The Case for Evidence in Government

Although the U.S. government presides over what collectively must be one of the world’s largest data repositories, its capacity to use that data to build citizen trust and make informed, evidence-based decisions is severely constrained. As explained in an enlightening report recently issued by the bipartisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP), the mere existence of data is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating empirical evidence to inform decisions throughout the full lifecycle of public programs—enactment, funding, operation, reform, termination.

The digitization of many facets of various activities the government funds through its $4 trillion annual budget has resulted in a data explosion at federal agencies. (For more, click here.)

How have you seen your organization move to an increased use of data to make decisions?


The Performance Revolution Government Needs

In a recent column, Terry Gerton, President of the National Academy of Public Administration, noted that government will not be able to solve many problems until the civil service system is reformed. NAPA’s new white paper, “No Time to Wait:  Building a Public Service for the 21st Century,” spells out the need clearly.

I have made the same argument many times in this publication, although my background is very different from that of Gerton’s or the report’s authors. I have never worked in government. The qualification that’s relevant here is the realization that people who look forward to going to work in the morning are lucky.  I’ve known too many government employees who are frustrated and angry about their experience at work.

But several comments added at the end of the column raise an important issue. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree or disagree with the author’s premise that there is a need for a “revolution”? Why or why not?


A Playbook for User-Centered Hiring

A new analysis of government hiring found the “very people they need to make government more responsive to the public are the people driven away by the poor user experience.” …  Hiring managers routinely complain about the lack of qualified candidates for positions. Code for America saw this as a problem because in order for governments to serve the American public in the 21st century, the nonprofit believes governments need to be able to recruit 21st century talent. So, in the fall of 2016, Code for America started investigating ways governments could meet that challenge, by launching a talent initiative to study roadblocks governments face when trying to recruit the best talent for these positions. By interviewing 28 people in all parts of the job seeking process, from those who have a job in government to those considering a job in government, the study identified some common themes preventing good people from applying and getting jobs in government. For more, click here.

Do any of the common themes identified in this article prevent good people from applying and getting in your agency or organization? Would using a user-centered, data-driven approach to hiring help your agency better hire the employees it needs to accomplish its mission? If you were CHCO, how would you apply the information in this article to your organization’s hiring policies?

Use Data, Not Assumptions, to Improve the Customer Experience

Agency leaders and the citizens they serve are not always on the same page.

Most federal leaders assume they understand the needs and problems of those coming to them for assistance, whether it’s veterans, businesses, college students, senior citizens or others who rely on the government for help. But they do not always have data to justify those assumptions about their customers.

A new report from the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services, “Government for the People: The road to customer-centered services,” examined agency efforts to implement a customer-centered approach, and found many challenges. At the same time, the report offers examples of successes that can be replicated across government.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Who are the customers you, as an HR practitioner, serve? How could you use data to improve their performance? What data would you use and how would you collect it?

How You Can Use Social Media Analytics to Advance Your Mission

The December attack in San Bernardino prompted people to ask whether the government should be more active in using social media data to anticipate violent behavior. Certainly, social data can be highly valuable, but it has limitations, and agencies should be aware of how best to use it.

Here are some areas where social media can provide valuable insight:

Determining sentiment. It is very useful to understand how citizens feel about certain issues such as a new a policy. Many programs will try to determine sentiment by categorizing certain words as positive or negative, but there are limitations. Something can be said with sarcasm or irony and mean the opposite of what outsiders take at face value. True sentiment analysis must take context into consideration. (For more, click here.)

How can you use social media analytics in your organization, in your job?

Focus Surveys: A Tool for Exploring Agency Survey Results

Agencies such as OPM or MSPB survey Federal employees to obtain their perceptions or attitudes about a variety of work and workplace characteristics. These surveys measure broad topics such as employees’ satisfaction, commitment, and engagement levels; they do not elicit employee attitudes about events and concerns within a particular agency, sub-agency, or work unit. If an agency is interested in understanding employees’ perceptions of in-house issues such as a recent organizational restructuring or a new employee development program, personnel policy, training initiative, leadership change, or technology introduction, agencies must administer smaller, more tailored, focus surveys to their employees.

Focus surveys are short (5-10 minutes and 10-20 questions) and have a specific goal such as identifying employee concerns or soliciting program improvement ideas. For example, changes in the availability of training resources may be important to employees who have come to rely on such support. Leadership may administer a brief survey asking for perceptions of impact and ideas for resolution while providing a voice for employees reluctant to express themselves in other ways. Focus surveys can also be used to follow up on patterns identified in Governmentwide surveys, such as OPM’s Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) or MSPB’s Merit Principles Survey (MPS). For example, the MPS survey may reveal employee concerns about workplace fairness. These opinions may be explored further by an agency, through precise questions about the procedures for distributing resources and how individuals are treated in the process.

A focus survey has several steps, as outlined below.

  1. Identify areas of concern. Agencies may wish to conduct employee focus groups to discover important issues and to develop associated questions. This communicates to employees that leadership is aware of specific issues and allows for more tailored questions.
  2. Design the survey. Focus on only the areas of concern identified. Write questions only on topics for which you are able to take action. Hold the survey length to 5-10 minutes.
  3. Communicate about the survey. Inform employees: (a) the purpose of the survey; (b) when and how you will share the results; and (c) how you will use the information they provide.
  4. Field the Survey. Your agency may have tools for designing and administering a simple survey. If not, many vendors offer free or relatively low- cost options for short web-based surveys.
  5. Collect and analyze the survey responses.
  6. Report the survey results. Be candid about any unfavorable results, as honesty goes a long way toward increasing organizational trust.
  7. Act on the results. Select at least one area for action. Following any survey effort, it is essential to show employees exactly how the results of the survey are incorporated into leadership’s decision making and how employees’ views are used to better manage the workplace. Agencies must communicate how the results figure into the business process—that they are taken seriously and may prompt action.
  8. Follow up. Conduct subsequent interviews, focus groups, or additional focus surveys on any themes or patterns that emerge to better understand the findings. Focus surveys are an effective way to explore in greater detail—at a local level—employees’ attitudes about work and workplace characteristics. Short, targeted, and fast, focus surveys are a tactical tool that leaders can use to enhance and complement larger Governmentwide survey efforts.

Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board

Managing with Blinders On

In this article on, the author states, “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the processes that produce the records, but little to nothing on analyzing and using the data for constructive purposes…. If we truly want to improve [our] processes, we have to start making use of the data that we already have and stop treating the data just as records.”

The author then goes on to suggest some ways to use data already gathered by OPM and agencies to improve hiring and turnover.

Read this article and suggest other ways data could be used to improve federal HR processes.

Managing with Blinders On