The shift towards a data-driven approach cannot be achieved with a few simple measures, such as training and providing good examples. It requires a change in corporate culture as well as the employees.
To adopt a data-driven approach, people need a number of skills, such as a feeling for numbers and being able to perform simple analyses in Excel. This is where the government can make some improvements with their current staff. Particularly in smaller organisations, such as small municipalities or partnerships. Furthermore, municipalities have been given a lot of additional tasks in recent years and complexity has increased. Basic knowledge of data among current staff is essential to harness the power of data within the public sector.
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Training for current staff entails more than learning basic data skills, it also involves raising awareness about the possibilities of data. Ethical issues also need to be raised. This is important for the data scientist, but also very explicitly for the rest of the staff. Policy-makers especially need to be trained in what they can and are allowed to do with data. If necessary, the government — together with scientists — can develop a government-wide data dilemma-training programme.
Multiple existing initiatives
There are many initiatives for establishing or adapting training and data-related training and courses. RADIO (Rijksacademie voor Digitalisering en Informatisering Overheid, the Governmental Academy for Digitalisation and Computerisation of the Government) for example, developed a digital learning course on artificial intelligence, which started in January 2019 and which is available to every civil servant in the Netherlands. Universities, university colleges, Higher Vocational Education and market parties offer training courses on data-driven policies and working with data. Furthermore, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management commissioned Leiden University to develop a knowledge and change programme for middle management. The aim of this programme is to enfold a data-driven approach into the existing way of working.
In addition to training courses, events such as ‘hackathons’ and ‘data challenges’ are also a way to come into contact with data: in a short period time, participants learn what data are available and what possibilities they offer.
An attractive employer for data scientists
The government wants to be an attractive employer for data scientists; a sought-after profession at the moment. In order to recruit and retain those employees for the government in this time of great demand, government organisations must place these employees in teams where they have room to innovate. The availability of facilities and the career prospects are also important prerequisites.
Relevant data make the government an attractive employer
Data scientist is a collective name for a whole range of functions; the shortages are mainly in related functions, such as data engineers. An important point of attention is the gap between policy officers and data specialists. This gap requires investment in mutual understanding and co-creation. This can be achieved through training, focusing on creating strong contacts and active knowledge transfer.
Rapid new insights because of data matches
Trainees also play a role in linking policy with data science. Not only because of their valuable contribution to data projects, like writing their thesis, but also because such a project is a good introduction to the government organisation and its people, possibilities and purposes. This may make it easier for trainees to become employees upon graduating.
There are several initiatives to recruit (young) data and IT professionals for the government. For example, the Data Science trainee scheme that forms part of the umbrella Public Sector Business Support Agency (UBR) and the Government IT trainee scheme.
In the Netherlands, we need to do more to improve our IT knowledge and to prevent that knowledge from going abroad. At present, 62.4% of international students leave the Netherlands after completing an IT-related degree. With the current student numbers, that equates to more than 1200 students studying for an academic degree.
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Training and knowledge and change programmes
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations provides a professional development programme for creating data-driven policies via RADIO (Rijksacademie voor Digitalisering en Informatisering Overheid, the Governmental Academy for Digitalisation and Computerisation of the Government). We are investigating whether this training should become a standard or even a mandatory part of the employee development plan. (2019)
- Together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and Leiden University, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is investigating how the knowledge and change programme for middle management can be used by other departments and authorities. (2019)
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will determine if and how the Data Science trainee scheme should be expanded. (2019)
Keeping international students in the Netherlands
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations together with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), NL ICT, Nuffic and Talent Coalition Netherlands is drafting a coherent approach containing measures to increase the ‘stay rate’ of international students in the Netherlands. (2019)
Connecting policy and data science
- Via the Data-Driven Approach Learning and Expertise Centre, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is investigating how the University Data Science Centres can use their knowledge and expertise to encourage a data-driven approach within the government. Government organisations will bring a policy problem and specific expertise about an issue, and the universities provide expertise about the organisation and techniques of working with a data-driven approach. (2019 to 2021)