Our Thoughts

Data to sustain better service provision

Posted by David Manyanza on Apr 4 2012

The use of data and information is still limited in Tanzanian public organizations. It is not uncommon to see organizations prepare strategic plans without the aid of data and information. Obviously, strategic plans prepared in this way are not strictly strategic and consequently they do not impact the organizations. Long term effects of poor data and information usage leads to non–responsive management resulting into poor organizational performance and even total organizational collapse. Glaring evidence of this is from the public business enterprises formed in the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies but which collapsed and had to be privatized twenty or so years later because they could not respond to their changing business environments.

It may well be argued that even currently there are some public institutions which exist only because they are legal entities and not because their services are demanded by those who benefit from them. They simply survive because of supply based funding. Such organizations have, unknowingly, lost relevance to their customers a long time ago. But why is it that public organizations do not use data and information during strategic planning and the normal management process? There are many reasons among them being: poor leadership, lack of incentives for highly performing organizations, inadequate linkage and concrete contribution by public organizations to the national development strategy, and poor accountability.

We all know that we live in an ever changing world. Whether we like it or not the world will keep on changing and the only option we have is to adapt. This is the basis of the adage, “survival of the fittest”. It does not mean that the strongest survive but those with greater capability to adapt. Likewise business is influenced by ever changing internal and external business environments. To continue maintaining relevance, public organizations require to, timely, take appropriate action in order to make the necessary internal changes. However, for an organization to do this managers and employees must be able to continuously detect changes in the internal and external business environments otherwise any actions and changes made may be erratic and unsynchronized.

Most environmental changes are detected by hard data which act as indicators of organizational performance. For example, in the case of a university or training institution such data may be student enrolment, pass rates, graduates’ competitiveness in the market place and graduates’ performance at the work place while in the case of a government Ministry of Health such data may be the ratio of health centres to the number of people served, decline in the proportion of children mortality, decline in the proportion of mothers giving birth at home, etc. Detecting environmental changes requires that one measures the right performance indicators. It is not just any number but performance indicators must be carefully determined in line with the business and objectives of the organization.

For any organization, the most important changes emerge not from within but from outside. This is because organizational performance is not found within the organization; it is found outside and away from it. To assess the performance of an organization one has to go and collect data from outside the organization. A university may be outcompeted by universities far away from it. It is important to understand how the university performs in its own market including the degree of satisfaction of the market with the university’s products and services.

The importance of data is that it is the source of understanding about what is changing and therefore what an organization needs to do. Unfortunately, there are many organizations without mechanisms for ensuring continuous supply and utilization of performance data. Running an organization and working in one is not a routine matter. It is a dynamic process of continuous learning and identifying the right things to do and how to do them right. These are the sort of things which contribute to meaningful career development of individuals. But they come from information generated by analyzing and interpreting data and sharing throughout the organization so as to get everyone informed and to motivate action from individual employees. While data and information create the awareness for employees of the need to take particular actions including change, the ability to change successfully depends on the complex process of leadership and management.

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