Unlocking the Power of Data: 4-Steps to Establish Effective Data Practices for Informed Decision-Making

Authors: Tiffany Davis – AMALI Data Programme Director

“The goal is to turn data into information and information into insight.”
– Carly Fiorina

Establishing Effective Data Practices

Confronted with a rise in uncertainty and resource limitations, public sector organisations are under pressure to resolve urgent issues and provide value. Governments at all levels are looking for ways to solve challenges, save money, and reduce waste while protecting programmes that serve the most vulnerable or provide long-term value and expectations. These strategies range from managing service delivery and programmes to responding to evolving crisis situations. Cost-effective governance and quality services are always priorities. To assist in these efforts, the AMALI Data Programme is dedicated to supporting African mayors and governors in establishing effective data practices for informed decision-making, best monitoring and evaluating performance, and better understanding the impact of their programmes and course corrections if needed.

By concentrating on four essential phases, we help city leaders turn data into useful information and insights. This enables them to make educated decisions that improve city service delivery and programming, such as sanitation, affordable housing, climate change mitigation, and workforce development initiatives. These insights enable city leaders to carefully allocate resources, identify areas for improvement, and implement focused initiatives that benefit their communities. Our strategy focuses on the following:

  1. Establishing a Data Inventory & Quality Assessment
  2. Creating an Effective Data Reporting Tool
  3. Implementing a Performance Management Routine
  4. Instilling Data

Establishing a Data Inventory & Quality Assessment

High-quality decision-making is based on relevant data. However, mayors/governors frequently do not know what data pertaining to their priority area is readily available, or the data they do have is riddled with inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and gaps, resulting in contradicting and confusing outcomes when utilised to make choices. As a result, programme performance metrics are rarely based on data and are rarely accompanied by results that allow the achievement of programme goals to be assessed. In the absence of such measures, decisions about programme adjustments and resource allocations are frequently based on politics, anecdotes, and opinion rather than data and results. High-quality decisions based on high-quality data simply cannot be realised without the foundational data management practice of a data inventory and quality assessment.

A Data Inventory is a fully described record of the data assets maintained by a city. It serves as a comprehensive catalogue that records basic information about each data asset, including its name, contents, update frequency, use license, owner/maintainer, privacy considerations, data source, and other relevant details. These details about a dataset are known as metadata.

Given that cities may contain datasets in several locations such as paper, databases, servers, and/or computers, it is critical to prioritise which datasets should be included in the inventory and how to organise future inventory updates. Employees, departments, corporate leadership, and the general public regard datasets worth inventorying to be valuable. These data assets can range from individual datasets linked to manually completed forms to integrated systems that track many parts of a city’s activities, such as construction permits.

A Data Quality Assessment assesses a dataset’s accuracy, completeness, consistency, uniqueness, timeliness, and validity before using it for analysis. Meeting these primary requirements will considerably improve the overall quality of your data, assure efficiency in the data gathering and distribution process, increase insights generated, and boost public confidence.

Creating an Effective Data Reporting Tool

A Data Reporting Tool is a method that presents information sufficiently to users, allowing them to do analysis, examine critical insights, and make rapid and accurate judgements. A data reporting tool can be an effective way to communicate critical findings and can serve as the foundation for conversation with relevant stakeholders during routine performance meetings about a key strategic priority area or pressing concern. A data reporting tool, depending on the goals and capabilities of the city, can be a written report with relevant analysis, a structured spreadsheet with a repository of data focused on key indicators and relevant analysis, and/or an automated dashboard.

City governments can use a data reporting tool to streamline the process of producing quality statistics, improve validation and documentation, and do more analysis. This will assist mayors/governors in converting data into information, generating important insights, and optimising resources to enable more efficient daily operations. As governments take the effort to transfer their data online, known as open data, there is a potential to increase data access and promote data sharing between departments and external stakeholders. A data reporting tool can be extremely useful in validating the quality of statistics provided because it identifies anomalies and collects metadata that indicates how statistics were generated. This ensures users of the data that it is reliable and safe to make comparisons between different datasets over time. A data reporting tool is a prerequisite for realising performance management aspirations.

Implementing a Performance Management Routine

Performance Management is a comprehensive set of processes and activities that manages how an organisation monitors and evaluates key goals and priorities effectively and efficiently. This includes using data to track performance measures over time to drive conversations about specific processes, then identifying how to fix what’s broken or replicate what’s going well. The executive lead of municipal government is mostly responsible for driving performance management routines by creating a clear vision for how performance management will be integrated into daily operations, ensuring sustainability, creating a data-driven culture, and encouraging an inquiry-based mindset.

There are many different performance management frameworks, such as performance stat, balance scorecard, performance-based budgeting, etc. But the core principles of a performance routine include the following:

Why does this matter for your work?

As cities continue to grow, city leaders and change agents face the ongoing challenge of strategically addressing pressing issues. Establishing foundational data practices that provide deep insights into city performance through performance management can lead to innovative solutions and timely decisions, such as redirecting resources to areas of need, improving business processes, and implementing sustainable policy changes. Mayors and governors can effectively tackle challenges and improve overall city service delivery and programming.

There is considerable room for improvement in how the city governments leverage data to make decisions. Too often, data practices are ad hoc and fragmented, and the clear, relevant, and reliable data needed to support decision-making is not as readily available as it should be. Faced with real problems and finite resources, mayors must find a way to make decisions more deliberate by addressing internal challenges in how data is managed and utilised.


Revolutionising city data practices requires a change in the culture surrounding data and its incorporation into the decision-making process. This involves creating data stewards at all levels of government and promoting data leadership, where everyone has an enhanced understanding of how to use data to make informed decisions. This shift towards data-driven decision-making can make cities more efficient, effective, equitable, and accountable. It is an essential building block for embedding a broader culture of transparency and responsiveness to citizen needs and rights.