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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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Data is at the center of the new race for technological superiority, however, data without analytics, automation, and technical know-how are just numbers on a page. Agencies need new approaches and on June 30 at a ‘Getting Gov the Right Data Skills’ webinar, Federal data experts revealed one method is to upskill an agency’s data workforce.

Upskilling demonstrates a commitment to people, builds an inclusive culture, and attracts and retains talent — all of which drive sustainable performance improvement and accelerates digital transformation.

According to Taka Ariga, chief data scientist at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), due to the modernization efforts across the Federal government, the volume and complexity of the data being generated have increased. Therefore, part of GAO’s data strategy is to ensure that the upskilling process is specifically relevant to the audit tradecraft regarding answering researchable questions. A data literate workforce is essential. But the GAO saw a learning gap within their agency; data literacy through PowerPoint courses only goes so far. There was no clear indication that learning was leading to application, there was a lack of reinforcement learning in a sandbox environment, and training material needed curated learning points.

“We created a sandbox environment where people can practice data literate techniques on-demand. Part of our data literacy curriculum was to identify curated learning paths so that whatever the techniques or the capability that analysts learn were relative to that particular domain in which they operate,” Ariga said.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also launched a data literacy curriculum in 2020. This is an agency-wide data literacy curriculum that is delivered as part of an e-learning series.

“E-learning is an excellent tool because it’s on-demand. Our staff can take it at their own pace, and it’s designed to be an on-the-job resource for that reason. And we’re an international developer organization, so the modules are tailored to our agency mission,” said Julie Warner, data scientist at the USAID.

According to Warner, the tailored mission outcomes of the USAID are being increased through data literacy; tailored to the unique agency’s needs. USAID conducted an agency-wide data literacy skills assessment to curate a curriculum designed to meet the agency and workforce needs.

But at a state and local level, managing data and analytics support becomes more challenging to addressing needs as a whole.

The City of Boston, for example, relies heavily on individual departments to make investments within their workforce to either create new positions or improve existing jobs that are entirely or at least partially focused on data.

Stefanie Costa Leabo, chief data officer of the City of Boston, explained that her team offered training to upskill Federal workers’ data literacy to improve data management within individual city agencies like the treasury department.

“We’ve created a lot of resources and guides that are available on a centralized internal documentation hub so that if someone has a question about how to do a common task or execute on a type of data project, there’s a resource there that can get them started,” said Leabo. “We need to understand the workflows that are generating this data in the first place so that we know what we’re working with and can be confident in the quality of that data.”

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