Archives For Data-Driven


Preface: I did not write a formal posting on the Data for Policy confab this past September, but wanted to at least share the materials that I presented and discussed during the conference.

Abstract: The notion of Data-driven Policy making and its associated Governance, is often challenged by the fact that the vast majority of Politicians, Civil Servants, Champions of Industry & Non-Profit Leaders are basically illiterate in the domains of data, analytics & decision science. Most of these leaders have come up through their careers making decisions based on gut instinct (experience), group think (consensus) or by using a modicum of summary data & visual analysis, but few have either a base in decision science or statistics, much less have bootstrapped themselves along their careers to become Data & Analytics Literate.

Educators today are faced with the daunting task of preparing future generations of Leaders who must have deep competencies & acumen in all aspects of data, analysis & decision science. Many have chosen to focus on the dubious discipline of so-called Data Science. These endeavors are for the most part a cynical attempt by educators to latch onto the latest fad and to create degree programs based upon cobbling together a hodge podge of disciplines which is sold to unsuspecting students as either an Undergraduate or Post Graduate degree opportunity. All fail at their mission and leave graduates, much less future leaders, with a degree that is sorely lacking in the core skills and competencies required to succeed with.

In my presentation at the Conference I endeavored to trace the roots of how we got into such a mess, what needs to be done to prepare individuals to become Data-driven Leaders and how Educators must re-think their approach to creating/adjust curriculum and programs to put all students on a path to Data & Analytics competency and mastery no matter their chosen field of endeavor. I focused specifically on the notion of Top-down Data Leadership that I coined several years ago and use to drive convergence on the key issues and competencies required by all Leaders, Managers & Employees to be use data, analytics & decision science pervasively across their Organizations.

Handouts & Videos:


U-tube Interview:



I spoke at Data for Policy 2016 this past September on the issue of “You can’t have Data-driven Policy if your Leaders are Analytics Illiterate” ( ). I wanted to follow-up on those thoughts with this posting.


Strategy is the path that Leaders divine for Organizations to take in pursuing their short and long-term Goals (Outcomes). Leadership is the glue that keeps everyone & everything together during the course of pursuing these Strategic Outcomes. Data Literacy is the new intellectual underpinning of every successful Strategy going forward.  All three working in concert is how Organizations’ can exploit the potential of Data & Analytics for Strategic Success at the expense of their competition or to delight their Citizens. It’s what I refer to as “Embracing the Data Leadership Nexus”.

We now live in a time where every Champion of Industry, Politician & Civil Servant, is a self-proclaimed expert on Strategy and Leadership and yet most (if not all), are Data (& Analytics) Illiterate. Having no specific first-hand knowledge or experience in the domains of data, analytics & decision science, they continue to rely on “processed information” (via so-called Data Scientists) and personal gut instinct to formulate plans, make decisions with and to react to emerging situations. Without hesitation, each decides what balance of “head and heart” they will use for each & every decision. In a dangerous twist, many “Leaders” in recent times have decided to ignore Facts & Evidence altogether and base their decisions solely on Ideology. I am certain that most of our readers are aware of these as borne out in the major political calamities of 2016.

There are many who aspire to the mantle of leadership. It is a tough road for most with many pitfalls along the way. Surmounting these challenges is part of the maturation & hardening process that Leaders must go through to earn their stripes. The challenges leaders face today and in the future, will be many and ever-growing in terms of complexity (and nuance), but they now have at their disposal science-based Facts, Evidence and Methodologies for making data-driven decisions at every turn. All that is required is belief in the notion of data-driven decisioning and basic literacy & competencies in the use of data & analysis to underpin decisions, insights & ultimately strategy (and tactics).  While straightforward in respect to need, the efforts required to overcome the lack of Data Literacy by Leaders are substantial. The current (much less next) generation of Leaders and Leadership candidates are not equipped intellectually and experientially to be truly data-driven. They must be mentored, tutored and enlightened by examples of where data-driven decisions have paid off in terms of differentiation, insights, risk mitigation, etc. This approach will allow them to experience first-hand the personal growth that comes from investing time and effort in Data Literacy endeavors and the benefits that manifest from it. It will also heavily influence other Leaders and those on the Leadership track as to what the future holds in respect to competencies and the outcomes that can be achieved by a data-driven approach.

