Report: What States Are the Best for Data Innovation?

Nonprofit think-tank the Center for Data Innovation rated states for data innovation based on their use of data and technology, and their interaction with people and companies.

In the premiere edition of a new report, a nonprofit think tank has recognized states for their innovation when it comes to data.

The Best States for Data Innovation, released on Monday, July 31 by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Data Innovation, ranked Massachusetts, Washington and Maryland as the No. 1, 2 and 3 states overall.

Delaware followed fourth-ranked California in rounding out the top five, while Utah placed sixth; Virginia got spot No. 7; Oregon placed eighth; transportation innovator Colorado ran ninth; and New York was 10th.

The survey examined state and federal information compiled over the past two years to populate 25 indicators in areas of data and technology, and people and companies.

Overall scores on a scale of zero to 100 reflected performance in these areas; and the idea that while the top five winners “are thriving hubs of data-driven innovation,” and prove policymakers “can make states more competitive in the data economy,” even lower-ranking states may have undertaken key policies from which other states can learn.

And for lower-ranking states looking to fare better next time, officials from a few of the top-ranked states recommend considering data’s potential to increase efficiency and enhance citizens’ relationship with their governments.

But, overall rankings aside, its director emphasized nearly every state had areas where it could work to improve.

“Our goal with this report is really to lay out these issues for state and local policymakers so they can start understanding how much the decisions they make affect their state, and affect their state’s ability to compete in the data economy and ability to succeed at solving some of these important issues,” Center Director Daniel Castro told Government Technology.

The Center — a nonpartisan group that examines the convergence of data, technology and public policy — will likely do a follow-up report, Castro said; however, while officials will monitor states’ progress and evaluate new data, it’s unclear whether the next edition will arrive next year or not.

Report authors highlighted the benefits early adopters of data-forward strategies enjoy, including being positioned to use it to address challenges, and to become “future hubs of the data economy” by growing and attracting such companies.

They generally recommend that policymakers take the lead in publishing legislative data, developing a statewide e-government strategy, and developing an open data portal and open data policy.

States, the authors wrote, should consider working with utilities to make smart devices available, support efforts to increase broadband access and speed, and lead by example by having agencies make data available.

Top-ranked overall, Massachusetts’ placement reflected high performance across a variety of indicators.

The state ranked in the top five in metrics that assess energy usage data, buoyed by 98 percent of its residents having access to Green Button utility data; broadband availability and speeds; electronic health records; and, like highly-placing California and Washington, developing its human and business capital.

“Some states benefit from certain pre-existing characteristics that make them better positioned to take advantage of data-driven innovation, such as being home to leading research universities. However, leading states have all taken proactive steps to unlock innovation,” the report’s authors wrote.

They cited these states' support of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs in public schools, e-government investments, “robust” open-data policies, and promotion of health-information technology. 

No. 2 Washington also scored in the top five on specific indicators of making legislative, transit system and energy usage data available to citizens, and enabling key technology platforms to empower business, researchers, government agencies and residents to make insights.

Castro acknowledged that Washington and Maryland both have strong tech sectors, but noted both have also invested significantly in data and in government.

Will Saunders, the state of Washington’s senior program manager for open data, told Government Technology that officials are “thrilled” at the overall ranking, but also praised private-sector technology companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google for their contribution.

The state closely guards certain data streams like personal medical information, but wherever possible, Saunders said, an attitude of making data open, innovative and publicly accessible is “baked in.”

“For us it’s just how we do business and government, for that matter, in Washington," he said.

Individual indicators on which the state didn’t score so highly — including making governmental financial and education data public, and on its open data portal — were a “wake-up call” and an “indication that we need to do better,” Saunders said.

He recommended agencies seeking to improve or maintain their overall rankings create an impact by telling or revisiting the stories of technology or open data successes in their states. Among Washington state agencies that provide open data streams to the state portal, Saunders said data also has had the power to stimulate conversations about the future.

It’s “a great way to start or jumpstart collaboration discussions within government about where to go and what’s possible,” Saunders said.

Third-ranked overall, Maryland also placed in the top five on indicators of broadband availability, transit-information system data, and having an open-data portal — all of which, authors noted, bolstered its top five ranking on the area of enabling key technology platforms.

