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Author: Ian Farrow, Managing Director of Westco Communications


‘Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.’ This Dan Ariely quote, Professor of Behavioural Economics at Duke University, from 2013 still holds true today – but why?

Things have moved on since 2013, but one reason why we haven’t made the progress we should have across public service is the ‘analytics gap’. There is a lack of understanding from some service managers in public service of the increasing importance and sophistication of analytics. There is also a need for analysts to understand the business better when developing data models and analyses. 

This leads to managers not realising the power of the data they possess and the analysts doing terrifically complex predictive forecasting that no one can understand or see the benefit of. 

How to reduce this ‘analytics gap’? We need to address it from both the production and consumption sides of analytics. 

We need analysts to get close to service delivery from the supply side to co-create data models and interventions that can help solve sticky problems. 

From the consumption side, we need to train managers in the basics of predictive analytics. This is especially true in communications, which requires analytical and creative input, particularly when we seek to change behaviour. Communications people are creative by nature and, in my experience, have an innate understanding of human behaviour or psychology. If managers understand the basics of probability, their eyes will light up with the potential of its use in segmentation, forecasting and understanding patterns of behaviour held within the data we hold. 

I recently attended a data analysis for Management online course. An eight-week introduction to probability, data and visualisation of results. I am not a statistician and never will be, but this short course gave me an understanding of what is possible, a vocabulary to talk about it and a framework to start commissioning work. 

Service managers in public service continue to be insanely busy putting out the fires of crisis and helping communities recover from the pandemic. We need to find time for them to learn these analytical skills otherwise the benefits of the data our organisations possess will not be realised.

Join us at Westco Academy for our 'Driving a data-driven decision-making culture' course on Thursday 22 July from 10am to 1pm, developed to bridge the 'analytics gap' for managers.

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