Leaders today face a barrage of hype about Big Data, Digital & Analytics. Few actually understand what any of it truly means, but all want to “have some” for their Organization. This paradox of need vs. understanding must be addressed through Data Literacy endeavors. Only then will be have Leaders (and those in waiting) who are competent in the domains of data, analytics, decision science and yes, even digital. They will then have the acumen (and confidence) to define Core Strategies that will leverage these competencies to achieve specific & sustainable Outcomes for their Organization, regardless of sector. It will also bring to an end to the nonsensical notion that Data & Analytics, Decision Science and Digital are “bolt-on” functional capabilities that require separate strategies (or Transformation Program to make them achievable. Every Organization, regardless of size, sector or mission statement must use its Core Competencies in an integrated form to create Strategic Advantage. Leadership that is literate in these same domains is well positioned to exploit them fully, while reducing inherent risks to a manageable level of tolerance. This is what Strategy has done for decades using stone tablets and chisels and will excel at in the future by exploiting the benefits of Data Literacy from the top down.

Post Script:

For further insights see McKinsey’s two (late 2016) essential studies on data & analytics “Making data analytics work for you—instead of the other way around”, & “The age of analytics: Competing in a data-driven world”.

 * – An edited version of this posting appears in the January 2017 issue of Information Age (UK) ( 


Definition: Post-TruthA phenomena found “after the continuous use of facts & experts derived from “for hire” sources to bolster seemingly outrageous arguments where the public (Electorate) switches off its acceptance of any facts, figures or “truths” and now consciously wants to be deceived (its new comfort zone).

Definition: DecisioningThe art of decision making. A combination of Facts, Evidence, Decision Science, Gut & Instinct. How each is weighted greatly affects the accuracy of the decision.

*Body: For several decades now, Business, Government & Non-Profit Leaders have been pursuing the common goal of Fact (Evidence) based Decision Making. What started out as the notion of Decision Support in the early ‘80’s, soon moved to the emerging field of Decision Science in the ‘90’s & beyond. Decision Science (a widely recognized branch of science) is where Data, Analytics, Algorithms and Decision Theory coalesce into a formalized discipline for Decisioning*. It’s use can be found across many geographies, within all sectors in small & large Organizations. The “Data-driven Cultures” created in these Organizations are much more pervasive than those who simply embrace the marketing term “Data Science” which seems to be focused exclusively on “self-aggrandizement & data wrangling”.

In recent times however, as Decision Science has become much more mature and widely adopted, we find that it has run head-long into the buzz saw of Politics where Data, Facts, Evidence and ultimately the Truth are bent, twisted & broken to fit the needs of ideologies, platforms and agendas in respect to achieving outcomes which are “counter-factual”. One only needs to examine the three most recent Elections/Referendums in the UK, as well as the current US Election cycle, much less the current Brexit negotiations (or the EU Phony War if you rather) to appreciate just how much of a Post-Truth World we have now entered.

In today’s Post-Truth World, not only are stated facts meaningless i.e. lacking in veracity, but the pursuit of the Truth has become derided by many.  The arc of this effect has reached the point where the majority of the Electorate are now demanding that it be lied to by its figureheads so as to constantly reinforce its own particular ideology in spite of the reality around it. This is a clear threat to every democracy around the world where an informed, much less literate, Electorate is required to provide checks & balances to government overreach, much less holding them to account in respect to delivering the services & protections that society demands. For someone who has just arrived on Earth and is observing this effect first hand they might ask; “Are there any real differences between so-called Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes?” These effects are no less profound in the Commercial and Non-Profit Sectors where we constantly see “Dubious Data, Questionable Facts & Outright Lies proffered by Executives, spokespeople and PR hacks.

How should we cope with this challenge?

