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What’s New in Civic Tech: What Do State Chief Data Officers Do?

Plus, mayors across the country unite in support of net neutrality; Chicago’s Cook County seeks a chief data officer; Indiana uses software to connect drug addicts with treatment; and Austin, Texas’ civic tech group changes meetup name to foster inclusivity.

Pew Charitable Trusts has released a new analysis that examines the evolving role of the state chief data officer (CDO).

This analysis, dubbed What Do State Chief Data Officers Do?, is available on Pew’s website and features a map of which states have chief data officers, as well as how those positions came to be. Essentially, the information boils down to whether a CDO gig is required by a law, created by an executive order or appointed at the discretion of state leadership. This new analysis is a sort of elaboration on another report released by Pew last month, How States Use Data to Inform Decisions. Both documents speak to an increasingly vital truth within the gov tech sector: that data work is becoming vital to government at the state level.

To put this all in perspective, the new Pew analysis notes that CDOs first emerged from the private sector in the early 2000s before taking root in state government — the first such position being created by Colorado in 2010. “Since then, 18 states and Washington, D.C., have instituted the position through laws, executive orders, gubernatorial appointment and agency designation to better manage and analyze data,” the analysis notes.

As far as answering the central question of the analysis — what do state CDOs do? — it uses the example of the response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, which saw data from multiple state agencies contribute quality data that a state data coordinator was then able to draw from in helping to facilitate efficient storm response.

“CDOs create data-driven solutions for intermittent issues like hurricanes and traffic events, as well as for chronic problems like poverty,” the authors of the analysis wrote.

Chicago’s Cook County seeks a chief data officer

Chief data officer (CDO) positions also appear to be on the rise at the county level.

Cook County, Ill., which is home to Chicago and one of the most prominent county governments in the nation, is currently searching to hire a new CDO. In Cook County, the role provides “organizational governance and policy directives around data usage and leads the effort to ensure that the best information is accessible for facilitating data-driven decision making and innovation across the county,” according to a job posting for the position on the county’s website. The CDO in Cook County is also responsible for managing a team of information management professionals and a staff that handles the technology side of communications, including the county websites, social media, email, video and audio.

This appears to be part of a county-wide trend of committing to open data practices. Earlier this month, Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx announced the release of more than six years of felony criminal case data via the Cook County Open Data Portal, a first-of-its-kind release for the county.

“For too long, the work of the criminal justice system has been largely a mystery,” Foxx said in a statement announcing that release. “That lack of openness undermines the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. Our work must be grounded in data and evidence, and the public should have access to that information.”

Foxx publicly stated a commitment to open data while running for her position in 2016 at the urging of Chicago’s civic tech group Chi Hack Night, which also went on to urge candidates in the ongoing Illinois gubernatorial race to make such a pledge.

Mayors across the country unite in support of net neutrality

More than 20 mayors from across the country have signed onto a new movement aimed at opposing the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to roll back protections for net neutrality.

Dubbed Mayors for Net Neutrality, this new effort involves municipal leaders agreeing to a Cities Open Internet Pledge, which is essentially a promise to only do business with Internet providers that decide of their own volition to adhere to a strong set of net neutrality principles. A diverse group of mayors has so far signed on, including those from major cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, as well as those from smaller cities such as Putnam, Conn., Bow Mar, Colo., and Stockton, Calif., among others.

Since Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election and questions were first raised about whether the FCC’s track record of preserving a neutral Internet would live on, there has certainly been no shortage of government leaders at both the municipal and state levels fighting for the cause. Indeed, the signing of this latest letter is just one more block within a mosaic of work to preserve equitable Internet protections nationwide.

Other efforts have included the governors of Montana and New York signing executive orders requiring Internet service providers to adhere to net neutrality principles in order to remain eligible for government contracts; state legislatures launching bills to preserve net neutrality; and even some cities — namely San Francisco — working to create city-owned fiber-optic networks that require net neutrality.  

These efforts to combat net neutrality rollbacks also pre-dated the FCC’s action, with a number of municipal gov tech leaders going to Washington, D.C., in the lead-up to voice opposition.

Austin, Texas’ civic tech group changes meetup name to foster inclusivity

Would a weekly civic hack night be just as civic hacky by any other name?

Civic tech group Open Austin thinks so. In fact, that Austin, Texas-based group thinks a different name could potentially foster more community inclusion and ultimately further its own goals of using tech to improve the quality of life in its community. To that end, Open Austin recently changed the name of its twice-monthly meetup from Civic Hack Nights to Community Action Nights.

Local civic tech stakeholders have taken to Twitter to praise the decision, noting that language and word choice can be vital in welcoming new participants. Austin is not the first place for this to be happening. In fact, last year’s National Day of Civic Hacking Events placed an emphasis on being more inclusive, particularly on attracting participants who may not have a background in technology and might be put off by words like “hacking” all together.

Civic tech groups in locales from Portland, Maine, to Sacramento, Calif., have worked to entice participants who do not think of themselves as technologists. Open Austin is also not alone in taking the word hack out of its weekly meetup branding, with other civic tech groups across the country starting to do the same.

Indiana uses software to connect drug addicts with treatment

As state, county and city governments continue turning to tech to combat ongoing opioid addiction crises in their jurisdictions, Indiana has now become one of the first in the country to use software to connect users with drug treatment.

In a press release, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration announced a new partnership with a software platform called OpenBeds, which is aimed at helping social workers search for openings at drug treatment facilities in the state. The partnership also involves Indiana 2-1-1, which is a non-profit group that provides health care to those in need. The collaboration brings together OpenBeds tech with 2-1-1’s database of service providers, enabling those in need to find addiction treatment options in real time.

This effort is being funded by money from Indiana’s 21st Century Cures Act, which directs $10.9 million in federal funds to address the ongoing drug epidemic. This use of tech to help addicts more efficiently find treatment is relatively unique in terms of governmental efforts to address the opioid crisis. Other work has focused on using tech to monitor the frequency of drug prescriptions, using data to visualize abuse, and other work.  

Indiana is the first to use OpenBeds’ treatment facility connection software statewide, according to local news reports.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine