Gathering data is just the first step

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New information flowing into government will need careful and critical analysis, experts say.

The explosion of big data across government and industry is just the first step in developing more efficient, data-driven services, Corporate Executive Board managing director Sampriti Ganguli said Monday.

The next steps are figuring out what the data means, separating the wheat from the chaff and, finally, turning that knowledge into a new or updated set of services, Ganguli said during a panel discussion at the Excellence in Government conference put on by Nextgov’s parent organization Government Executive Media Group.

A recent Corporate Executive Board study found that 40 percent of knowledge workers thought they didn’t have adequate skills to interpret and draw conclusions from all the data being thrown at them, according to Ganguli. The best tactic, she said, is for organizations to create “informed skeptics” who know how to parse through troves of data with a critical eye.

Officials from the Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs departments took a data-driven approach on a joint initiative that contributed to reducing homelessness among U.S. veterans by 12 percent during 2010.

HUD, for instance, determined that grant money it was awarding to prevent homelessness would be better spent on rapid-fire programs to rehouse people immediately after they become homeless.

“We would love to prevent homelessness,” he said during the panel discussion. “Who wants to wait for somebody to become homeless to help them? [But] frankly it’s virtually impossible at this point to accurately predict homelessness . . . Even if you have the highest risk factors, 66 percent of the time those people who you’d say have got to become homeless don’t. So we frankly don’t want to commit a whole lot of resources to preventing homelessness when we’re going to be wrong at least two-thirds of the time.”

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