 First and foremost, wherever your role lies in the data, information & analytics supply chain you cannot abandon your mission to deliver the highest-quality information & insights in support of Decisioning at every level. You must insure that strong & independent Data Governance & Data Ethics bodies are in place and their guidance is employed by all practitioners and consumers of these deliverables and that regardless of the outcome, the Facts stand on their own merits (subject to peer review and A/B testing, etc.). Only by creating (if not already established) a bedrock data foundation for Decisioning, built on transparency, veracity, lineage, proven rigors & pristine quality can a platform for the “Truth” be achieved, much less maintained. It is critical that as the Post-Truth paradigm plays itself out that this foundation for the Truth be maintained and protected at all costs. The old adage that the “first victim in war is the truth” applies to everything in the Decisioning Supply Chain and those who support it, much less rely on it, must be ever-vigilant to protect its transparency.

Each of us will be challenged to maintain our individual (much less collective) sanity during the course of time that this Post-Truth era plays itself out. We may sound more barking mad at times than those who embrace the Lies and Deception, but this will pass as well. One day when the Light of Truth returns we will be rewarded for beings its stewards, but until then we must “keep buggering on” (KBO as Winston used to say).

* A version of this posting appears in the October 2016 issue of Information Age (

Preface: Enlightened self-interest  n. the principle or practice of furthering one’s own interests while simultaneously benefiting others

Body: The recriminations of the recent Brexit Vote continue to reverberate throughout the world with many in both camps lamenting; “How did this happen?”. One could clearly argue that an informed Electorate, by sufficient margin chose to leave the EU of their own free will. Others (including myself) will argue that the use of Dubious Data, Questionable Facts and Hyperbolic Rhetoric duped the majority of the Electorate into believing they had no other choice in the matter because their futures were being threatened by the Bogy Men (and Women) of the EU and other imagined threats to UK sovereignty. How could this come to be?

The UK has for some time been at the forefront of promoting the notion of Data-driven Government as the solution to many societal and governmental challenges. It has invested heavily in Digital, Data & Analytics initiatives, along with promoting educational & research-based endeavors which are designed to “raise all boats” in respect to competencies and acumen in the use of digital, data & analytics for insights & decision making. It has done nothing however to change the tone or tenor of politics in respect to using Data & Facts inappropriately to support their positions and to refute arguments by the Opposition. In the Scottish Separation Referendum of 2014, the General Election of 2015 and most recently in the Brexit Referendum (2016), politicians of all stripes abused & corrupted data & facts to fit their particular agendas; all with little or no oversight nor any real repercussions. This behavior cannot continue if any Government wants to call itself either Data-driven or Fact-based in its Decision making, much less claim the high ground in any debate or formal findings. The erosion of Trust in Government is directly correlated to this behavior and many now question any Data or Facts originating inside (or outside) of Government. Factual reporting or fundamental analysis of key issues & options for consideration.

The notion of enlightened self-interest has been a foundation of politics for many, many years. It is the grand bargain that Political Parties make with their members and those who financially support them. In the recent examples that I have cited there has been none of this. It has become a “winner takes all” battle of ideologies with collateral damage on both sides of the arguments. As one might suspect the first casualty of these battles is always the Truth, but now it has begun to erode basic Trust in Government and not just Politicians. The Electorate is now manipulated by Dubious Data and Questionable Facts at every turn and are voting against their own future well-being in an irrational manner.

How to reverse this course seems clear to me? There must be a rebuilding of the firewall between Government and Politics to such a level that a true “air gap” exists. Arm’s length will no longer suffice if Trust is to be re-established and maintained. In the Brexit run-up both Politician’s (Remain and Leave) and Civil Service Officials were complicit in creating Dubious Data and Questionable Facts (if not outright lies) for consumption by the Electorate without any real Arbiter of the Truth having a voice in the process. The Press, Special Interest Groups, Lobbyists and Self-promoters were all guilty of regurgitating this bogus & misleading information in wholesale fashion. All with no consequences. My recommendation is to put a stop to these behaviors immediately and to create an official body within Government who is the only source of the Truth when it comes to data, facts & reference information. This body must not only be non-partisan, but above reproach and influence. Those bodies that exist today such as ONS have been corrupted beyond redemption and must be not only held to account for their behaviors as “enablers” but stripped of their power by this new “Department of Truth”. Politicians, Detractors and Advocates will all have to use the same “blessed data” and “straight-forward facts” to support their rhetoric. Going forward the Electorate will only hear “the unvarnished truth” regardless of their appetite or appreciation of its implications.

