Data labs: a low-cost way to understand service impact

We’re good at sizing up social problems but not at measuring the impact of the problem solving. We need better data, used smarter. Data labs — once thought cost prohibitive — are now a reality.

As a society, we are good at sizing our social problems and reporting on them. For example, we know that there are around 250,000 admissions to hospitals for mental illness each year. But we are not nearly as adept at understanding and reporting on the impact of particular interventions.

At the same time, we collect vast amounts of data, especially in government.

A “data lab” offers a new, low-cost way to improve our understanding of service impact. It enables comparison of the impact of different types of services and providers by using data already collected.

Imagine you are part of an organisation that provides outpatient mental health services. You work hard to deliver your services but are unsure of what happens to your clients. For example, were they readmitted to hospital? And even when you know what happened to your client in key outcome areas such as readmission, you are unsure of the impact of your service on that outcome. Did your service contribute to them staying out of hospital? Or would they have stayed out anyway?

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.