Fourth-rated California placed in the top five on indicators for e-prescribing, the ability of doctors to send prescriptions electronically; for aggressively pursuing so-called “smart” utility meters; for an overall enabling of public access to government information; and for a relative abundance of software service and data science jobs.

Castro praised the state’s adoption of technologies like smart meters, and for its open data policies — proof, he said, that officials were concerned about integrating data in different areas.

California only ranked 18th in the greater metric of ensuring data overall is available for public usage — which included other specifics such as e-prescribing and smart meters — but the state’s Chief Data Officer Zachary Townsend told Government Technology that it has taken a more deliberate approach to work with citizens to learn what types of data they would like to see, then prioritize releases.

The state takes a less monolithic, top-down approach toward adopting technology, Townsend said, working with various stakeholders to create more grass-roots efforts and, in this case, working “toward releasing more open data.”

As for what advice the state might offer other agencies to improve or maintain their rankings in the survey, he said he believes transparency “is itself a virtue in allowing citizens to understand what’s happening in their government, to create some level of accountability.”

“There are a lot of great ideas in the world that come from within the state, and there are a lot of great ideas in the world that come from people who live in the state and work in the state. Open data is a way to engage people on those ideas, their data analytics skills, their business skills,” Townsend said. “Different data animates different parts of the public.”

Fifth overall, Delaware surprised researchers by scoring as highly as it did, Castro told Government Technology. Delaware ranked in the top five in specific indicators on ensuring data is available for public use; for making education and energy efficiency data available; in e-prescribing; and for employing a large number of statisticians, an outcome potentially influenced by its proximity to Washington, D.C.

The state didn’t rank in the top five for having an open data portal, despite having debuted a portal in October. But Castro cited this in a conversation with GovTech, praising the state for creating the data governance council that guided its creation and for “really trying to work on data issues.”

Rhonda Lehman, Delaware’s director of enterprise architecture, data management, and governance, also leads the open data council formed by governor’s executive order to spearhead the portal. She told Government Technology that its number of available data sets has grown from 35 initially to around 40 now and should expand even further.

The state sees data innovation as a public service, Lehman said, and works to share data across agencies to obtain different analyses while recognizing some information must be confidential.

She advised officials in other states desiring to maintain or improve their rankings to be mindful that innovating around data frequently yields other efficiencies, noting employees in Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources experienced a considerable time savings after automating data about septic systems permitting and inspections.

Lehman also suggested states that haven’t already done so might consider creating an open data portal to bring citizens closer to their government and begin a dialogue.

“I just think that’s really important and something the state can learn from the community,” Lehman told Government Technology. “We have to understand that we don’t know it all in state government. We want citizens to become engaged and sometimes force policy change.”

Like the Center Director Castro, the report’s writers emphasized examples of good work among virtually all 50 states — even those that ranked in the bottom 25. Alaska, for example, ranked 41st overall, but made the top five for reporting legislative and educational data.

The state also scored in the top five for public access to government information, a metric that examined whether citizens have a legal right to access information, whether their right of access is effective, and whether information available online; and for Internet of Things: Consumer Devices.

This metric created a composite score of wearables and smart TVs per 1,000 residents using 2015 data, and authors noted that wealthier states like Washington, Utah and Virginia topped the rankings. Alaska placed fifth, which surprised officials, Castro said, but he pointed out that state residents have “pretty good” incomes on average, and may engage in more outdoor activities in which they use wearables.

Elsewhere, authors pointed out states like Colorado, which ranked first in the indicator for
ensuring data is available for use, also did well at making financial data available, but less so for “publishing legislative data and public access to information.”

Missouri ranked 27th overall and had “significant room for improvement in some areas,” they wrote, but was a leader in several indicators including public access to information, e-government, and information and data processing.

That’s because it “has strong transparency laws,” authors noted, and “uses data and technology to improve government operations,” and forges policies to make the state attractive to information and data-processing firms.

Similarly, Arkansas, which landed at 38th overall, ranked second at publishing legislative data in open and machine-readable formats, behind only Washington; while the state of Michigan, ranked 15th overall, also ranked No. 1 with a bullet at publishing government financial data online.

Generally, Castro said, no state is doing everything perfectly.

“States are excelling in certain areas," he said, "but everyone has their work cut out for them."

Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:00 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2017 to include perspective from Washington state.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for, and before that was 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.
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