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Strengthening data capability across the APS to generate deeper insights, inform evidence-based decisions and enable more effective service delivery.

Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time; designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible.1

Australian Government data holdings are a strategic national resource vital to developing evidence-based decision making and increasing productivity. Unlocking data enables program evaluation, informed policy, risk-based regulatory processes and effective services for all Australians and is critical in informing timely government responses during crises. Data-driven innovation has been estimated to add up to $64 billion per annum to the Australian economy2.

The Government’s reform agenda for the Australian Public Service (APS) recognises the importance of using data to better understand and respond to the needs of Australians. The Government has committed to ensuring the APS has the right capability, tools and processes to securely use, share and understand data and other sources of information for better policy advice, regulation and services3.

Data governance and capability is increasingly recognised as a driver of public trust in government. Research has found six key drivers of trust in governments’ use of data: use, protection, transparency, respect, benefits and accountability4. As custodians, stewards and users of public data, the APS has a responsibility to build and maintain public trust; achieving this in an increasingly complex data environment will require improving capability in these areas.

The APS Data Professional Stream will be designed to do just that: uplift data capability across the APS through formal, focused professionalisation of the APS data workforce, along with opportunities for data producers and users to improve their proficiency throughout the course of their careers. The APS Data Professional Stream Strategy outlines the means by which the APS can attract, retain and mobilise high-quality employees in data-related roles. It will guide the creation of career pathways to ensure the right balance of breadth and depth of experience, and define the means by which members of the APS data workforce can enhance their understanding of data and appropriate data practices. The Stream will build a professional data workforce for the APS by establishing professional networks and communities, supporting data career development and collaboration with national and international entities.

Critical role of data in a crisis

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic response, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet established a dedicated data analytics team (including experts seconded from across the APS) who compiled and analysed COVID-19 data from Commonwealth, State and Territory sources, as well as from the private sector and overseas.

The data team’s up-to-date information, statistics, trend analysis and modelling of behaviours and impacts during COVID-19 have been essential in guiding Government decision-making and tracking of the effects of measures taken. The team brought together collective APS information, advice and skills to provide a consolidated product to the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet – rather than a series of separate reports from different pockets of expertise across Government.

They worked with an initial product and constantly iterated as the crisis evolved. They experimented with new approaches to provide a ‘real-time’ picture, instead of simply relying on traditional Government data sources.

This dynamic use of data to measure success and track progress will continue to be critical as the COVID-19 response continues. It will help to ensure implementation of the Government’s agenda is on track, and support timely adjustments to programs as the crisis evolves.

Data Landscape

“2020 has tested us all – as a people, as a Government and as a public service. It started with bushfires and we are now dealing with a global pandemic. However, even before the pandemic the world was changing rapidly. We were all working off a playbook which recognised that IT, digital and data were going to be the key to how we delivered services and how we sought and measured outcomes. This current crisis has dramatically accelerated these trends.”  

Mr Peter Woolcott AO, Australian Public Service Commissioner5

There has been an unprecedented growth in the value and use of data internationally. The APS is no different. Data has become a heavily sought-after commodity, with agencies striving to ensure policies are evidence-based, service delivery is citizen-centric and programs are innovative. In the past five years, instrumental work has laid the foundation for professionalisation of the data workforce, including:

  • The release of the Public Data Policy Statement6, which provided a clear mandate for Australian Government entities to optimise the use and reuse of public data, release non-sensitive data as open by default, and collaborate with the private and research sectors to extend the value of public data for the benefit of the Australian public.
  • The Public Sector Data Management Project7, which established a roadmap to make better use of public data. Implementation was achieved through collaboration across all Australian Government entities and under the leadership of the Secretaries Data Group, Deputy Secretaries Data Group and Data Champions Network; with significant work undertaken to progress cross-agency data projects.
  • The public inquiry into ways to improve the availability and use of public and private sector data8 and the Government’s response9.
  • The appointment of an interim National Data Commissioner in August 2018, to drive change and support best practice data management and use across the APS.
  • Published guidance on data sharing10, use of big data11, and data asset management12.
  • New legislation to support better sharing of government held data13.
  • Published guidance on foundational organisational data practices14.
  • The 2016 APS Data Skills and Capability Framework15 aimed at improving overall data skills and capability across the APS.
  • The establishment of data analytics teams to deliver improved, evidence-based programs and policy16, maximising use of the Government’s data assets, allowing cost effective and timely insights into data that is already available.

