5 ways to turn big data into better government

USDS's Mina Hsiang says big data offers simple solutions to the vast majority of customer complaints.

Shutterstock image: businessman weathering a data storm.

She was there to help mitigate the disaster that was Healthcare.gov. Now Mina Hsiang is trying to help government “extend democracy” with data — and she says the “easy stuff” can bring in the lion’s share of improvement.

Hsiang, the health data advisor at the U.S. Digital Service, offered a quintet of tips to a standing-room-only crowd at FedScoop’s Data Innovation Summit 2015 on May 7.

1. Deploy analytics to watch how users actually use your sites.

“In the early days of Healthcare.gov, the ‘user funnel’ was an exciting, useful way to see where the pipes were clogged,” Hsiang said.

By using a user funnel to essentially follow users as they branch and navigate through your site, you can see exactly how customers are interacting with your product – whether or not it matches with your plans or users’ expressed desires.

“Design like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong,” Hsiang advised, saying the important thing with users is to “see what I do, not what I say I want.”

According to conference organizers, the crowd was 400-strong and roughly 70 percent of the attendees were from government. It was a stark demonstration of room for adaptation, then, when Hsiang asked how many people used back-end data analytics on customer-facing websites. Only “half a dozen hands” signaled that they were using back-end analytics.

2. Target, target, target.

Whenever they’re rolling out new initiatives or merely executing existing missions, agencies need to ask themselves up front, “Who is eligible?” and, “Who is most likely to respond?” Hsiang said.

Too often, programs or surveys are mired down with responses from citizens who were never eligible in the first place, and outreach dollars spent attracting non-eligibles are wasted.

“You cannot overestimate how much further your money will go” if outreach dollars are targeted precisely at the right populations, she added.

3. Use data and research to design public policy.

Hsiang touted the profound impact big data could have informing public policy proposals.

In a later presentation, the Commerce Department’s Deputy Chief Data Officer Lynn Overmann echoed Hsiang’s advice, noting how crucial the accurate demographic and police incident data from Baltimore and other communities are to informing the debate around – and potential policy proposals for addressing – concerns about policing.

4. Make the complex easy for users.

Deploy “collaborative filters” in the way that private companies do so that users going through government procedures -- say, a name change -- can benefit from the experience of the crowd and see a list of “suggested forms” pop up in the same way that Amazon shows “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” boxes under each product, Hsiang urged.

5. Make people’s lives easier.

Agencies must “toe a fine line between creepy and incredibly convenient,” Hsiang said.

It’s a thought the Federal Communications Commission CIO David Bray echoed later in the day. Government and the public need to have a conversation centered around the question, “At what level do we want to retain checks and balances and at what level do we want to make your lives easier?,” Bray said, citing concerns about government tracking and the fact that, had the Founding Fathers been around to see the growth of big data, they’d probably be skeptical of too much data collection, no matter the benefit.

Hsiang proposed a fix from the private sector to alleviate privacy concerns: Openly display the methodology used to offer users suggestions, in the same way LinkedIn has begun showing users the reasons it suggests certain people as possible connections.

Overall, Hsiang said, big data offers simple solutions to the vast majority of customer complaints.

While highly complex machine learning tools can add even more sophistication to the user experience, Hsiang said: “Eighty percent of the gains [to customer satisfaction] come from the easy stuff.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.