Collaborating in a Data Ecosystem


Government is the largest sector in every country, and the United States is no exception. More people work in federal, state, and local governments than in any other major industry (although the Health Care and Social Services sector is now close behind).

But just like any other industry, the government does not exist in a vacuum. Governments have always relied on others to help achieve impact, and vica-versa. An interconnected ecosystem encompasses local, state, and federal governments, along with the businesses, nonprofits, advocacy groups, service providers (for example, hospitals and schools) and faith-based and community organizations that inform, consume, and build upon government work.

Data link together the ecosystem. The public sector produces many kinds of important data. For example, the Census Bureau produces vital data on community demographics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes data that underpin our collective picture of the country’s economic health.

Governments use these data for internal purposes—for example, congressional redistricting or to improve programs they run. But many nongovernmental organizations consume government data as well.

Consider the web of data surrounding a local community health department, for example. The local health department relies on data produced by the state health agency, or data made available from the local hospital or school districts in the community. The local department, in turn, may produce additional data itself. It shares all its data with other government departments.

Plenty of other groups consume the local department’s data as well—namely, community foundations, advocacy groups, researchers, healthcare providers, and various other nonprofits and coalitions. As these nongovernmental groups consume and share the data, they collaborate to help shape and improve their local community.

Collective impact in the data ecosystem. Government organizations are very good at producing large quantities of data. For a variety of reasons, however, telling stories and advocating based on data is often beyond the purview of objective, unbiased government bureaucracies.

If governments hope to spread their data and see it put to good use in communities, they need to work effectively with data consumers. For example, a county health department might gather or produce vital data for its population’s well-being. But a local faith-based organization might have more luck integrating personal stories to help make the case and using the data to get a message out to the affected community. Or a local clinic providing care for the indigent may have additional data that complements measures from the government, enabling policymakers to obtain a more complete understanding of the issue.

In biological ecosystems, plants and animals rely on each other to spread energy throughout their ecosystems. Local governments increasingly are coming out of their silos and working together, sometimes in the form of collaboratives to bring people together to solve problems using data. And by promoting collaboration between government and nonprofit groups, important data can reach more people.

How do you collaborate within your ecosystem?

Adnan Mahmud is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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