The Singapore government is making strong progress with data literacy, with more than half of the staff in around 70 agencies having completed baseline training.
Weng Wanyi, the director of the Government Data Office that sits within the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), told EDM Council’s DataVision conference for APAC/India that high levels of data literacy were needed in order for agencies to contribute to the government’s overarching data transformation ambitions.
“The data transformation journey that we have embarked on has completely illustrated to us that it's a team sport,” Weng said.
“You have to involve everyone, but also be very clear about their role and what roles they play in that data transformation journey.”
The Government Data Office, which marks its fourth anniversary this month, is spearheading a strategic and ambitious vision to “build a public service that is… data-driven to the core,” Weng said.
“It's not just about data exploitation - project-based, initiative-based - but really right down to our systems, our culture, our training and our competencies,” she said.
The government wants policymaking and planning to be more data-driven and evidence-based; to be able to coordinate operations and resource deployments in real-time, based on need; and to ultimately be able to deliver government services in a personalised and “anticipatory” fashion, aligned to key events in citizens’ lives.
Data literacy is an important part of achieving that vision, and Weng reported progress in this regard.
“I deal with 100-odd agencies and 100-odd chief data officers, [and] in total, we have over 150,000 public officers that we sort of martial and encourage in that data transformation journey,” she said.
“More than 70 percent of our hundred or so agencies have trained about more than 50 percent of their staff with our baseline data literacy module.”
Weng said the baseline module is online and intended for self-learning; it takes “about three-to-four hours” to complete.
“So in terms of time commitment, it's not so much,” she said.
“We've tried to make it as interactive as possible and contextualised to the public service.”
Weng said that some of the large numbers of completions could be attributed to the training mandates, though she said emphasis had been placed on making the training relevant and useful in its own right.
The office is keen to measure the success of the programme.
“I do think we now need to start thinking about how much [officers] have internalised that learning and start tracking that, but that's for later on,” she said.
Weng also indicated she had recently been approached to run specific intensive data training aimed specifically at executives.
“I think what we're starting to see, at least here, is that the executives are being pressed to make decisions and not really being able to definitively and objectively produce evidence to back up some of those decisions,” she said.
“They’re asked [by] their counterparts or politicians or even the public - ‘why did we make the decision?’”
Weng said the pandemic had, in a way, “raised everyone’s data literacy” - or at least their awareness to seek evidence for decisions being taken.
“I think we're starting to see a lot more interest in understanding not just the dashboards, but what goes behind them and how reliable the data coming into that dashboard is,” she said.