Why We Need Data to Excite and Inspire Now More Than Ever
“Open data is not enough,” said Dr. Shelley Metzenbaum while addressing open data advocates, data policy leaders, government transparency groups, and media in late October at the National Press Club in Washington. The audience gathered to launch a non-partisan open data transition report for the next presidential administration, two weeks before the general election.
As former Associate Director for Performance and Personnel Management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, with leadership stints with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Metzenbaum is recognized as a public sector performance management and measurement expert.
She asserts that the Obama Administration’s open data efforts were under heralded. At a time when controversy and conflict dominate U.S. headlines, open data failed to gain the attention of other significant policies such as healthcare and marriage equality. Open data efforts have been praised by elected officials, regardless of political party. Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner and Republican California Representative Darrell Issa memorably came together to successfully introduce and pass the DATA Act. Fiscal conservatives embrace open data to increase spending transparency and progressive leaders share public safety data to boost public trust in law enforcement.
Dr. Metzenbaum acknowledged that some federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are taking big steps to leverage open data, but cautioned that “data is just digits, unless people use the information.” She offered five ways that data can positively change the government.
- Prioritize: Accessible data enables government workers and the public to detect problems and set priorities.
- Learn: When the vast expanse of government data is organized in a standard searchable format program, staff can then search for efficiencies and inefficiencies and learn from past actions.
- Improve: Once a benchmark has been established through data collection, program directors can explore and experiment with variables to find new methods for improvement. Federal grantmakers and grantees benefit by using data insights to invest in services that deliver the most good.
- Motivate: When program performance is clearly measured, data has the ability to motivate government workers for continuous progress.
- Engage: Data has the power to engage disparate stakeholders and inform individual and organizational choices.
Dr. Metzenbaum emphasizes the need for “more people in government using data to excite and inspire.” When governments use data, they can better predict what lies ahead and make decisions “without bias,” something most Americans can support.