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San Francisco's Chief Data Geek Prepares to Roll Up Her Sleeves

Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro christens her new role with big plans and collaborative thinking.

Joy Bonaguro was named San Francisco's first chief data officer in February with the goal of unifying data standards across the city and propelling open data efforts wherever and whenever possible. To accomplish that task, Bonaguro calls upon her experience as a policy expert with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy. In an interview with Government Technology on Monday, Bonaguro said she's eager to start uniting city departments for data accessibility projects. Here's what she had to say about the new position.

What drew you to apply for the job?
I’m a data geek. I spent seven years in New Orleans working to create access to data, so this is an issue that’s really close to my heart. It’s a wonderful opportunity -- the chance to further enable access and use of data in San Francisco. [Bonaguro worked for the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, an organization that specializes in data analysis for disaster recovery, regional economic analysis and workforce development.]

How has your past experience prepared you for this new role?
I think my key asset is my experience of understanding the opportunities and challenges from all sides. In New Orleans, I was working outside of government and experienced the frustration of not being able to access data. On the flip side, more recently, I’ve worked within the larger U.S. Department of Energy complex and I saw the challenges of publishing data. So I think those multiple perspectives combined with my background in user-centered design will help me identify approaches that support all of the stakeholders.

Joy Bonaguro, chief data officer, San Francisco

Joy Bonaguro began work as San Francisco's chief data officer in late February. Photo via

What are some traditional challenges in publishing data?
I’m still learning about the challenges specific to San Francisco. But I think generically the challenges are that you have lots of complex back-end systems and getting the data out of there in a convenient and easy fashion is a challenge shared across government.

What will you be working on within the next few months?
I would say my first goal is to broadly engage internal and external stakeholders and really develop a strong understanding of the data ecology in the city. I want to learn about pain points but also identify areas of opportunity or highlight where great work is already happening. I'll use that input to prioritize the work, coupled with existing open data legislation, which calls for the establishment of data coordinator roles in each of the city departments and the publication of data catalogs [listing available open data sets].

Who are some of the stakeholder groups for open data?
I think the value proposition of open data is very broad and as a consequence there’s a broad number of stakeholders. Just to name a few, our city has a treasure trove of civic programmers who will repurpose our data in ways that we can’t even anticipate. But open data can unlock value for other groups as well, whether it’s nonprofits using our data for program planning or evaluation, or citizens learning more about their neighborhoods and the services available to them. And of course, it's valuable for city departments being able to more easily use data in their work or access data from other groups in the city.

How do you intend to spur open data projects in San Francisco?
I'm not sure I know that at this point. I think potentially one way is to understand where there are key data challenges and then focus open data projects around that.

What are the city’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of data management?
I don’t know the full scope of the strengths and weaknesses yet. But I think a key strength is that we have access to so many people by virtue of where we’re located. We have access to so many experts around technology and use of data, not only in the private and civic programmer sector, but even in the research world where we’re surrounded by top-tier universities.

What’s your connection to San Francisco and what draws you to the city itself? Is it the city life, the culture, the people …?
All of the above. I have not worked in this city, but I’ve been in the Bay Area for many years and have access to and enjoy the beautiful and exciting culture and opportunities we have here.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Just to reiterate, my key focus here is enabling the broad number of value propositions and using a broad engagement strategy to do that.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.