Two years after Delaware established its Open Data Council and empowered it to guide policy behind the state’s open data portal, Gov. John Carney has expanded the group and given members a hard deadline to release more public information.
The EO gives executive branch agencies until Sept. 30 to deliver to the council an inventory of all data sets the agencies "can or may be able to include in the open data portal." The EO then gives the council until Dec. 31, 2020 to identify data sets that can be made public, and to make them available on the portal.
In the order, Carney said the state "should continue to promote sharing data among state agencies, when appropriate and permissible, to make state business more efficient and effective," and indicated increasing public access to data is in the state's interest.
"Expanding the Open Data Council to include members from all executive branch agencies will help facilitate the work we’ve begun through the Family Services Cabinet Council, and allow us to share and analyze data to effectively deliver services and allocate resources for Delawareans," the governor said in a statement.
Members of the public can suggest data sets for inclusion on the state portal, at data.delaware.gov/nominate.
The council, which former Gov. Jack Markell established in 2016, was created to recommend and establish standards and policies for the state Department of Technology and Information (DTI) and other executive branch agencies, which would inform a statewide data strategy, as well as open data and data-sharing between departments.
As created, it included representatives of DTI and the Government Information Center, which are co-chairs; the departments of Transportation and Education; and Health and Social Services.
But the council’s co-Chairperson Rhonda Lehman, who is DTI’s director of enterprise architecture, data management and governance, said that while more than 200 “catalog items” like maps and charts have been made available on the Delaware Open Data Portal, those include just 47 data sets.
The public release of open data, while “great” at first, has “slowed way down,” Lehman said in an interview, acknowledging its members are busy. The opioid crisis is one area where, partly because of privacy and confidentiality concerns, she said Delaware hasn’t yet been able to tell its entire story via open data.
Officials are working to clear that roadblock and Carney’s EO could help, Lehman said. But she emphasized compiling opioid data is just one state function — and that the order's larger goal is to expand the council and jumpstart the release of open data.
“There is a wealth of data that the state has and manages," said Lehman, whose agency drafted the EO. "It’s not all public data, but we should be opening up the things that are public data and putting them out there. To me, this is expanding the council, it’s re-invigorating things, it is putting some new deadlines in place to achieve some things so that we can continue making progress forward."
Delaware Chief Information Officer James Collins reminded those present that state agencies have "a vast treasure trove of data," and that “great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere."
"By making this information available to everyone, we create even more opportunities for innovative solutions,” Collins said in a statement.
Agencies now joining the council will include the departments of Safety and Homeland Security; Agriculture; Labor; and Human Resources — a department created during the current fiscal year.
Representatives of the departments of Corrections and Finance, which already participate on the council, will be elevated to formal members. The EO specifies the governor’s chief of staff will now represent the governor on the council.
The order also mandates that the council — previously tasked with creating a strategic plan for statewide integration of open data by Sept. 30, 2016 — write an Open Data Action Plan and update it "at least annually." Lehman said this should keep the group “forging forward.”
The Feb. 12 announcement at The Mill, a co-working space in Wilmington, Del., didn't explicitly reference the 2018 Open Data Challenge, a series of events already underway that will include an ideation session on Feb. 25, and a monthlong data jam or hackathon beginning in April.
But Ryan Harrington, co-founder and co-organizer of Open Data Delaware and a partner in presenting the challenge, attended, and praised the state's growing commitment to open data.
The 2020 deadline to identify and push out more data streams, spelled out in the EO, can’t come soon enough, he said.
“To me, open data becomes exponentially more powerful, the more information that’s available to the public. In some ways I wish that was a quicker deadline. Hopefully, that extra time lets it be done well and with a level of granularity that makes it useful to the public,” said Harrington, a data scientist whose organization has been a regular presence at the council's meetings.
This was Carney’s first EO aimed specifically at open data since he was sworn in 13 months ago, though in September he signed Executive Order 14 establishing an advisory council on connected and autonomous vehicles.
But Harrington and Lehman agreed Carney’s Action Plan for Delaware ahead of his first term, which began in January 2017, showed the governor clearly prioritizes open data.
“That was fantastic to us. I definitely think this governor sees the value in it,” Lehman said.
Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.