The Strategy will build on these existing frameworks and policies, and leverage current activities to progress initiatives to ensure a data enabled, capable and trusted public service that can deliver effectively now and into the future.

Building data integration and integrated data analysis capability

The Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) was a three-year $130.8 million initiative of the Public Service Modernisation Fund to maximise the use and value of the Government’s data assets by creating new insights into important and complex policy questions through data integration and analysis.

Commencing in July 2017, DIPA was designed to demonstrate how integrated data analysis could drive policy, program and service productivity improvements; ambitious aims within a three-year timeframe. Through the DIPA program:

  • technical data assets were established and significantly enhanced, including the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment (BLADE), Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP), Data Exchange (DEX) and the National Education Evidence Base (NEEB);
  • secure data access and analysis infrastructure and data integration capabilities were expanded and improved;
  • collaborative multi-agency, cross-sector analytical units of focus and excellence were established;
  • communication and engagement between and within government were improved; and
  • APS data capability, particularly with respect to integrated data production and use, was uplifted.

Data was integrated and unlocked by data expertise within the APS. DIPA analytical projects enhanced capability within agencies to use data for evidence-based policy and service delivery. Over 80 projects were funded across 20 Commonwealth agencies over three years. These included supporting the Government's response to natural disasters:

  • National bushfire response by working with Commonwealth agencies to map the impact of bushfires and provide a data-driven analytical base to inform National Bushfire Recovery Agency discussions with states, local governments and bushfire-affected communities on Local Economic Recovery Plans.
  • Drought through the development of the National Drought Map – an interactive online tool to help analysis, decision making and planning around drought in Australia.

The benefits achieved through DIPA included building data capability in the APS with approximately 75 people engaged in data integration and almost 400 people analysing integrated data in agencies in 2019-20. DIPA contributed to building a robust, secure and scalable whole-of-government data integration and policy analysis capability. Funding for DIPA finished on 30 June 2020, but the uplift in APS data capability enabled by DIPA will continue to deliver benefits to Government and the Australian community.

Statistics that illustrate the importance of data skills for the APS
Statistics that illustrate the importance of data skills for the APS.

Who are the Data Professionals?

“Data skills are essential for all APS employees to support evidence-based, informed decision making, whether in policy development, programme management or service delivery. …However while foundational data skills are important for all APS employees, there are some roles across the APS that have a requirement for more specific data skills”17

The Data Professional Stream will have wide applicability across the breadth of agencies in the APS. The Data Professional Stream will provide career development and capability building opportunities for APS staff working with data about people, businesses, the environment and locations.

Examples of types of agencies’ data of relevance to the Data Professional Stream
Examples of types of agencies’ data of relevance to the Data Professional Stream.

The data workforce encompasses a variety of people in a range of data-related roles, including both producers and users of data. The Data Professional Stream will guide responsible, informed, safe and ethical treatment of data across the data use value chain; from collection, generation and management of data, through to compiling and curating data, as well as the analysis, interpretation and application of data to inform decisions.

The data use value chain illustrating data-related roles.

The Data Professional Stream will focus on uplifting and deepening sophisticated and specialist data capabilities by providing development opportunities for data producers and users who require more advanced skills to perform their roles.

The Data Professional Stream recognises that all APS staff require appropriate foundational data literacy skills. The Data Professional Stream will champion the uplift of baseline data capability across the APS, including through the Australian Public Service Commission’s (APSC) data literacy learning modules. The Data Professional Stream will provide advice and expertise to ensure there are clear pathways to more advanced skills for employees who want to become data professionals.

