven strategies during the inaugural meeting of the Data-Sharing and Data-Driven Decision-Making Task Force (Data-Sharing Task Force).

Sen. English indicated that while the state of Arkansas spends significant resources, it is not effectively using data to make decisions on deploying those resources. If the state engaged in data-driven decision making, similar to private businesses, agencies could deliver more effective, less duplicative services.

The Data-Sharing Task Force was created during the 92nd General Assembly. Its primary purpose is to examine and make written recommendations on the following issues by Dec. 31, 2019:

  • The possibility of implementing a shared services model for statewide data-sharing;
  • Specific solutions and legislation necessary to create a statewide data sharing system for public state agency data; and
  • Funding mechanisms.

During the meeting, the Arkansas Department of Information Systems (DIS) outlined the “four C’s” of data sharing and data-driven decision making: collaboration, change, community and citizens.

DIS officials have faced the following issues regarding implementing more data sharing and data-driven decision making: reactive decision making; siloed data; inefficient, duplicative work; lack of standardization; unknown costs for duplicative services; few measurable outcomes; outdated, static, and incomplete data; and, inconsistency in data collection.

DIS presented a proof of concept (POC) created for the public safety agencies to examine the root causes behind recidivism and how to solve Arkansas’ large prison population through data sharing and collaboration. The POC determined that a 1% reduction in recidivism would reduce the state’s financial burden by more than $8 million over three years.

DIS praised the public safety POC as a stepping stone towards an Arkansas Data Hub (Hub), which would use data and collaboration to pursue several business cases, including, but not limited to, issues surrounding the effectiveness of Pre-K programs, the opioid crisis, poverty, mental health services and treatment, business development and growth, social services benefits, and reducing duplicative work and increasing efficiency.

DIS estimates the Hub would require an investment of roughly $4 million to initiate those business cases with another $1 million in annual maintenance costs. The Hub would allow the state to make real time, data-driven decisions and potentially lead to a significant reduction in state expenditures. The model for Arkansas’ Hub — Indiana’s Management Performance Hub — has created a roughly $40 million return on its investment in 18 months.

Several issues or fears have stymied progress on inter-agency data sharing.

First, each agency has its own legal department insistent on drafting agreements to their specifications. Standardized data-sharing agreements, like those used in Indiana, may be a useful compromise.

Next, agencies worry about losing control over their data. DIS reinforced the concept that the Hub would be the glue, connecting agencies and leveraging technology to develop the business cases, and that DIS would not control the data.

Other concerns, such as selling data, cost containment, and charging agencies for DIS services were also discussed. While DIS is a cost recovery agency, it was agreed that the HUB should be cost-neutral to the greatest extent possible.

As decisions made daily in state government impact citizens’ lives, data-driven decision making will be vitally important for the continued transformation of Arkansas government, to ensure cost-effective solutions that improve the lives of our citizens. More updates to come as these initiatives get underway.

Editor’s note: Will Gruber is vice president of government relations and strategic partnerships for Little Rock-based public affairs firm inVeritas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.