Victoria’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) has not had a working information strategy “for several years” and it is compromising its ability to develop informed policy, the state’s Auditor-General John Boyle has found.
The agency’s last foray into data planning was in 2007, when it put in place an organisation wide knowledge management strategy.
Despite early intentions, implementation of the plan trailed off and many of its outcomes were never realised. As a result, the DEECD “missed many of the potential benefits it sought to achieve,” according to a report tabled in the Victorian parliament yesterday.
By the end of this year the DEECD plans to finalise a new information and ICT strategy, but the AG has also expressed reservations about progress on these plans.
“DEECD's new information strategy is unlikely to overcome its long-term information management challenges, because as at September 2013...key elements are missing,” states the report.
The new plan, which is due to be finalised by the end of this year, lacks clear leadership, accountability and detailed implementation plans. Crucially it is also without funding at this stage, the report's authors add.
These data deficiencies have the potential to strike at the very heart of the DEECD’s purpose as an organisation.
“A lack of strategic management of information, and a lack of adherence to better practice principles, can compromise a department’s ability to deliver on its responsibilities.
“This needs to change for the department to genuinely understand the outcomes of the $11.5 billion it spends each year,” according to the report.
One of the weakest systems identified is used to track information on infants and young children who come into contact with any one of the 79 local government authorities funded by the DEECD to deliver services. The data it contains informs major policy and resource allocation decisions targeted at this vulnerable group, but the AG said it was undermined by manual data entry, inconsistent categorisation of data and a lack of quality assurance.
Furthermore, the software used by 61 of the 79 authorities to feed data to the DEECD is hampered by a well known flaw which adds up figures incorrectly on a regular basis.
The report represents the ninth separate performance audit in three years to have pulled the DEECD up on its information management practices.
The department is also notorious for its Ultranet project, which is widely assumed to be teetering on the edge of cancellation after it was forecast that its budget would triple to $180 million before it reached its full intended functionality.