Data Overload? A 3 Phase Approach to Make Data Meaningful

April 6, 2016 12:00 pm PST | Open Data

The shift to a more open digital government is fundamental and irreversible. Citizens’ expectations are shaped by their consumer experiences and the economy is increasingly information- and knowledge-based, putting pressure on government to modernize and become data-driven. The goal of these open data programs is often to streamline processes for greater efficiencies, improve quality of life for citizens, and transform their data into fuel for the economy. Yet, when attempting to build open data programs, CIOs are often overwhelmed by their internal data systems.

More automation, more enterprise systems, and disjointed information silos create an unwieldy environment that is often too big and too complex to manage. Add to the mix legacy infrastructure, and CIOs can feel like they are on a treadmill with very little control. Not to mention, the ability to access meaningful data from these systems often takes weeks, requires specialized skills, and comes with a heavy price tag.

During the Socrata Digital Government Workshop in March, I laid out a three phase approach for CIOs to consider if they want to make enterprise data management more feasible and its outputs more meaningful.

Phase 1: Embrace Data-as-a-Service

Inspired by open data, a data-as-a-service platform connects data sources and makes data discoverable and reusable. Think of it as democratizing data internally — giving data access to anyone who needs it, at anytime, in whatever format they need. In this environment, silos are broken down in favor of self-organizing communities where self-service becomes the norm.

In addition, unlike legacy data silos, a data-as-a-service platform is built for speed, easy access, and optimized for data reuse. Gone are the days of redundant stovepipes that are built from scratch every time there is a need. Users can leverage APIs — open, standard machine interfaces to access data — to reuse information for quicker development. The net result is government employees need to be empowered to find data fast, share it instantly, and create and publish digital content at will.

Phase 2: Give Access to Create and Publish Consumable Information

Let’s be honest, raw data can mean a lot to one person who knows what they’re looking for, but only 8-12 percent of people are technically proficient enough to to interact with raw data or APIs. If you share that raw data with someone else, it is likely that they won’t be able to make sense of it.

However, most of us are pretty comfortable with accessing and using information on the web. We interact with Expedia, Amazon, and Yelp every day and we hardly ever think of that experience as “interacting with data.” That’s because it’s been transformed into consumable information that everyone can easily relate to. The same is true for government data. One of the most critical aspects of digital government is transforming data into information that anyone can look at and quickly understand.

Let’s take crime data as an example. We can show a spreadsheet that only a few people can relate to, or we can use that data to visualize crimes on a map, show trends by neighborhood, or tell a story. This transformation from raw data to consumable information used to require a ton of custom development and more specialized skills. Now government has access to modern turnkey technology that makes it easy and fast to completely transform the citizen experience while saving time and money.

Not only are you enabling the user to gather data, but this effort encourages flexibility and freedom to crowdsource, collaborate, and co-create valuable information assets that can be tremendously useful to your agency’s mission. When data is so easy to use, it cultivates innovation at every level.

Phase 3: Value-Added Data Programs

Now that your employees are empowered to use data to support the programs that matter to the community you serve, the next phase is about creating stronger collaboration between government entities and innovators outside of government. The ecosystem that you’ve created can now be shared with other state, local, and federal agencies for broader insights. A great example of this is police departments across the U.S. sharing data-driven stories as part of the White House Police Data Initiative.  Leveraging third-party apps, web distribution, and even peer benchmarking with comparative analytics, your data becomes part of a greater open data network and digital government initiative.

Want to learn more about Socrata’s Open Data Network and Methodology? Request a demo.


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