Adopting a Data Culture: Four takeaways from public sector leaders

This post draws on a conversation I had during the 2021 Tableau Government Summit with Josh Martin, Chief Data Officer at the State of Indiana, Drew Erdmann, Chief Operating Officer at the State of Missouri, and Nick Speece, Chief Federal Technologist at Snowflake.

There is a saying about culture that you’ve probably heard, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” which is often attributed to Australian businessman Peter Drucker. Maybe you’ve read it in a book, or recognize it from a podcast recording or two (or three or four). It’s nearly ubiquitous in management literature and media today.

To me, the phrase is more than an old adage. It’s a reminder about the role culture plays in organizational success; how a fail-fast culture can drive innovation or how psychological safety can improve employee well-being and productivity, for example. These topics have risen to the boardroom in recent years, and rightfully so.

There is another layer of culture we frequently discuss at Tableau—Data Culture—that we think also requires boardroom discussion. Why? Well, ‘becoming data-driven’ has been a top priority for CxOs for a while now, yet many report that their organizations still struggle to make progress.

As leaders invest in digital transformation, we think a strategic and deliberate investment in Data Culture, shifting mindset and beliefs on data, can unblock the CxO’s reported challenges and the value of technology.

With that in mind, should we all wave our magic wands to adopt a Data Culture immediately? That would be an incredible, overnight phenomenon. But the reality is adopting a Data Culture is much more than any individual act of magic or heroism. Culture is fostered, not imposed, so adopting a Data Culture is a journey of incremental evolutions.

I’m a lifelong learner, so to better understand data transformation and Data Culture challenges and best practices, I reached out to some leaders in the public sector where the impact of data-driven decision making is significant. Josh, Drew, and Nick joined me to share their helpful perspectives and learnings. 

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Tableau Government Summit 2021 speakers

Here are four takeaways that stood out to me:

1. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s very clear now: Data enables agility in decision-making on short timelines.

“One thing we’ve learned across the board—the absolute paramount importance of data to make real-time informed public policy decisions.”—Drew Erdmann, chief operating officer, State of Missouri

2. The shift to openly sharing data will drive more positive outcomes.

“It’s not so much about ‘me and my data’ in a silo anymore. It’s about ‘us and our data’ now and bringing data together.” —Nick Speece, chief federal technologist, Snowflake

3. Investments in training and community will enable everyone in an organization to drive forward with data insights.

“We’re explicitly building networks across our organization. Through time, we have a series of interlocking networks that work across departments and support one other.” —Drew Erdmann, chief operating officer, State of Missouri

4. When leaders encourage and model a data-first mindset, greater value is realized.

“Our governor was going out there everyday talking about how data was driving the discussion. There was never a ‘you can’t have my data’ conversation.”—Josh Martin, chief data officer, State of Indiana


These are some of the common Data Culture benefits I hear that surface in conversations with customers. Despite the circumstances and challenges we’ve all experienced in the last year, I am glad to see that the investments made by our public sector #DataFam are paying off with both immediate and long-term value. 

You can listen to our full panel discussion during Tableau’s Government Summit. I hope you enjoy it and welcome feedback, additional commentary, or questions. 

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