NACo and NLC on Data-Sharing Strategies

October 31, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

NACo and NLC on Data-Sharing Strategies

Photo credit: Adam Williams/Flickr

There's a tremendous benefit for cities and counties that share data with each other, between agencies, and with state and federal governments.

Cost savings, improved insights, and increased operational efficiency are among the big wins that stem from data sharing.

However, the journey to get there isn't always simple. At Socrata's inaugural Community of Practice event in the National Capital Region, government representatives from across the area gathered to identify the barriers standing in the way of data sharing, and share solutions for overcoming them.

In conversation with Tyler Technologies' David Shames, Nicole DuPuis, former Manager of Urban Innovation at the National League of Cities, and Natalie Ortiz, former Program Manager for Data-Driven Justice at the National Association of Counties, outlined their experience on data sharing.

A lot of times, the people close to the problem are the ones close to the solution.

Nicole DuPuis

Former Manager of Urban Innovation at the National League of Cities

There's No One-Size-Fits-All

Communities vary in capacity, both budget and otherwise.

And, different communities have different access to, say, their partners at the state and federal level, DuPuis said.

Chicago may have an easier time liaising with state and federal partners than the nearby village of Skokie, she says. In counties, too, there is no one-size-fits-all, homogenous data-sharing strategy.

"Counties are structured very differently," Ortiz says. "What works in Cook County, Illinois, does not necessarily work in in Minnehaha County, Minnesota."

And, even with a single county, data integration can run into technological challenges, with systems that won't readily communicate.

Developing Collaboration

There's a crucial need for trust and relationship-building between stakeholders.

"You have different systems that are trying to accomplish different goals — How do you align those goals? How do you identify their commonalities?" Ortiz asks.

It takes time and sometimes failure is part of the process.

Developing a common language is also necessary. To develop a program to track and measure recidivism, Ortiz points out, requires behavioral health people to talk about data integration and APIs. And that's not necessarily a familiar topic for them.

Make Data-Driven Government For the People, By the People

Engagement with communities — particularly vulnerable ones — should begin early in a program's evolution.

"A lot of times, the people close to the problem are the ones close to the solution," says DuPuis.

Ortiz agrees, offering the example of Broward County, Florida.

This county had a collaborative data integration project between its juvenile justice system, child welfare system, and social service providers. Project leaders reached out to youth, instead of solely interacting with program staffers, to ask if their experience matched the data and research, and offered them opportunities to share their experience.

Capturing the human element behind the data accurately is important, says Ortiz.

All open government and data-driven initiatives should be by and for the people, says DuPuis. That's particularly true when it comes to private usage of public data — as when cities share data with ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Early and frequent engagement with the public is key. This ensures that the public is comfortable with outcomes, and always aware of how their data is being used, she says.

Baking Data in to Long-Term Programs

Governments used to collect data to quantify problems. Now there's a shift toward a more analytical perspective.

They're making connections to how data-driven programs improve residents' lives, Ortiz says.

"One of the most exciting outcomes of cities relying on using data more is seeing the way it's broken down some of the bureaucratic walls," says DuPuis.

People who have worked in the same government for decades without ever interacting may discover that they can help each other do a better job, she says.

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