The approach that I advocate is neither naive, nor uninformed by the reality of Government & Politics. It is simply the most straight-forward solution to the challenge. In the end, the Truth must prevail and it should not take an Act of God to get to it.

  • – An edited version of this posting appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Information Age (


Governments cannot embrace, much less promote Big Data, Open Data, Analytics, Machine Learning & Ubiquitous Algorithms without protecting the Citizens’ whom they work for. Social Engineering must be by choice, not by default through illiterate political leaders.


The UK Government as part of its “Digital Economy” initiative has just released with great fanfare the “Data Science Ethical Framework”. Its ministerial champion has characterized it as “harnessing the Progressive power of Data Science while protecting the Public”. It does neither, but clearly illuminates the lengths to which the UK Government (along with others) will go in trying to influence/dictate behavior in areas where they have no literacy at all in respect to understanding the underlying capabilities (Data, Analytics & Algorithms), nor the consequences of the harm (or actual good) that can come if left to their own devices. Not to be left to a footnote however, is the fact that these attempts at behavioral influence do not apply to the Intelligence community or Police services, both of whom want unlimited powers to surveil, gather data on everyone’s daily lives (and perhaps thoughts) and to then use these to ultimately predict behaviors i.e. The Snoopers Charter.

Ever since the notion of Big Data has come onto the scene, many have extolled its virtues in changing the world as we know and understand it. They have hyped with a zeal not previously seen the notions of Data Science, Data Scientists, Algorithms & Machine Learning, etc. Virtually all of them have advocated for its wide-scale use to analyze and predict citizens’ behavior in order to gain deeper insights, without any controls as to “just how creepy” this activity could get in terms of interacting with the public at large. Any attempt to limit the “how and where” Big Data & Analytics should be applied was met by the fury of these same advocates who characterized it as “stifling economic growth and wealth creation”. Not surprisingly, most advocates have been highly influential in getting Governments to go along with their thinking and to take a “hands off” approach. This has not worked out well for consumers who now see their daily lives dissected, analyzed and ultimately manipulated by the algorithms & machine learning associated with the deep behavioral insights now available to almost every organization who invests in Data & Analytics capabilities.

The backlash that now arisen from this lack of control is significant enough that many Governments have created Ethics Councils and other bodies who have gone on to generate reports & recommendations on the issue of  “Ethics in the age of the Algorithm”. Additionally, these same governments (US, UK, EU, etc.) are also major advocates of Digital and have undertaken major Digital Strategy & Transformation efforts within their countries[1]. These efforts have served to further exacerbate the Ethics Problem that we are now experiencing. A common thread found amongst all of this is the seemingly cluelessness that Government Leaders, Ministers & Civil Servants exhibit each and every time they make an address or pronouncement on the topic of Privacy, Ethics, Governance, etc. associated with Big Data, Analytics, Algorithms, Digital, etc.  Clearly, they don’t understand the underpinnings of the issues, nor the reasons why this topic has become so paramount in the public’s mind and their stated demands that it be resolved to their satisfaction.

Data (Big or Small), Analytics (Creepy or Helpful) & Algorithms (Evil or Good) are major influences in how the Digital World around us evolves, much less serves us. Beyond the well-rehearsed platitudes, there needs to be a fundamental mastery of the details associated with these domains by Leaders & Policy Makers who are ultimately accountable for making Citizen’s lives better, much less protecting them from threats. Without strong & competent Leadership, and controls (governance) , these same citizens will be victimized rather than benefited by Data, Analytics, Algorithms & Digital. The requirement for competent leadership is not a political platform for campaigning on, but a focal point for Government action in order to uphold basic human rights, no matter what pace of transformational change the country is experiencing.

