Looking at Data through the Lens of Leadership

Most discussions of Data and Open Data tend to the technical side. . . how do you manipulate, massage and create an app for all that gloriously Open Data? Throngs of Data Scientists collaborate virtually, at MeetUps, or at conferences to debate, demonstrate and debunk technical approaches to digesting Data. (nice alliteration!) Recently, at the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy, we had the opportunity to look at Data from a different angle — the Leadership angle.

As our readers know from previous discussions, Microsoft has been a supporter and a great fan of the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA). Now in its third cohort, The Civic Leadership Academy provides training through a six month program and global practicum to emerging and high-potential leaders in nonprofit organizations and local government agencies within the City of Chicago and Cook County. Each year, Microsoft and local experts have had the opportunity to talk to the CLA participants about the importance of understanding the Civic Tech ecosystem, and how to utilize Civic Tech tools and resources to help improve the lives of citizens of Chicago and Cook County. This year, we took a difference approach and focused more on Data and its implications for a Leader.

We worked in partnership with Will Howell, Ph.D. and the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Chicago Harris and a professor in the Department of Political Science and the College to design our topic: “How do leaders use data to communicate and present insights for key audiences in their efforts to advance their goals?” We invited Danielle DuMerer, Chief Technology Officer and First Deputy Commissioner of the City’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT)  and James Rudyk, Jr. who is the Executive Director of the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC), a community based organization located in the Belmont Cragin community. James was also in the first cohort of CLA.to frame the discussion from both the Open Data and the “everyday user” perspective. We thought it would still be a good idea to share some tools that are available to leaders—especially tools that help communicate the insights gained from Data, so we invited Amy Schneider, a certified Microsoft Partner with Netrix, LLC, who provided a short demo on how to take “raw data” and move it into a “visualized resource for advancing goals”.

I began the discussion by introducing the Topic and introducing our panel, and included a very short discussion of the Chicagoland Civic Tech ecosystem and Data. Our focus was to help the CLA cohort learn how to present data to different audiences (city council, board of directors, employee base), how to communicate the data, learning from our panel what works/what doesn’t work. Amy then used a short demonstration of Power BI using data from the CTA and discussed “data as a tool of persuasion.”

She emphasized that there are a wide range of tools can help tell the story that is captured by the data. Amy’s presentation generated a lot of questions, many centered on how Leaders can identify what tools to use, and what personnel skills were needed to “run” the tools. Danielle walked the class through a structured process for accessing data, using and thinking about data as a management and leadership resource. She provided some great examples from the City and had outstanding knowledge about similar capabilities and resources at the County level. James “brought it all home” for the class by discussing his personal experiences as a leader of a nonprofit which had challenges with organizing its Data to serve its client base. Through partnerships with Microsoft and working with his staff, James was able to realize increased efficiency and better management of his client base.

Danielle Dumerer, Chicago CTO

The following were highlights of the very interactive discussion between the panel and the CLA participants:

  1. The role of the civic leader is primarily about leading a team and making solid leadership decisions, not the technical side of using data.
  2. Leaders can and should use data for: decisions, reaching your organization’s goals,  communicating the data (up/down/across/outside the organization), and  presenting data in different ways for different audiences
  3. Leaders should  use data to: drive home a point you want to make, counter an objection,  propel a project forward/get a funder to write a check/expand alliances to reach a common goal, etc.
  4. Data is a tool for persuasion, and for storytelling. Tools like Microsoft’s Power BI, allow you to easily make your data points more visually appealing to your audience. The ability to interact with the data using dynamic filters (i.e. changing date ranges, or showing a single data point within a grouping of points) allows you emphasize supporting data in real time as you tell your story.

Many thanks to our panelists and the terrific CLA participants. The questions continued past our scheduled time, which is a great indication of the high interest level in the topic. As the CLA cohort starts to prepare for their individual Capstone projects, we hope they will look at Data in a different light, and utilize data analysis to document and support their Capstone presentations.

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