Descriptions of foundational data literacy, sophisticated data capabilities, and specialist data capabilities
Descriptions of foundational data literacy, sophisticated data capabilities, and specialist data capabilities.

Approach

As part of APS reform, an overarching APS Professions Framework has been established by the APSC to ensure consistency in the structure and key functions of all Streams.

The Human Resources Professional Stream commenced in October 2019, with the Digital Professional Stream subsequently launched in April 2020. The Data Professional Stream will complement and leverage the work that is continuing in these Streams. Recognising the close connections between data and digital in particular, the Data Professional Stream will ensure alignment with relevant Digital Professional Stream initiatives, creating synergies where possible and providing cross-Stream development opportunities for APS employees.

The Head of Data Profession will sponsor the collaborative development of a program of work and report on progress regularly. The aim is to ensure that the work remains contemporary and forward looking; fit for purpose across a wide variety of APS agencies and supports continued success of the overarching APS Professions Strategy.

The four elements of the approach behind the Data Professional Stream.
The four elements of the approach behind the Data Professional Stream.

The Data Professional Stream aims to source, grow and mobilise data expertise.

A collaborative approach, across the APS, and with public and private institutions and academia, underlies the Strategy and Forward Work Plan and will be a critical success factor. Many agencies have a shared interest in building data capability and have already expressed support for the Data Professional Stream. Support will be sought from APS agencies to co-lead initiatives and assist the Head of Profession.

The data workforce will be supported by a Data Professional Network that exchanges information, shares resources and builds best practice.

Oversight and championing of the Stream from senior data leaders across the APS will also be key to its success. Implementation of the Strategy and its initiatives will be guided by the Senior Reference Group.

The Strategy

The APS Data Professional Stream Strategy (the Strategy) has four central themes:

  1. Establishing the Data Professional Stream
  2. Getting it right from the start
  3. Developing sophisticated and specialist data capabilities
  4. Embedding a professional data workforce

Each theme comprises a number of practical initiatives to ensure an effective professional network is established across the APS.

Initiatives to define professional standards and build data capability will be aligned to the overarching APS Professions Framework, the APS workforce strategy, the APS learning and development strategy, refreshed APS Job Family Model and APS workforce diversity strategies.

Initiatives will continue to be identified, developed and implemented through a Data Professional Stream Forward Work Plan. To support commencement of the Data Professional Stream, six initial signature initiatives have been identified. These will focus on establishing a data professional network, recruiting talent, improving diversity and mobility across the data workforce, and capability development through both knowledge acquisition and role immersion opportunities to enable agencies build the right expertise in data roles.

The four central themes of the APS Data Professional Stream Strategy with underlying practical initiatives.

1 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Data Skills and Capability in the Australian Public Services, 2016.

2 United Nations Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, A World that Counts: Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, 2014.

3 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Australian government’s response to the productivity commission data availability and use inquiry, 2018.

4 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Delivering for Australians, 2019.

5 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Trust in Government Data Use – Guide and Toolkit, 2019

6 Woolcott, P., Speech at the Australian Public Service Innovation Show: Strategy and Innovation Stream, 10 June 2020.

7 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement, 2015.

8 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Public Sector Data Management Report, 2015; Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Public Sector Data Management Implementation Plan, 2016.

9 Commonwealth of Australia, Productivity Commission, Data availability and use, Inquiry report No. 82, 2017.

10 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Australian government’s response to the productivity commission data availability and use inquiry, 2018

11 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Guidance on data sharing for Australian government entities, 2016; Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Best Practice Guide to Applying Data Sharing Principles, 2019.

12 Commonwealth of Australia, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Guide to data analytics and the Australian privacy principles, 2018.

13 Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia, Digital continuity policy, 2020.

14 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Data Sharing and Release Legislative Reforms Discussion Paper, 2019.

15 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foundational Four, 2020.

16 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Data Skills and Capability in the Australian Public Services, 2016.

17 A Taylor (Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation), Data analytics teams to deliver better targeted services, media release, Parliament House, Canberra, 25 May 2017.

Last reviewed: 
21 September 2020