I have recently been thinking a lot about the use of data to better local governments. In particular, at the county level, where resources are likely scarce, IT upgrades and technology spending can often be lower in the budget priority. Recently, Computerworld magazine awarded the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board an Editor’s Choice Award for giving more assistance with fewer dollars with business intelligence. Specifically, this county agency used BI tools to assess the value of each of its initiatives. The result was a database and accompanying visual analysis tool for consumers of the County’s data that led to greater accuracy in predicting at-risk children and families in this Florida County. Pinellas County made a brave decision to spend money on data during a budget shortfall, that resulted in program savings.
Moving along the more-information-means-better-decision-making spectrum, Measures for Justice is a new-ish organization attempting to create a Justice Index, or measure of how counties across the country are delivering criminal justice services. With countless counties in the U.S., all with their own criminal justice system and means of tracking criminal justice data, having a central repository to make comparisons and benchmarks is crucial. The index was recently featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Both of these examples show that business-like tools can better the social service world. His Holiness the Karmapa stated, “We seem to have lost the sense that we can freely and happily extend ourselves for others. In modeling our social institutions on business principles, we have become very disconnected from our own noble heart.” I agree that as a society, we should be wary of a blanket business principle approach to our social service organizations, and keep our noble heart in mind as public servants. However, I think that here we have two examples of “business” principles used for the common good.