Today, I was named the City of Syracuse’s first Chief Data Officer. It is an exciting opportunity to take on the challenge of building a more data-driven government. Through my work with the Innovation Team, I’ve written about how we have analyzed road data to diagnose problems and find potential solutions and outcomes.
I also wrote about how the City could do more with data to make process more efficient and effective. Now, in the role of the Chief Data Officer, I will work with city departments and community stakeholders to find ways to use data as and leverage it as an asset.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Creating policies and processes around data governance (how do we collect and store data, and what is data is collected) and data audits (figuring out what data already exists).
A lot of data and information is collected by different City departments. This data lives in many formats - disparate databases, spreadsheets on different servers, and sometimes on paper. Finding ways to digitize data and ensure staff know where to find the information they need is critical.
Because data is spread out in many different places, staff may not always know where to find information from other departments that is critical to their work. The street repair team, for instance, should know where roads have been cut into by other City departments. Making data centralized or accessible to staff will allow us to move toward better planning and evaluation of programs.
Many systems that the City currently uses do not allow for the free flow of data.
So, even though some staff might know that data exists, the legacy databases do not allow for easy data extraction. Creating procurement requirements that include consideration for data availability can help to make sure the data that is collected can be used.
Once the data is able to be extracted, we want to promote sharing data. Data and information that the City collects belongs to the community. There are some reasons why city data should be kept private, but for the most part it can and should be released. This makes government processes more transparent.
It also allows for a more participatory citizenry. There are a lot of smart, interested people in the City of Syracuse that want to work with city data. Releasing it to the public allows them to learn more about how the government works and then use their talents to build applications, investigate, and ask questions.
All of this can help improve government and have a more engaged population. In fact, many other cities have seen the benefits of this already.
Code for America brigades build applications using Open Data, the City of Chicago has predicted health code violations using data, and the White House has spearheaded the police data initiative which combines data from police departments across the country to help enhance community policing. These are just a few examples, but also show the opportunities that come from using city data as an asset.
There is a lot to be done, and it will take time to make all of this happen. In the meantime, I want to hear about where you think data could be used more in government, and how you would like to be involved.