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The top 5 things we learned about data at #fedcomm14

With over 400 attendees, 1,931,458 Twitter impressions and 8 compelling speakers, the 8th Annual GovDelivery Federal Communications Summit was all about data. However, it was not just about the velocity or volume of data that government has at their fingertips, it was about the relevant capacity in how government organizations can leverage and connect precise data elements to drive change, deliver impact, and create better lives for more people. For those of you who were not in D.C. for the event or were not able to join via live stream, we put together the 5 key takeaways below.

1. Data is human GovDelivery__67-X3

Big data isn’t only about the big picture. Our first keynote, Jer Thorp, Co-Founder for The Office For Creative Research & Adjunct Professor at New York University, showed this through powerful visualizations of data sets from NASA images of star movements to people tweeting good morning all over the world, illustrating that within big data is small data making an impact.

For example, by looking at Twitter data on a human level, you could combine tweets from people traveling to a new city and correlate that with the spread of infectious disease. Data is about the measurement of something. It’s not about excel files, or the 1s and 0s of the matrix, it’s about humans. There’s no such thing as non-human data.

2. It’s not just how you open data, it’s how you create friction with it GovDelivery__131-X3

Abhi Nemani, formerly of Code for America and the first Chief Data Officer for the City of Los Angeles talked about the world of open data and its evolution beyond an “if you build it, they will come” strategy. The Web has evolved beyond that model.

In 2003, 3 out of the top 10 TIME websites were government. But “I can haz cheeseburger” changed everything. People made and shared their own memes. The model flipped upside down from publishers pushing content to everyone creating content and sharing it together. Take Wikipedia for example, which went from one encyclopedia to becoming entirely crowd sourced.

Now, TIME’s top 10 sites have a user-generated aspect. The model went from consumptive to participatory. The point? Open data is only powerful if you build a community around it.

3. Goals drive how data is collected and used GovDelivery__115-X3

Scott Burns, Co-Founder and CEO of Govdelivery, talked about how goverment can convert a goldmine of data into real results. Look at a traditional marketer’s funnel. Selling stuff is simple. Amazon, Starbucks and Delta all have the same goal: make a profit. There’s always money at the bottom of the funnel.

But what’s at the bottom of the public sector funnel? It’s not cash, it’s better lives for more people. It’s the public taking some kind of action: reading, understanding, learning, training.

So how do you get people to take actions so they can have better lives? Use the data available to you in order to get your message out in a more effective manner. Look at message opens, every share, click, retweet, unsubscription, and sign-up. That’s the power of data.

4. Data can be powerful when you’re trying to make a pointGovDelivery__208-X3

On the panel, Janice R. Noll, formerly at GSA and CDC and now CEO of Digital Government Consulting said data is your friend. For federal gov, data is invaluable to try new things, to prove a point, and to validate why you should be taking a new path. People having been doing things a certain way for a long time, but data is powerful to help you make your case for something new.

Take for example the CDC H1N1 crisis. The CDC knew the information it was sending wasn’t just important to subscribers of the CDC’s messages, but everyone. So it partnered with other federal agencies to exponentially increase the reach of H1N1 information by adding links into their email footers. Testing and measuring the impact of this new strategy enabled the CDC to continually cross-promote its message with other agencies to get life-saving information to more people.

It’s not enough to know the spikes in the users or the metrics, you need to understand the why.

5. Data must be collaborative, not siloed GovDelivery__218-S

Also on the panel, Andrew Hoppin, CEO and Co-Founder of NuCivic pointed out that data shouldn’t be siloed. You publish a data set so that the public can interact with it and poke holes in it. This process makes it better and gets feedback to you.

This doesn’t only apply to government to public collaboration, but collaboration among systems within a government agency. Customer service calls should inform Web. Web should inform email and so on.  Use data to think about how processes can work better to make an impact.

6. BONUS takeaway: Start small

Here’s one last nugget of advice from Janice on the panel: don’t try to solve all the problems of the world. Rather, take an iterative approach. Small successes can build rapidly. For example, look at how many vaccinations were scheduled as a result of an email campaign. That shows ROI and helps inform what is needed for next year’s campaign.

For more information on how you can use data trends like big and open data to transform the way your government organization influences, communicates and interacts with the people you serve, download our State of Data Guide.