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State CDO: Data Infrastructure, Access Are Key

Joy Bonaguro, California's second-ever chief data officer, discussed work on a statewide data strategy at the quarterly CalData meeting. Data access and consistency are vital, she said, but so-called "longitudinal" data can also play an important role in making officials better-informed.

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COVID-19 has forced an “abbreviated process” for forging a statewide data strategy, Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro said Wednesday at the quarterly meeting of CalData, a professional network for data users, but that strategy remains “an overarching mission” and its creation is revealing much about the state’s data needs.

“What I’m baking into the state strategy is opportunities for learning more and expanding that engagement and educating and informing,” said Bonaguro, who was appointed in January by Gov. Gavin Newsom. She was one of Government Technology magazine’s* Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers of 2016 as part of Team San Francisco. Among the takeaways:

• Data access “rose up as the biggest challenge, almost universally,” both within and across departments, Bonaguro said — noting that data consistency did too. Consistency and quality were connected in people’s minds, she said — offering the idea of challenge as motivator.

“Many organizations have pursued this ideal of perfectly consistent data. … What works is if there’s a really well-motivated challenge where consistency is a problem. And that can start to move things,” Bonaguro said, pointing out tech modernizations like back-end system and legacy updates can be “quite tricky.”

• Bonaguro identified two strategic goals — building data roads and designing the rules of the road to improve data management and governance; and three primary supporting objectives: streamline data access, improve data management and governance; and spur data use and ability. Data access needs to be secure and appropriate — but it must become faster, more efficient and more effective, the CDO said, identifying streamlining data access as the key to ensuring people know where data is and how to find it.

“Right now, it’s like a treasure hunt with no clues and no maps. We need to build the data roads, the infrastructure,” she said, indicating it could be federated and leverage existing open data portals. