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As digital tools and technologies continue to rapidly evolve, the role of data in government and the roles of those who oversee it will require more clarity and definition if governments wish to effectively use data to further the public good.
A decade ago, a key focus of government pertaining to data was how to make it more open and easily accessible to the public. Ten years later, with thousands of open government data sets worldwide, the discussion has evolved and become more nuanced. Governments are considering their role in overseeing the types and validity of the data they make available, seeking ways to create greater public value from data, and debating how best to protect privacy and govern data use. The rise of government APIs—of which about 700 exist in the United States alone1—and developments such as machine learning, the Internet of Things, smart transportation, and blended data make the role of data management in government even more critical.
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As digital tools and technologies continue to rapidly evolve, the role of data in government and the roles of those who oversee it—chief data officers (CDOs), chief information officers (CIOs), and chief technology officers (CTOs)—will require more clarity and definition if governments are to put data to use in governing more effectively. In particular, as data becomes more important in finding solutions to public problems (see figure 1), these government technology leaders will play an increasingly important part in delivering better public outcomes at the city, state, and national levels.
Public sector data is becoming more important for myriad reasons. Public pressure for transparency and accountability is mounting. Many companies, social sector organizations, and others are calling on governments to leverage data to gain greater insights and formulate better policies. And data can offer new ways to curb waste, fraud, and abuse, as well as to operate more efficiently and get more done with less.
Governments collect vast amounts of data on everything from health care, housing, and education to domestic and national security—both directly and through nonprofits that they support. Governments also produce data, such as census data, labor information, financial market information, weather data, and global positioning system (GPS) data.
This data can be a valuable core asset with the potential to influence program outcomes and public policy. For instance, government data from Medicare and Medicaid can help doctors and hospitals better understand how to reduce the cost of treatment, and help insurance companies provide greater incentives to motivate people to take care of their health. Timely data can also illuminate faster transportation routes in real time, better measure the impact of government programs, and spur new investment opportunities. And in terms of guiding policy, data can help inform decisions on multiple fronts: infrastructure, small business investment, housing, education, health, energy, and many other areas.
Given the immense quantities of data government holds, the governance structures for public data are important and need to be addressed. For example, who gives permission for data use? How will permissions be designed? What is the best way to share data sets between agencies while maintaining privacy? Should there be a standard reporting format across multiple levels of government? When can data collected for one purpose be used for other purposes? What are the legal guidelines around data-sharing?
The increased use of data in policymaking and operations also raises many questions about data provenance, integration with private data sets, individual privacy, and data ethics. Hence, as government CDOs become more prevalent across cities, states, and counties (figure 2), it is important for these CDOs to understand the role’s multiple responsibilities and its scope. Yes, CDOs are responsible for safeguarding government data, but they should also help agencies better use their data, and connect citizens with government data to make it more actionable. At the same time, they should provide oversight in managing privacy and protecting citizens’ information, especially as digital technologies become more ubiquitous within society.
To do this, CDOs will likely need to coordinate with CIOs, CTOs, and chief information security officers across agencies to build a team, structure, and budget that can support and appropriately manage data assets. The time is ripe for CDOs to take a leadership role in organizing these key decision-makers around using public data for the public good.
The CDO Playbook, produced by Georgetown University’s Beeck Center and Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights, explores some of the hardest questions facing CDOs today. The playbook draws on conversations we’ve had over the past year with CDOs from multiple levels of government as well as in the private, nonprofit, and social sectors. Insights from these leaders shed light on opportunities and potential growth areas for the use of data and the role of CDOs within government.
The playbook is written for government executives as well as for government CDOs. For executives, it provides an overview of the types of functions that CDOs across the country are performing. For CDOs, it offers a guide to understanding the trends affecting public sector data, and provides practical guidance on strategies they can pursue for effective results.
We hope this playbook will help catalyze the further evolution of CDOs within government and provide an accessible guide for executives who are still evaluating the creation of these positions.