New Directions With Data in Government

As the pandemic drove home, having access to accurate, relevant and timely information is essential for decision-making. Yet most state and local governments struggle to access quality data from their legacy IT systems.

Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act has given a new boost to modernizing data infrastructure for the public good. A recent article on GovLoop compared typical data storage technologies such as data warehouses and data lakes with a third option: modern data platforms built specifically for the public sector. For agencies looking to employ “facts and evidence over hunches and anecdotes” for decision-making, data platforms offer a scalable solution.

The whitepaper, “New Directions With Data,” highlights how the states of Virginia, New Jersey and Oregon have led the way in using these modern platforms.

Virginia’s Data-Sharing Foundation

Years before the pandemic, Virginia had laid a foundation for a statewide data-sharing alliance when it addressed the opioid epidemic. That solid foundation was instrumental to the state’s pandemic response in 2020.

“The COVID response played a huge role in getting the word out about why it’s so important to get the data where it needs to be in a well-governed way,” said Carlos Rivero, the former chief data officer for the state of Virginia.

“There was frantic activity trying to get our hands on data to make decisions early on,” Rivero said about the urgency at the pandemic’s onset. Fortunately, the state was able to turn to its existing platform, data-sharing protocols and statewide alliance partners to quickly publish COVID-19 dashboards and datasets.

New Jersey Starts Small To Go Big

“Sometimes agencies don’t realize their data is an asset that can be used to inform decision-making,” said Poonam Soans, chief data officer for the state of New Jersey.

When beginning to work with an agency, Soans recommends focusing on one use case. By showing the impact of making data accessible on the state’s open data platform, Soans then encourages agencies to find other use cases. Soans said, “We are constantly thinking of new ways to incorporate data.”

New Jersey’s strategy of starting small has simplified participation from agencies in its open data platform activities. Those efforts paid off during the pandemic. In a 90-day period, the state launched its biggest cross-agency dataset, tracking $40 billion in CARES Act disbursements.

Oregon’s Data Governance

“Agencies should think about the types of data they collect and what might be of value to their constituents,” said Kathryn Darnall Helms, Oregon’s chief data officer. According to Darnall Helms, open data represents “a firm commitment that data collected is for the benefit of the public.”

Oregon passed an open data law in 2017 and has since generated more than 2 million views on the state’s web portal. Oregon supports organic projects from agencies by providing technical standards, a data dictionary standard and an emerging governance standard.

“Open data is a byproduct of doing data governance well in the first place,” Darnall Helms says. “Data is now embedded into some of the foundational conversations legislators have and the information that citizens want.”

For state and local agencies considering the new avenues that the modern platforms offer, these three states’ approaches show how to chart a course forward.

Steve Goll is the editorial content manager at Tyler Technologies, Inc. In his role, he shares stories of government leaders finding solutions to challenges across a range of disciplines. During his 15 years of government experience, he worked at the state level in economic development and higher education, at the local level in K-12 education, and at the county/regional level as a workforce development council member.

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