NYSAC News Fall 2018: Innovative Counties

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Data Data Everywhere By Mark Headd, Upstate Data Project



We're drowning in a sea of data, while dying of thirst for knowledge.� -Anonymous

County leaders operate in a world of unprecedented access to data. Never before has there been such ready access to data from a myriad of sources and a wide variety of increasingly sophisticated and powerful tools for making use of data. At the same time, counties face the dual challenge of rising expectations from citizens about the quality of service delivery, and limited resources to support county operations. Citizen expectations about interactions with their government are directly impacted by their interactions with other institutions. The ability to order even the most obscure item on demand 24 hours a day, to track the status (and location) of orders in real time, to have your personal preferences remembered and reflected in choices that are offered to you, and to have a wide array of payment options offered for transactions are just a few of the factors that impact citizen expectations about government services. Online retailers and digital services firms make extensive use of data to better understand their customer and to better serve their needs. Governments, too, have access to a wealth of data that can help them improve the quality of service they provide to citizens, and to better inform the way they run their operations. But how can county governments begin to use data more

strategically, to better serve their citizens? How can they begin to extract truly valuable insights from data that is locked away in a host of different legacy technology systems? And, most importantly, how can county governments forge new partnerships with external entities that can help them derive insights from data, and use it in new ways? An effective strategy for making better use of data that has been adopted by governments across the country and around the world is open data.

What is Open Data? Open data is defined as “data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone.� Governments at the federal, state and local level are devoting more and more time and energy to the proactive release of important information as open data as a way to improve efficiencies and spur technology innovation. There are a number of reasons, both practical and philosophical, why releasing open data can benefit your county and the people it serves. Open data releases can be an effective way of responding to requests for data through FOIL and similar public information requests. One open data release may address multiple requests for information than can be repetitive and costly to respond to if addressed on an individual basis. By releasing open data, governments can help to stimulate new and innovative ideas from the technology community. There is great potential for open data to act as the fuel for new solutions, and even new businesses, that can address common problems or challenges facing governments and those they serve. Research conducted by the Harvard Business School suggests that governments that make more data available on the operation of government may actually work to enhance citizen perceptions of government service. Specifically, a study conducted in late 2013 found that "increasing the operational transparency of government services - showing citizens the work in which government is engaging on their behalf engenders positive attitudes toward government and greater support for maintaining or expanding the scale of government programs." In addition, releasing open data has the potential to generate a host of operational efficiencies for government. Bureaucratic


NYSAC News | Fall 2018