What 20 data managers at every level of government had to say about their work
At this year’s (virtual) DrupalGovCon, several members of the CivicActions Open Data Team presented on The State of the Union(’s Data).
As part of our work to support DKAN sites as well as our professional services work on other Open Data projects, we’ve conducted user research around data managers’ aspirations and struggles sharing data with the public, and we were really excited to share those findings with the open source open government community.
In our studies, we talked to about 20 participants, who represented a range of different team structures, sizes, and levels of government, and we came away with a consistent set of themes, insights and opportunities. You can watch the full presentation below, but here are some highlights:
Open Data programs have ambitious, exciting goals
Government data managers commonly aim to:
- Share data between departments within the city or state
- Aggregate data across their government
- Make data accessible and useful to the public
- Drive a data-driven culture in their government
- Be a point of contact for the public re: data
But they struggle in some key areas
- A skills gap due to turnover, vague job descriptions, lack of data analysis capacity, and difficulty building buy in with less tech savvy stakeholders
- Limited resources and budget, due to inflexible budgets, difficulty getting their work prioritized, and lack of planning for programmatic needs to execute policy changes
- Difficulty with strategy and coordination, due to oversized purview with limited capacity at the city and state level and a lack of communication at the federal agency level
- Communication with the audience, as data portals push data out, but have little capacity to start and sustain conversation with data consumers
- Data usability, which suffers as data quality is difficult to maintain when policies often demand quantity over quality (and clear governance of datasets is a struggle)
- Data findability, due to lack of public awareness of these data portals and difficulty navigating them to find the right data for users who are able to find them
The good news
The good news is that shared challenges means shared solutions. We synthesized our problem definitions into these prompts to help us find solutions to these common struggles:
- How might we engage data consumers more in our work?
- How might we ensure data quality?
- How might we build strong data organizations where inter-agency communication flows well?
- How might we share resources and knowledge?
- How might we engage in more strategic planning for the future?
We’re excited to work with the open data community to start tackling these opportunities.
Some modest recommendations
Focus on data usage: Start small! Find one use case, one group of stakeholders. Find out what they need and make sure they can get it. Keep their one dataset up to date or work with them to build one visualization to answer their questions or to build one search tool to help them explore your data. The stakeholder can even be internal to your organization. Doing this well, end to end, will strengthen your whole data management process.
Share the big picture: Empower everyone to be more than a cog in the machine. Show them their role in the much larger process of collecting, curating, sharing, and using data to improve communities. This builds accountability, problem solving capability, as well as buy in and enthusiasm.
Build community to share knowledge and solutions: We saw so many folks who’d created solutions to all kinds of problems, but we also saw deep silos. Nearly everyone we talked to felt somewhat lonely and was looking for connection other people doing this work in order to grow their practice and co-create solutions.
Watch the full presentation here:
Huge shout outs to user researchers and designers Jacqueline Gu and Stephen Tsai who led the research effort at the federal level and open data account manager Susana Siman who led the effort on the city and state level.