An Ethics Framework that relies on self-governance, best efforts and serendipity to insure that consumer Privacy is protected and that Citizens are not victimized by their own data is a recipe for disaster. Government Leaders must commit themselves to leading at all levels and across all domains. They must be literate and competent in the areas that they promote as catalysts for change and not leave Citizens to the vagaries of Data Science, and all that portends to be.

[1] The UK Government has gone so far as to make the “Digital Economy” a centerpiece of the Queens’ Speech in spite of not being able to come up with a companion “Digital Strategy” that was promised quite some time ago.

  • An edited version of this posting appeared in the June 2016 issue of Information Age (UK) (


Let’s face it folks; there are a lot of #Digital phonies & posers out there. Each one has an agenda and it isn’t Digital Transformation; it’s more like Glory Seeking, Self-aggrandizement, Resume building, etc. Buyer Beware!

 Body: In today’s world of Digital Transformation (whatever that actually is) we have seen the rise of what I refer to as “Digital Emperors” who are now setting the tone and demeanor for every digital conversation out there. By definition, Digital Emperors are those in the public & private sectors who are exploiting the digital wave for all its worth in spite of having no real domain knowledge, leadership capabilities or strategic vision. They are politicians, cabinet members, Cabinet Office ministers, civil servants, corporate execs, trade show promoters, digital startups, venture capitalists, etc.  In reality, most are complete phonies or “digital posers” in the parlance of my UK audience, and all suffer from a common challenge; They are Digital Emperors without any clothes!

Genuine (much less competent) Digital Leadership is hard to find these days in any sector, but those who believe that either by title or remit that they are true leaders can be found either at every tradeshow or digital event (TED, SXSW, etc.) espousing their well-rehearsed opinions on “all things Digital”, much less competing for one of the numerous “Digital Leader” awards that are part of the media landscape these days. Few (and I mean very few), actually have anything of substance to say or to herald in respect to actual accomplishments (other than spending billions on transformation projects and getting little in return), but nonetheless all seem to have a cult-like following of sycophants and others who fawn over everything they promise, say or do.  I myself find it all quite nauseating and feel compelled to call out these Digital Emperors.

Across the globe there are major programs in virtually every government to digitally transform services and capabilities provided internally and to their citizens. Many of these programs portend to transform governments themselves using what I refer to as “Digital Transformation by Magic”, a common thought process where a Digital Emperor can simply undo the past and armed with a great PowerPoint and some funding they can create a new “digital future” for everyone overnight. In reality it turns out to be more of a digital “love fest” where everyone spends their time in endless self-promotion and glory seeking while the “group et al” squanders countless fortunes on technology that no one (aka Users) wants anything to do with at the end of the journey.  We have started to see this in the UK already, with the US, Australia, the EU and others no doubt to follow. One of the key critical success factors that all of these programs miss is “engagement” aka Cultural Adoption with those who ultimately use the digital outcomes that they have foretold. An appropriate adage for this is “Culture eats Strategy (and hype) for lunch”.

These programs all seem to feature high visibility in regards to the governments who sponsor them, with numerous photo ops, hackathons & coding weekends, hiring events & meetings (lots and lots of meetings) to discuss their latest accomplishments, but have little self-examination or transparency when things go pear shaped and the finger pointing begins. Much of this is further obfuscated by numerous re-organizations and the rotation of senior players to other agencies. All are plagued by acute attrition, churn and lack of both raw and seasoned talent. In my own experience, everyone wants to be part of a highly visible transformation program (especially Digital), but no one actually knows how to get the job done. We see this in the post-failure analysis that accompanies the crashing & burning of large transformational efforts everywhere.

As I have said before many times; “Transformation is hard and not for the weak of heart”. Successful Digital Transformation is yet to be realized anywhere and having these high risk (high reward if successful) left to the fatuous behavior of Digital Emperors is clearly a formula for disaster.

