California seeking Chief Data Officer

100 100 Ed Coghlan

There’s a job opening in California state government that is long overdue and exciting for those who believe that technology has the power to transform government.

Governor Jerry Brown’s administration created the position of Chief Data Officer and is looking for candidates for the job which will promote the availability and use of data in state government.

“The search for a Chief Data Officer is an exciting development for California’s open data and civic engagement efforts,” said Lenny Mendonca, co-chair of California Forward. “This can help increase citizen participation, collaboration, and transparency in government.”

The Chief Data Officer, who will work in the Government Operations Agency, will have statewide responsibility for three key initiatives based on data collected in the normal course of state business to improve transparency, efficiency and accountability in state operations. These initiatives are:

  • Developing the statewide open data portal and related governance and policy on standards, storage and privacy, as well as a statewide open data strategic plan and programs to promote civic engagement and innovation.
  • Fostering and promoting a culture of data use by enabling and encouraging departments to share data to collaborate on common issues and related programs.
  • Employing and analyzing operational data to improve program performance.

“California Forward and others have promoted the value of data in decision making,” said Jim Mayer, CA Fwd president and CEO. “Technology has the power to transform government — to promote job creation, to make services more cost-effective, to increase public involvement and understanding, and to enable greater accountability for results.”

A poll by the Pew Foundation released last year found that few Americans think governments are very effective in sharing data they collect with the public. John Horrigan and Lee Raine reported on the results which found:

  • Just 5 percent say state governments share data very effectively, with another 44 percent saying somewhat effectively.
  • Only 7 percent say local governments share data very effectively, with another 45 percent responding somewhat effectively.

While those of us who believe that more and better data can help improve both government performance and the people’s trust in government, the survey indicates that Americans are not yet convinced. Horrigan and Raine wrote:

“A potentially significant barrier to government data initiatives lies in the connection between trust in government and skepticism among some citizens about whether these initiatives will bolster government performance. The greater a person’s trust in government, the greater the likelihood she believes government data initiatives will improve government performance. That sets up a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Do government data initiatives spark high levels of trust in government? Or do low levels of trust in government attenuate the benefits to civic engagement that are a motive for many government data initiatives? In highlighting this dynamic, this research points to the challenges and possibilities in ongoing efforts in the open data and open government arena.”

It’s a fair point. But as governments become more adept at developing, reporting and truly sharing data that skepticism should fade and be replaced by an understanding, as CA Fwd’s Mendonca pointed out, that sharing data can create a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government experience.

Good for California in making this move. The next challenge is to hire the right person who can up California’s data game, especially considering the state is itself a capital of private innovation.


Ed Coghlan

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