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What’s New in Civic Tech: Connecticut’s First State Data Plan

Plus, New York City codifies its office of data analytics, U.S. Congress votes to approve the OPEN Government Data Act, Buffalo, N.Y., wins an award from the New York secretary of state for its local data work, and more.

by / December 27, 2018
Connecticut state capitol building Shutterstock

Connecticut has finalized its first-ever state data plan, making the full text available through the state’s open data portal.

This satisfies a new legislative requirement in Connecticut that was approved in June, and, most importantly, it codifies data-driven government and decision-making as something that the state’s leadership must use consistently. While this is Connecticut’s first state data plan, the legislation requires it to now be updated every two years.

To get a sense of what is actually in the new data plan, it is perhaps easiest to look at some of the broader requirements from the June legislation. These include finding ways to establish data analysis as a standard for all Connecticut executive brand agencies; setting specific goals related to data use within the next two years; setting long-term goals; recommending ways to make data integration systems and practices standard throughout the state government; creating a timeline for reviewing state and federal regulations related to internal data sharing or securing; and more.

As you may have noticed, there’s a lot of goal-setting involved here, and, in what is perhaps an encouraging sign, the very publication of this plan meets Connecticut’s first goal: to formalize the plan before Dec. 31, 2018. In other words, the whole thing is off to a solid start.

It should perhaps also be noted that this heavier commitment to data-driven governance at the state level is a growing trend. More states — including Connecticut — are making moves to support that, ranging from hiring chief data officers to codifying data-driven governance commitments. Both of these actions have become increasingly rote for major cities, but are newer at the state level.   

Interested parties can view the Connecticut plan in its entirety now.

New York City Codifies Office of Data Analytics in Charter

Like Connecticut, New York City has now codified its data work by including its Mayor's Office of Data Analytics (MODA) in its charter.

With the passing of Local Law 222 of 2018 this month, MODA is now permanently codified in the city charter, along with seven mandates for its work. This is a more permanent status for the office, which was first established by executive order in 2013.

This move comes after the city hired Kelly Jin as a new chief analytics officer to essentially run MODA. In a press release announcing the codification, city officials noted that the office’s mission was to help other public agencies there apply analytics and data-driven decision-making to their work, thereby improving the efficiency and equity of service delivery while also bolstering local government transparency. Part of MODA’s function is to also partner with New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) in overseeing and managing its open data work, which includes more than 2,000 data sets and a weekly user total that exceeds 30,000.

There is no real standard on whether data work in local government must be codified. Doing so, however, ensures that data work will outlive the current mayoral administration in a given city. Basically, when data work becomes codified, it removes the possibility that a future mayor will regress in committing energy and resources to it, ensuring that data-driven governance has a future in a given jurisdiction.

U.S. Congress Votes to Approve the OPEN Government Data Act

Congress has passed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking (FEBP) Act (H.R. 4174, S. 2046), which means that the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act (OPEN Government Data Act) within it will likely become law.

Assuming the president signs the bill, this will mean that the federal government is moving to codify data-driven governance as well, doing so by making public info available by default in machine-readable formats, and also by urging federal agencies to use evidence-driven decision-making in their public policies. In a relatively rare development for 2018, the passage of the bill was also a bipartisan effort, supported by Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as well as Sens. Patty Murray D-Wash., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D. Wash. Open data advocates swiftly praised the approval on Twitter. Organizations aimed at improving governmental decision-making via open data also spoke out in favor of the legislation.

“The bipartisan passage of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act is a significant step toward a more efficient, more effective government that uses evidence and data to improve results for the American people,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and co-founder of Results for America, in a statement. “We commend Speaker Ryan, Senator Murray and their bipartisan colleagues in both chambers for advancing legislation that will help build evidence about the federally funded practices, policies and programs that deliver the best outcomes. By ensuring that each federal agency has an evaluation officer, an evaluation policy and evidence-building plans, we can maximize the impact of public investments.”

This is essentially the culmination of a three-year effort to get the legislation passed, and presuming that the federal government often serves as a model for state work, it could encourage copycat legislation in statehouses nationwide. Advocates say it stands to vastly improve access to federal information that can be used to both improve public services and enable private-sector innovations.

Parts of the OPEN Government Act are aimed at creating standards for making open data public, requiring more data-driven decision-making at the federal level and establishing formal chief data officer positions within federal agencies that have been tasked with data governance or implementation.

Buffalo, N.Y., Wins Award for Its Data Work

While obviously the biggest, New York City is far from the only jurisdiction in New York actively engaged in open data work.

In fact, its neighbor to the (far) north, Buffalo, N.Y., was recently recognized for its own open data work, dubbed the Open Data Buffalo initiative. The upstate New York city won the Trail Blazer Award, which is given out by New York State Secretary Rossana Rosado to local governments that use innovative practices and serve as models for other municipal agencies.

Buffalo was specifically lauded for its open data portal and a program that it ran called the Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge, which challenged the public to use the portal and the open data within to develop projects with the potential to solve challenges in the community.

Another innovative open data move on Buffalo’s part is its Data 101 initiative, a free class for members of the community to learn more about working with data. A relatively new program that started in November, Data 101 gives residents the opportunity to get expert insights into the functionalities of the city’s open data portal. What really sets Data 101 apart is that it invites the public into the learning, whereas many cities are more intensely focused on conducting internal training exercises only for city staffers.

Buffalo’s open data program manager Kirk McLean received the award for the city earlier this month at a local government innovation conference in Albany, N.Y.

Albuquerque, N.M., Tweaks Procurement Processes to Encourage Contracting with Local Vendors

To bolster economic development, Albuquerque has recently used data and some adjustments to its procurement processes transparency to encourage internal departments to work with more local vendors.

In fact, Albuquerque was able to convert 20 contracts from non-local vendors to local vendors this summer, which a case study by Results for America reports kept roughly $1 million within the local economy there. The city did this by collecting new data on the demographic makeup of businesses and also enhancing its real-time procurement dashboards to keep internal departments accountable as to where they decided to contract services, specifically as it applied to local versus non-local vendors.

While the dashboard enhancement is the clearest example of tech at work, one of the key non-tech components to this plan was requiring all departments to solicit at least one quote from a local business for any contracts between $10,000 and $60,000. At the same time, the city raised the spending limit for non-competitive procurement contracts from $2,500 to $10,000, subsequently requiring the use of local businesses on small purchases, provided it was feasible.

The data component involved collection processes. The city modified the W-9 form for all vendors to include a better definition of what constitutes a local vendor, which was made possible by a 2017 shift from paper to electronic procurement forms. The dashboard work, meanwhile, saw Albuquerque tweak existing real-time dashboards so that it was easier to track purchasing and contracting, while also adding a public-facing dashboard that displays municipal spending.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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