Critical Read

Lessons learned in federal analytics programs

data to decisions III report

What: "From Data to Decisions III: Lessons from Early Analytics Programs," by the Partnership for Public Service and the IBM Center for the Business of Government

Why: The federal government has analytics programs going back decades. As agencies look to find new ways to use their data to measure performance and make projections about the future, these early success stories provide a road map for smart thinking about analytics.

In 1986, the Agency for International Development launched the Famine Early Warning Systems Network to combine data about factors that contribute to the outbreak of famine. The service combines satellite weather data and agricultural information with data on trade from U.S. and international organizations to project the vulnerability of various parts of the world to famine. The early warning system gives aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations a heads-up on trouble spots, and is used to help direct about $1.5 billion in food aid per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a system called PulseNet in 1996 to trace incidents of foodborne illness back to their sources. The network connects 87 public health labs and saves an estimated $291 million in medical costs annually. Other case studies involve defense against invasive plant and animal species and a biometrics database designed to track adversaries and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These "mature data programs" provide an opportunity for federal managers to discover what works and what doesn't, according to the report. Effective programs have a few common characteristics, including a powerful sponsor inside the agency, the ability to show return on investment, and motivated users who refine the analytic tools and provide answers to mission-critical questions.

Verbatim: "Most analytics pathbreakers are strikingly collaborative. They seek out like-minded souls who might already have collected data they can adapt to their purposes or who have developed new methods for prying out or combining it."

Download: Get the report.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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