"We don’t just react based on our fears. We react based on facts and judgment and making smart decisions."
These were President Obama’s recent words as he tried to put the danger of the Ebola outbreak in perspective for Americans.
Regardless of how we feel about the disease and its threat to our country, it’s clear that Obama was trying to establish a fact-based decision-making and governing process.
In my opinion, this approach is needed at every level of government today, as public officials grapple with an unprecedented array of complex challenges and problems in all spheres – including national security, health, budget, transportation, crime, the environment and education.
Unfortunately, however, this type of factual decision-making and governance has been lacking in our country over the past few years, with policy too often driven by uninformed opinion or popular belief – not data. As a result, public-sector performance and accountability have been called into question.
I believe that we can do better.
Indeed, governments at the city, state, county, national – and even international – level have an abundance of data that is lodged in obsolete databases and useless applications. And legions of these civic organizations around the world are rushing to open their vast troves of data on the Internet.
This is ushering in a new era of data-driven government – a breakthrough era that will produce facts at the speed of light, and deliver them in context to political leaders, citizens, professional academicians, scientists, journalists and software developers wherever they’re connected to the Web.
Already, we’re seeing government organizations mobilizing to explain and report on their operations, performance, services and decision-making – both for internal employees and external constituents – utilizing data, the most valuable natural resource of the 21st century.
So, what are the vital components of data-driven government, and how can a public-sector entity assess whether it’s ready to become a data-driven organization?
First, do you know where your data is? The initial step in being a data-driven government is to know your data.
Second, have you opened your data on the Internet? Being a data-driven government means freely providing your data to all those in the position to use it – employees, constituents and a wide range of data-consuming professionals. This is the only way that data can become the basis for reliable and fact-based government decisions.
Third, are you using your data to present options, analyze alternatives, assess opportunities, inform stakeholders, and to ultimately make high-quality governmental decisions that you can back up with facts?
Fourth, are you holding your government organization accountable for state-of-the-art packaging and presentation of data and facts, in the form of fair and unbiased visualizations, maps, graphics and other proven user experiences across the complete spectrum of digital devices that people use today as their information tools?
And fifth, have you publicly committed to be a data-driven government, providing your constituents with the essential elements of government operations – budgets, policy documents, goals and reports? This is the only way to make your commitment real and tangible.
In the emerging era of fact-based and data-driven government, these will be the essential ingredients for success, and the invaluable tools for achieving the ultimate mission of government everywhere – to provide citizens with a higher quality of life, and with greater opportunities to achieve their potential as fellow human beings.
Robert Runge is a member of the Board of Directors at Socrata, a cloud-based data platform provider for government.