Public Administration is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of duties and functions and aims to fulfil objectives as envisaged by public policies or law. A career in Public Administration requires problem detection and solving capabilities coupled with sound knowledge of governance procedures. Functions such as maintenance of law and order, welfare activities by government, catering to infrastructural needs are examples of Public Administration that make use of data for an informed decision.

Fostering digitalisation

Data Science involves the curation and analysis of voluminous amounts of information in order to deduce patterns, trends and potential opportunities that can be used to conceptualise efficacious and innovative solutions for a particular problem. Policymakers have also realised the revolutionary impact of ‘datafication’. Therefore, the time in deploying predicative analytics to reduce crime rate, tackle traffic congestion, detection of corruption is not very remote any more.

The government has fostered digitalisation by formulating the Draft IoT policy and launching several initiatives like e-Sanjeevani, PM SVANidhi scheme, Diksha, Aarogya Setu, etc. As a consequence, harnessing data sets and deriving insights from them has become an extremely essential skill set for public administrators. However, there exists a data-skill gap in the sector that could possibly be due to the assumption that Data Science and AI entail computational and statistical competencies. Currently, there are several courses that can be availed to do away with this issue.

Data scientists and individuals who are well versed with AI are likely to possess qualities such as analytical thinking, effective data visualisation, decision-making skills and innovative capability due to hands-on training in new-age tools such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning, MATLAB, Python, Tableau, etc. Coupled with knowledge pertaining to public policy, this can result in creating better and pragmatic public administrative strategies. An analyst in public sector would basically be required to:

Gather data: Various issues faced by the public may often not surface unless careful inspection of data collected is conducted by a policy analyst. This exercise also reveals the reasons for a policy’s inefficiency.

Suggest better policies: After careful inspection and detection of a problem, either current or prospective, suitable solutions can be recommended. Mapping of counterfactuals by use of predictive analytics will also help prepare in case of any emergencies.

Assess outcomes of extant policies: The suggested policy by an analyst is kept under consideration for a period of time in order to evaluate its efficacy and to draw a comparative analysis with respect to projections made before the implementation of the new policy. Additionally, cost-benefit analysis, surveys, more data from focus groups are collated for a qualitative approach.

Apprise stakeholders: Sharing the relevant information with public, decision makers, press, academia, etc.

Finally, the demand for data analysts in public administration to provide services such as administration, financial services, human resource management, knowledge management and strategic leadership will certainly keep rising due to the fact that “data is the new oil”.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in The Hindu. The original article can be found at https://www.thehindu.com/education/how-skill-development-in-ai-and-data-science-can-help-in-public-administration/article36509185.ece)