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How Data Science Drives Industry-Leading Decision-Making

Mission-Critical Data Science Training at DOS

U.S. Department of State
2018 - 2023
Government
U.S. Department of State logo on top of Washington, D.C. aerial view

Synopsis

KPI:
Increasing data literacy skills across the State Department.
Project length:
2018 - 2023

200

+

employees trained; representing 25+ department bureaus across a broad range of functional work streams

At a Glance

For the U.S. Department of State, Data Society developed a comprehensive curriculum to help staff at all levels tell better stories and make critical decisions using data. Data Society created a three-course curriculum that brought staff with a variety of technical and non-technical backgrounds into a high level of data literacy and analytical competency.

As the pandemic forced the DOS to move to a virtual environment, Data Society helped the agency quickly pivot, and staff learned as they served, to produce dashboards to visualize real-world COVID-19 data, surface key insights, and make mission-critical decisions when they needed them most.

Client Profile

Bio:
The U.S. Department of State leads America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the interests of the American people, their safety, and economic prosperity.
Industry:
Headquarters:
Government
Washington, DC
Size:
69,000 employees

The Challenge

The U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is responsible for providing training opportunities for all Department of State staff, including foreign service officers, civil service employees, and staff at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas.

The School of Applied Information Technology (SAIT) within FSI noted additional demand for data literacy training courses, from employees who perform a broad spectrum of analysis and presentation of data, to managers who rely on findings to make informed decisions.

The Solution

Data Society, alongside SAIT, created three custom courses to help State Department staff strengthen their data analysis and visualization skills, to empower clearer communication of insights and power data-driven decision making.
Hands-on Workshops

The popular first workshop, “Business Data Analysis: Advanced Excel & Power BI,” taught advanced features of Microsoft Excel to supercharge their skills, a high priority for Department employees. During workshops, staff practiced statistical and predictive modeling and created interactive visualizations using Excel, Microsoft Power BI, and other tools in real time.

Inspiring Action with Data Analysis

Participants were excited to apply their advanced skills on the job and ready for the next challenge: programming in R, a modern cornerstone of comprehensive data analysis.

The “Intro to R” course took staff with no experience in R programming all the way through to creating visualization dashboards for real-time State Department data, over a period of five days, setting a new standard for storytelling with data in the organization. 

In tandem, Data Society’s “Fundamentals of Data Literacy” course helped make data evangelists of key staff by giving a holistic view of big data, why it matters, and how, properly applied, it can consistently inform better business decisions. The two-day course provided a foundational understanding of big data and AI, the key development team roles, and the five data methodologies. Leaving with a framework of questions to which analytics can be applied, senior staff could effectively evaluate and act on information the technical team provided, or redirect further analysis to deliver deeper, more targeted insights.

Finally, in Data Society’s interactive “Visualization and Storytelling with Data,” staff learned the limits of data points in convincing others or inspiring action, and how stories can connect the dots. Staff learned the narrative and visual principles underpinning compelling data stories, and how to create their own, more effective presentations, regardless of what platform they use.

The Results

Pivoting with the Pandemic

Data Society’s long-standing relationship with the Department of State took a new turn when the COVID-19 global pandemic started in 2020. Given the security concerns with using real-time data outside of the Department, the SAIT lab was completely closed, and the Department was unable to host any of its vital training courses. 

Data Society helped the Department navigate creating a complete studio cloud through AWS to make not only Data Society but all SAIT all courses virtual in a secure digital environment. In a virtual learning five-day Data Society course, staff created a dashboard using real-world data to assess factors related to COVID-19 spread and impact on communities, to go beyond developing skills to serve mission-critical needs in real time. 

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