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Time for Transparency: Government Leaders Increase Public Trust with Data

Today, government leaders must be able to clearly communicate trusted COVID-19 data to constituents. Data visualization and analysis capabilities can assist government leaders as they help citizens navigate the crisis.

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This sentiment is especially true today, at a time where people rely on data to stay safe and healthy; it’s up to government leaders to communicate this data clearly and effectively to their constituents. Whether it’s a month-over-month comparison of the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, or a count of available hospital beds per county, data has become an invaluable asset for agencies as they continue to help citizens navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Data has become really important as a topic of conversation as we're looking at how to make a difference in the world, especially now,” said Leo Blackwell, regional vice president at Tableau. “Federal leaders have a large role to play in this effort, and that starts with the ability to see and understand data better.” 

Using Data To Improve Trust and Accountability in Government

Government leaders and elected officials are at the forefront of the Coronavirus response, and as such, they are tasked with communicating real-time information to the citizens they serve. But that’s not always easy, especially when this information is outdated or inconsistent. What’s more, the narratives and recommendations around the COVID-19 pandemic are constantly changing, because the United States — and the rest of the world — has never experienced anything like it. 

Given this sense of uncertainty, the need for federal leaders to communicate transparently about the virus and its effects is more important than ever. And so is ensuring this data is trustworthy; after all, trust is a key factor in successfully navigating a global health crisis. A 2006 survey that was released after the SARS epidemic found that people who did not trust their government to communicate accurate information about an outbreak were less likely to take preventative measures, such as wearing a face mask or getting a vaccine. 

Understanding these challenges, Tableau made a decision to foster transparency and data sharing by creating the COVID-19 Data Hub, a one-stop shop for the most relevant COVID-19-related data. The platform aggregates location-based data from the most trusted data sources and updates these numbers daily to reflect changes in cases, testing sites and other important information. It also features a COVID-19 starter workbook that provides agencies with the tools they need to build their own dashboards. Users can access information from multiple trusted sources and integrate additional data, too.

“People are leveraging this data at the enterprise level and really using it to drive their mission forward,” said Jennifer Nowell, regional vice president of Federal Civilian Sales at Tableau. “There are certainly different levels of maturity in terms of how certain organizations use and interpret data, but once people begin to understand it they can change their organization for the better.” 

This approach has been especially useful as agencies navigate the economic impacts of COVID-19. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid, for example, is one health and human services agency that has been particularly busy lately. In accordance with the CARES Act, CMS is responsible for providing grant money and relief funds to healthcare facilities in America’s most vulnerable communities. In a move toward increased transparency and accountability, CMS used data visualization to gain insight into where COVID-19 cases had spiked and what facilities were in the most critical need of funding. By creating public dashboards, CMS was then able to communicate how its staff had distributed COVID-19 grants to the people who needed them the most. 

The Path Toward Accessibility 

This data, however, is most effective when it is digestible and easy to understand. That’s where data visualization capabilities like Tableau’s public dashboards, charts and mapping tools come in handy. These visualizations don’t just help government organizations better understand their data; they also package it in a way that is accessible to the people they serve. That means getting creative with templates, colors and other tools that allow users to tell a data story. 

“The ability to better see and understand your data is going to be something that people want to be a part of,” Blackwell said. “If data is the next natural resource, providing capabilities to help you see that data is going to become much more commonplace.” 

As new tools and technologies become widely available, there are seemingly endless opportunities for agencies to leverage data to improve the citizen experience. 

“People often talk about data as a revolution,” said Nowell. “But it’s really an evolution. Data is always evolving, and there’s a huge opportunity for the public sector to take this data and coalesce it in ways they never have before.”

Learn more about how government leaders can increase data transparency with Tableau. 

This content is made possible by our sponsor Tableau; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of GovExec’s editorial staff.

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