The Four keys to Digital Transformation success are;

  1. Create a relevant Digital Strategy that serves everyone
  2. Fund it appropriately (with plenty of Contingency for the unknown)
  3. Hire (not appoint) & empower Transformational Leaders & Doers to get the job done
  4. Lock all the Digital Emperors in the palace until the wrap party when the transformation program is successfully completed.
  • An edited version of this blog appears in the May 2016 issue of Information Age (UK) (

Data-driven Government: The use of data (aka Facts, Information, Insights, etc.) to support all Decisions, Policies, Performance Metrics, etc. required in the daily & long-term operation of Government (at all levels).

Oxymoron: A rhetorical figure of speech in which markedly contradictory terms appear in conjunction so as to emphasize the statement ; gen. a contradiction in terms.

The notion of Data-driven Government presumes to solve the age-old challenge of balancing “head vs. heart”(1)  when it comes to decision making and associated activities in Government bodies. Data-driven Government creates a culture where decision making & behavioral outcomes rely on Data (aka Facts) to drive each and every aspect of day-to-day operations as well as the long-term strategic goals. The concept is not new at all and dates back many decades now, but has had limited success in Government until recently. The Data-driven approach has been brought to the forefront again as Government’s everywhere jump on the Data, Analytics & Digital bandwagons and proceed to Transform themselves into more agile and efficient bodies which can better serve the needs of its citizens, at substantially lower costs. It is clearly an ideology that has caught on in the numerous Digital Transformation Programs that we see around the world (UK-GDS, US-18F, Australia-DTO, EU-SDM, etc.) and has an almost religious zeal to it in respect to how Politicians and Mandarins characterize it in their advocacy activities (much less those who are actively involved in its delivery). However, beyond the rhetoric is the fundamental question; Is Data-driven Government an Oxymoron or a Reality? I will endeavor to answer this in the rest of my article.

Government (as a service and not quite yet a platform) has become increasingly complex to deliver effectively given the growing demands of daily operations and the increased sophistication & demands of Citizens in terms of their expectations from their Government. At the heart of this is a growing awareness, much less recognition, that Government is more and more like a business which now must compete for Customers in a highly crowded field of competitors. While this may strike some as odd, it is clear to most strategists that Government must keep up with advances in Decision Science used by the Commercial Sector in order to survive (at the polls at least).

To become a truly data-driven Government (and not cynically wear it as a fashion statement) the culture of decision making & performance management must change dramatically. This transformation begins at the very top of Government with the elected Officials who are accountable (with their Civil Service partners) for formulating and executing strategy and defining the associated tactics required to achieve the desired outcomes. These Officials must change their spots from being political hacks who use their power to force outcomes, to those who achieve outcomes by leveraging facts & measures. This approach must then cascade down to all levels of Government (Elected representatives & Civil Service) while remaining aligned along this path. The secret sauce in this approach will be balancing the political agenda of elected officials with the needs of citizens. Data-driven Government provides levels of transparency not currently found today even in the most progressive Open Data programs. The data used to drive these decisions must pass scrutiny by oversight bodies, opposing parties and citizens themselves. This leaves little wiggle room for political agendas to be fulfilled using smoke filled backrooms as a proxy for decision science.

Data-driven Government is a rationale that the Open Data community uses in their advocacy activities to justify further adoption and investments. They speak of “dog fooding” by Governments’ in respect to using their own Open Data to drive outcomes as well as enhancing Transparency. I believe that Open Data remains a PR tool for use by governments to control information outflows and to act as a proxy for transparency that comes from Freedom of Information laws. These efforts typify the fact that political power is hard to give up willingly by elected officials, but given the awareness of citizens to these tactics it will not be long before they are non viable.

In the end, will Governments’ have the political willpower to become truly data-driven or will they continue to embrace the politics of cynicism, power and cronyism? It remains to be seen, but strong seeds of change have already been planted and if supported by strong nurturing (via the electorate), plenty of sunshine (transparency) and nutrients (budget) it can and will become a reality.

(1) – The Head (cognitive) is all the rich data & insights that Governments accumulate and the Heart (emotional) being Politics/Human Behavior at its basest.

Note: This posting appears in an edited form in the January 2016 issue of Information Age magazine (