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Why States Need a Data Officers Leadership Network (Contributed)

In a short period of time, the number of state chief data officers has exploded and it’s why a new network has formed to support their distinct challenges and opportunities with managing and using data at the state level.

Data is a strategic asset and, if missing or unavailable, severely limits the ability of government to deliver results and services the public expects, create effective policy and operate efficiently. To ensure the well-being of this critical asset, many governments, including several U.S. states, have hired chief data officers (CDOs) who are dedicated to the responsible management and utilization of government data, especially through warehousing, analysis and mining.

While CDOs are leading crucial work for states around the country, the position is new so there’s no definitive blueprint for how to be successful. Many CDOs are the first person to do the job in their state. Since the best way to learn, support one another in this new endeavor, and develop best practices is peers, a network of state CDOs has emerged. This network began to take shape in 2016 thanks to the efforts of Liz Rowe (former New Jersey CDO) and Ed Kelly from Texas, who began to reach out to state CDOs and begin setting up conference calls. Doing this is not a trivial task, and they established a solid foundation for what has become the State Chief Data Officer Network.

The network is a voluntary collaboration of the executive leadership for information and data in state government. Today, approximately 25 states have established a CDO or comparable role, and virtually all of them participate in the State CDO Network. With this level of demand and an expected increase in the number of states hiring CDOs, work is underway to formalize this network.

State data programs are seeking to leverage data as a strategic asset. CDOs understand that the data states collect has value beyond the purpose for which it’s collected. However, there are persistent challenges that all states face when attempting to effectively leverage data. These challenges can be legal, cultural and technological, among many others. The network serves primarily as a way for states to share their own experiences and how they are addressing these issues. Its primary objectives include:

  • Facilitating sharing, collaboration, innovation and knowledge transfer among members in state government.
  • Facilitating interaction and collective cooperation between state, federal, and local government entities.
  • Developing and encouraging standards adoption.
  • Developing and supporting best practices.
  • Working toward solutions to issues identified as priorities of the members or within the field.
  • Speaking as a community — with one voice.
States often compete with one another, typically for jobs or federal grants. Yet, there’s a tremendous spirit of cooperation among state CDOs. Indiana, with its highly regarded Management and Performance Hub, may not get much benefit from participating in the network, yet CDO Darshan Shah consistently participates and shares lessons from Indiana’s data journey. Florida’s relatively new CDO Burt Walsh has shared his state’s data inventory process, which was tremendously valuable to Connecticut, which recently was required to undertake such an inventory.

For now, the State Chief Data Officers Network activities generally consist of a monthly video conference with topics that range from open data, state legislation, data governance, analytics, and staffing, to name a few. With no financial support and a very modest amount of institutional support from an academic partner, the network has been able to grow and coalesce around some common issues. To date the network has:

  • Established a partnership with an academic institution.
  • Established a series of guiding principles.
  • Held monthly video conferences.
  • Held a half-day virtual summit.
  • Established an electronic communication and collaboration channel.
  • Provided recommendations on the Federal Data Strategy.
  • Established a relationship with the National Governors Association.
Over the next year and hopefully beyond, the network will continue to grow with an emphasis on peer networking, knowledge sharing and forming additional partnerships. We are creating smaller focus groups around topics such as open data, to allow CDOs to dig deeper into areas of particular interest to their state. Additionally, the network will seek to do some smaller things, such as establish a Web presence, so new state CDOs and others know who we are and how to reach us. The network must also begin pursuit of philanthropic support in order to scale the impact of the network. 

The Civic Analytics Network, the city equivalent of the State CDO Network, has demonstrated that with modest financial support, they can have a significant impact. Additionally, many state programs and the data they collect and are responsible for are either funded by the federal government or impacted by federal laws and policy. The state CDOs intend to make our collective voices heard when it comes to federal data policy and its impact on states.

State CDOs will ultimately need support to scale this network, not only to grow peer-to-peer knowledge sharing but to allow deeper research and educational opportunities. State laws, policies and programs have significant implications for health care, justice, education, child welfare, transportation, and economic opportunity, along with myriad other important issues. Each of these areas can be improved on a national scale when states leverage data positively.

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.
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