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Adita Karkera

Former Deputy State CDO, Arkansas

Arkansas Deputy State Chief Data Officer Adita Karkera
Whether it comes from human services, criminal justice or corrections, Adita Karkera wants to find out how data can best be used to drive policymaking in Arkansas. She began work with the state Division of Information Systems, which houses the IT agency, in 2000 on a three-month contract, and more than two decades later she’s still there.

A major turning point came in 2017 when the Legislature created the Office of the Chief Data Officer — when Karkera was also named deputy state CDO — and the Data and Transparency Panel (DTP). Both moves formalized the state’s data work and established a governance structure. The CDO heads the DTP, which includes appointees from the House, Senate and governor’s office as well as each of the state agencies. Karkera pushed to take that a step further by creating agency data officers, and brought them together in a state data governance steering committee.

“You cannot just create policies and procedures from the top and think that that’s going to work for every agency,” Karkera said, “but there needs to be some sort of standardization across the state.” This created a culture of positive collaboration that continues to gain momentum over time.

Another initiative that is still paying dividends was the 2017 creation of an inventory of data assets across all agencies, which formed a foundation for the data governance structure. The catalog’s value was further solidified by the arrival of COVID-19. In May 2020, Karkera was appointed to a COVID-19 tech advisory board that looks at how tech and data can help combat the virus, such as via contact tracing, vaccine distribution management and administration. Looking ahead, their work will shift toward developing a longer-term strategy that will include data sharing agreements that are secure, ethical and truly useful.

“As public data leaders,” Karkera said, “it’s our responsibility to provide guidance to the systems that are in use today to be sure agencies are creating the right ethical frameworks when they are looking to deploy new technologies.”
Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.