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In Budget, Newsom Proposes New Center for Data Insights at CHHS

Gov. Gavin Newsom suggests integrating three offices at the California Health and Human Services Agency to create a Center for Data Insights and Innovation. Among its goals would be improving data use, the use of linked data to drive policy and decisions, and knowledge management in policy areas.

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Three offices at the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) would merge to create a new center focused on data, under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new proposed budget.

In his 2020-2021 Fiscal Year proposed budget released Jan. 10, the state’s chief executive suggests “consolidat[ing] existing resources” to establish a Center for Data Insights and Innovation at CHHS. More detail is likely to emerge in coming months as lawmakers examine Newsom’s proposed budget, but here are early takeaways:

• CHHS’ offices of Innovation, Patient Advocate and Health Information Integrity would be integrated to form the center, according to the governor’s proposed budget. A consolidated budget for the center wasn’t part of Newsom’s budget, and a proposed timeline for the merger isn’t yet clear. H.D. Palmer, deputy director for external affairs at the state Department of Finance, said via email that the offices would remain separate entities during FY 2020-2021.

“We will have trailer bill language to effectuate the consolidation, and the 2021-22 budget will reflect this,” Palmer said. The state Constitution requires the Legislature to approve a budget by June 15.

• It’s not a data center in the traditional sense. Creating the Center, Newsom said in his budget, would improve the “operational use and quality” of integrated data for planning programs, developing policy and conducting research and evaluation. It would also enhance California’s ability to create “evidence-based programs and maximize federal reimbursements”; improve staff’s ability to use “linked data” to drive policy and decisions; and increase the “rigor, transparency and reproducibility” of research using CHHS data.

• A key idea behind the Center, CHHS said in an explanation that’s part of its own reveal of Newsom’s proposed budget, is that “to integrate services, we must integrate data.” People-centered programs, CHHS explained, require integrated data “organized around people and their communities rather than programs.”

Enhancing “the actionable use of our data,” it added, may enable greater understanding of community conditions, the impact of its programs and of opportunities to improve service delivery.

Adam Dondro, agency information officer at CHHS, told Techwire via email he’s “very excited” about the proposed Center.

“By combining a focused, coordinated effort towards integrated data across our departments, with the person-centered design approach that our Office of Innovation has been leading, the Center will be uniquely positioned to drive the agencies’ goal of whole-person care and the person-centered approach needed to achieve that goal,” Dondro said.

• The Center will focus on four goals, CHHS said in its proposed budget: institutionalizing analytics to improve “knowledge management across policy areas”; developing internal data capacity to create more insight and knowledge; operationalizing rapid prototyping and human-centered design; and building analytical excellence in government “to drive civic engagement externally.”

“The Center will achieve these goals by making timely data available for use; by telling stories and developing information with data; and by bringing advanced models, such as human-centered design, to service delivery,” CHHS said.

• If the Center is approved as a part of Newsom’s budget, the three offices “will cease to exist independently,” a CHHS spokesperson told Techwire via email.

“However, the staff and the key functions of these three offices will be integrated into this newly established Center in order to drive toward the above mentioned outcomes,” the spokesperson said.

The Center’s key functions would include giving patients and consumers “useable and digestible information” to inform decisions; helping public and private organizations understand and navigate laws and regulations concerning protected data; and putting in place “human-centered design principles in the development of our programs and services.”

Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.