It seemed like the start of a promising, somewhat modest career as a lawyer working at the World Trade Center in New York City. But on Sept. 11, 2001, Beth Blauer’s life changed dramatically. Following the tragedy and without a job, she returned to her home in Maryland where she ended up working for the state in juvenile probation services.
Helping children and, by extension, their families, gratified Blauer’s desire for public service. But she was also frustrated by the lack of information she needed to make important decisions. “I realized we were contributing to worse outcomes because we weren’t coordinated [with other departments],” she said. “That’s when I became an advocate for information sharing in state government.”
The timing couldn’t have been better as newly elected Gov. Martin O’Malley launched StateStat, a new methodology for data-driven performance, and named Blauer to lead it. “I fell in love with the process, how agencies could work together,” she said. “It made me realize how important data was and the need to bust silos to accelerate outcomes.”
Blauer eventually left state government, worked for a while at Socrata, the open data platform firm, and in 2015 was named executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence. While her focus on data-driven results remains relatively the same, she now works with cities and counties, helping increase their capacity for data management. “We’re helping them make the connection between data and outcomes.”
The work has as much to do with management and governance as it does with technology. “I’m very interested in technology and the impact it can have on government, but I’m also very critical of the role technology has played in getting government to where it is now,” she said.
A key tech problem, according to Blauer, is proprietary enterprise systems, which make it difficult to extract good data in a cost-effective manner. What’s needed is a shift in priorities, away from technical solutions and toward an emphasis on connecting data to outcomes.
“We’re seeing that shift, and I hope it continues,” she said. “It takes practice, but those routines are going to sustain data-driven work in government and influence what it looks like going forward.”
Todd Sander, executive director of the Center for Digital Government, presented Beth Blauer with her Top 25 award at the Digital Communities Large City/County Fly-In in April.