From Open Data Carnivals to Data Governance to Performance Management:

Jason M Hare - Data Evangelist, OpenDataSoft

What I am about to say is not a very popular view: there is a weak link between open data programs and measurable performance outcomes. This is not to say open data is a prescriptive solution to government performance, but it should make it easier for governments. It’s not just me that is saying this. Why is this unpopular? We will see as we talk through this issue. The bottom line is “jazz hands” data visualizations get attention, quality data governance does not. Releasing quality data is hard. It is tough work and there is lot under the hood that does not get noticed by the public. There is an old open data bromide: “Everyone loves a crime map”. Yes, the problem is very few organizations put the work in to manage the quality of the data. Someone else said, at an open data event, “I would not measure my bungee cord with open data”. What do you think this person meant by that?

Why do we bother to measure performance?

Joseph Wholey of the University of Southern California and Kathryn Newcomer of George Washington University observe that “the current focus on performance measurement at all levels of government and in nonprofit organizations reflects citizen demands for evidence of program effectiveness that have been made around the world”

Historically, performance management in the US comes at the end of the 19th century and a series of “spoils of war” forms of government. Political patronage and other types of graft and incompetence were hallmarks of 19th century US governance. Regardless of one’s political views, public sector is the US is under a constant microscope through accountability and performance programs.

In spite of these accountability and performance programs, today there is a weak link between open data, data governance and performance management.

Technological advances continue to take hold in Data Publishing and Management systems, including Open Data and data sharing platforms, municipal leaders are seeing the important role of the spread and exchange of data are changing their very decision-making processes. Public sector stakeholders are driving data publishing companies to build better, more intuitive products. The Civil Analytics Network published an open letter to the Open Data community requesting a greater emphasis on accessibility and usability features within data publishing platforms.

Are we witnessing an evolution in this notion of data governance?

Yes and no.

Yes, in that more public sector organizations recognize the importance of measuring and managing government performance. New programs and certificates from universities are promoting the idea of data governance as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for performance management.

No, in that open data programs are sometimes measured by the press release and the “wow” factor of complex and nicely shaded graphs and maps. Open data programs are not measured by their utility to the public (reuse). Open data programs are not usually linked to strategic plans or performance plans. Why is that? Probably because people that work in planning offices, budget offices, police departments have more rigorous standards for their data governance than the open data program in their city.

So how can we reconcile the need for open data, visualizations and the need for sound data governance?

Data, data analytics, open data people, data managers really boil down to one of two types:

  • Descriptive: historical, data quality and data reporting activities. This is what performance management does in part. It relies on sound historical data to tell a story about the state of government now and how it is trending.
  • Prescriptive: analytics, predictive, insight, data storytelling, data visualizations. From sound data governance, we can then choose targets and start to develop predictive models that close the gap between where we are now and where we want to be.

This post will explore this new aspect of data governance and the most effective structures that should be built around it:

  • Effective links between open data and government performance have some common characteristics:
  • Uses current data to analyze specific, previously defined aspects of recent performance
  • Provides feedback on performance vs. targets
  • Follows up on previous decisions and commitments to produce results and learn from efforts to improve
  • Identifies and solves performance-deficit problems, and sets the next performance targets

This post will explore this new aspect of data governance and the most effective structures that should be built around it:

How do we define data governance and performance management? A city is employing a performance management strategy if it holds an ongoing series of regular, periodic meetings during which the city leader and/or the principal members of the mayor’s leadership team plus the individual director (and the top managers) of different city agencies use data to analyze the agency’s past performance, to establish its next performance objectives, and to examine its overall performance strategies.

The success of any performance management is based on the willingness of civic leaders to use data. If no data are used, there are no repercussions If data are used, the effect varies widely, even within the same organization.

The problem with Open Data Portals today is, as Andrew Ballard from Rutgers describes them: “The Beauty Contest”- some data is collected- used to create good looking reports and visualizations. This is a problem in open data, at least as far as the projects I have seen (both US and abroad). The political will to go beyond the carnival is not there. We should be more rigorous.

For example, we see that data ambassadors are an essential player in advocating and building support for a comprehensive data sharing strategy. In addition, we will explore the expected impact and benefits that result from a larger conception of data governance.

As the Open Data grows and matures, researchers and thought leaders are still experiencing difficulty in answering the question of overall societal benefits outside of individual and often isolated case studies. This discussion will seek to further the idea of performance management by insisting that a data governance structure must be established in order to fully realize the potential of Open Data and Data Sharing.

Conclusion: Data Management and Data Governance are needed

There has been a lot of talk about the “legitimacy” of Open Data. It was a question I was asked at the Metropolis World Conference Panel on Open Data. My answer was that we have a catch 22 problem. Open Data is not treated as real data by public sector agencies. We will see some of that at the Rutgers summit in September. Most of the talk around open data use has been on external actors, the public and the press and users of the data. There is no incentive for government to engage with its constituents. There is nothing but risk. We saw this in weeks 7 and 8 of this course. Groups like the Civic Analytics Network, the Sunlight Foundation and the Open Government Partnership can advocate for a more rigorous approach to data quality and an insistence of using open data not just for story telling but also for performance measurement and management.

Named one of the top 100 global influencers in Government Technology by Onalytica in 2017, Jason Hare is the Open Data Evangelist for OpenDataSoft. Jason has worked in the public sector and in data dissemination for most of my 25 year career. He serves in several organizations on the topic of data governance and open data: In the previous Presidential Administration, he was a frequent participant at the White House OSTP on the subjects of data quality and open data; Jason was a member of the White House OSTP Open Data Advisory Group and is listed as an Open Data Expert on the World Bank's Open Data Tool Kit, as well as advising on data governance to the Chemical Genome Project.

Jason’s Open Data projects include: The North Carolina Department of Commerce; Town of Chapel Hill; Durham City and County; Durham Public Schools; City of Raleigh; The City of Newark; The City of Cambridge; The City of Chelsea; Ireland’s Ministry of Reform; Colombia’s Ministry of Information and Communications; The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

Follow Jason on Twitter @jasonmhare