Harnessing public data to create a civic analytics strategy
Harnessing public data to improve government performance is an important but fraught aspect of governing today. While new technologies and data can offer insights to improve service delivery, streamline and better evaluate program performance, and support more equitably deployed resources, getting from data to analytics requires an immense amount of coordinated effort. From internal capacity building to cross-departmental collaboration to robust community engagement, becoming a data-smart government remains an aspiration of many governments around the world.
Whether your city or county government has a chief data officer position, a dedicated analytics and performance management team, or is a newcomer to public-sector data analytics altogether, there are approaches and processes that your government can adopt to help initiate, scope, and implement a successful analytics project. There are a few key trends within the field of public-sector analytics that can help guide officials at all levels to develop, institutionalize, and/or expand their government’s analytics capacities:
- Produce an open data roadmap;
- Create programs and job descriptions that promote broad data literacy;
- Incentivize and enable cross-departmental collaboration to connect personnel and data resources from across city government;
- Adopt enterprise-wide procedures that facilitate data-driven insights;
- Link civic engagement with city analytics; and
- Produce guardrails to protect equity and fairness issues.
These six recommendations can provide a policy framework to support the development of an effective analytics strategy in government. Cross-departmental collaboration supported by analytics is the foundational ‘recipe’ for data-smart governance. Data- and tech-enabled innovations in government are in many ways still a nascent part of contemporary governance, and adopting a strategy that is supported by the bully pulpit, sufficient staffing, and policies that integrate data use into the day-to-day responsibilities of cross-departmental personnel has been an effective approach for governments entering this field.
While these recommendations are geared towards newcomers to the data analytics space, they also can and should be pursued by more seasoned leaders in this space. Data analytics positions in city governments across the U.S. are currently undergoing a significant transition with many first-time leaders departing from their roles. As the first wave of chief data officers cycle out of those positions, it is critical that governments continue to prioritize data use. Whether that means hiring a new chief data officer to take on that role as data champion or reconfiguring cross-departmental responsibilities to co-direct data management is at the discretion of each respective government. Public data is an incredible but complicated resource, and establishing a civic analytics strategy that is open, inclusive, and supported from the highest levels of government is a critical first step in public sector data use.
Jessica A. Gover is a researcher and writer at The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She has conducted research on tech-enabled innovation in the U.S. federal government, and has experience with domestic and international municipal and state-level data analytics and innovative procurement