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Advice for the incoming class of CDOs

A new state, county or city chief data officer was named almost every month in the second half of 2016. And because the CDO position is relatively new, there is little guidance available for new CDOs.  A new report from the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation aims to get them up to speed.

“Lessons From Leading CDOs: A Framework for Better Civic Analytics” explores current practices and analysis from CDOs in early-adopter cities.  It also includes observations from the author, Jane Wiseman, Innovations in American Government Fellow at the Ash Center, who visited  CDOs across the country while researching how to foster a data culture in government.

CDOs who emphasize data stewardship allow government to allocate resources to serve the public’s needs and can lay the groundwork for data analytics. Wiseman said this stewardship framework includes “the data infrastructure to manage data, and the data governance that guides data collection and quality.” This framework can help CDOs create programs that turn data into insight through reports, visualizations or predictive modeling.

“Having data out there invites people to look at it,” Wiseman told GCN, and it generates a demand for additional data and for quality improvements. For example, many CDOs’ open data programs and portals have guided departments on what to release and how to release it.

In Chicago, the creation of an open data portal became an important tool for sharing data and breaking down data siloes, according to the city’s CDO Tom Schenk. “The data we release on the open data portal is obviously available to the public, but also available to other city employees,” he told GCN.  That data was enhanced with the city’s OpenGrid open-source GIS application that lets users explore city data in real time and connects cross-departmental data like food inspections and business permits on a single tool.

Along with overcoming data sharing problems, cities must also decide where to focus their  analytics programs, considering the range of municipal challenges. “The balance across all these different areas is very challenging given the resources that cities have,” Schenk said. As a CDO, one way to make sure the city is solving problems with data in the most efficient way is make sure a solution can scale to the entire enterprise.

How can we take our work with predictive analytics “and make it more applicable elsewhere?” Schenk asked. “That [scalability] helps us ensure that any project that we work on, we can help a number of different departments, and it allows us to get more bang for our buck.”

It is important that CDOs stick to the needs of the city they are serving, however. Wiseman found that while many CDOs prioritize data projects based on the mission, some take the role of data evangelists to create a more robust open data culture, and others focus on predictive analytics problems.

In Chicago, Schenk said his team is working to improve data availability and usability. The open data portal will soon have a new front-end to make it easier for city residents to interact with data and explore their neighborhoods. The city is also working with the University of Illinois at Chicago to build a smart data platform to consolidate all the city’s business data. Once complete, the platform will be embedded into the city’s WindyGrid situational awareness platform, which houses real-time data from each department.

And while Schenk agreed that Wiseman’s stewardship framework of data infrastructure and governance tends to be the natural form of progression, he said one part does not always have to be complete before moving on. “For instance, we have not excelled 100 percent on data collection, but that doesn’t prevent us from doing certain projects in certain areas to make progress in those areas,” he said. 

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a Reporter/Producer for GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media, Ziadeh was a contributing journalist for USA Today Travel's Experience Food and Wine site. She's also held a communications assistant position with the University of Maryland Office of the Comptroller, and has reported for the American Journalism Review, Capitol File Magazine and DC Magazine.

Ziadeh is a graduate of the University of Maryland where her emphasis was multimedia journalism and French studies.

Click here for previous articles by Ms. Ziadeh or connect with her on Twitter: @aziadeh610.


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