Often called “the new gold”, used properly, data can be an incredibly powerful tool to bring about positive social change.
As Head of Data Driven Governance at Tata Trusts, Dr Poornima Dore works to help over 90 districts and eight cities across India improve services and transparency through data-driven decision making.
But what does her job entail? Here Dr Dore explains why there’s no typical day at the office.
As an economist and management professional, I am fortunate that I get to experience the power of stronger governance systems in solving real development problems.
My team looks at data and tech, not just as a tool to be harnessed but as a force for good which, if applied wisely and carefully, can bring about meaningful results and build constructive partnerships.
My day starts with…
A bit of yoga or meditation, which really helps me gear up for the day. I have a cup of tea and a quick look at the newspaper, too.
I have a daughter who’s nearly two, so I try to make some time for myself before she gets up. We have a small garden where she likes to play before we leave for the day.
I live in Jamshedpur, where many Tata Group companies are based [it is named after the group’s founder, Jamsetji Tata]. It’s a very well-planned city, so having recently moved here from Mumbai, I find that I usually have a good commute. If I’m dropping my daughter off at playschool, we enjoy a chat on the way.
Every day is different
I do a lot of field visits, so my days are varied, but when I’m in the city my morning starts with checking emails and dealing with anything that needs to be managed right away.
Once the firefighting is over, I focus on the things I planned to do.
We have a multi-locational team, so we have periodic reviews, which I like to schedule for first thing in the morning. Our team is a very interesting mix of people from very diverse backgrounds, from community mobilization to tech, which makes for very involved and innovative design and rollout techniques.
I also spend time on strategic partnerships, design of new offerings and programs, studying and reviewing insights from the data and identifying various avenues for policy application and uptake. We have also recently started documenting the learnings and impact emanating from our engagements.
My job also gives me the opportunity to travel. I go to many different cities and districts to work with people in the government, or other stakeholders. My husband and I both travel a lot for work so we are constantly aligning calendars.
Tata Trusts is one of the largest organizations working in the community development and nation building space in India. My experiences working with other Tata Group companies has helped me to transpose some of the best practices of industry into the domains of public policy and social good.
One of my first responsibilities here was to manage a portfolio called Urban Poverty and Livelihoods, looking at our investments across several states. Then, about four years ago, we started thinking about data, because we had requests from members of parliament asking how we could map our regions better and identify critical problems worth solving.
This has now become a lot more demand-driven with several arms of the government entering into strategic partnerships with us. Many global universities have also expressed interest in joint research with us. I see a critical role for government, academia, industry and philanthropic collaborations to work on grassroots level problem solving and service delivery.
Today, the tools are so much more advanced, so there’s potential to use data and technology for better planning and delivery of services like healthcare, education, and so on.
Communication is crucial
We work closely with government bodies and administrators so they can prioritize funding and improve development outcomes.
Several regions in countries like India, and even in developed countries like the UK, have advanced much more than others, which leads to unbalanced growth and pockets where there aren’t so many jobs or access to services. Better and more focused plans are needed to make those services more robust.
We’re using technologies like spatial mapping of things like roads, post offices and health services, as well as data points on access, service delivery and local priorities, to understand the lay of the land and helping the decision-makers decide what needs to be addressed first.
The key to bringing diverse stakeholders together is connecting meaningfully with whoever you’re engaging with. The one thing you learn in a career with the Tata Administrative Services (TAS) is that each function has its own set of strengths and challenges and people mirror the role they are expected to represent. Hence an approach which inspires empathy, collaboration and a focus on problem solving across stakeholders is essential to deliver great results.
It’s important to be as comfortable having a cup of tea at a roadside stall in the village as you would be sitting in a hotel discussing issues with a CEO.
There are challenges
Data sharing between different segments of government doesn’t always happen, so getting multiple departments on the same page is always a challenge. It’s crucial to help policymakers learn and embrace new ways of using data. We’ve been working with administrators who see the value of such ideas and act as champions of change within the organization, which further yields to highly improved development outcomes on the ground. On the ground, we have found volunteers collecting the data for our surveys gradually become comfortable with using mobile devices after training and often end up effecting change themselves.
At the end of the day…
I usually leave the office around 7pm, but often we have calls that go on later.
When I get home, I try and spend some quality time with my husband and daughter before bedtime. I also like going for a walk or a swim. Time is at a premium today, so as a family we try to make the best of what we get when we are together.
I have a drum kit at home, too. I played in a band called Bodhitree back in business school, and from time to time I get some like-minded people together for a musical evening.
My daughter has discovered the joy of music early in life, so I’m happy for her.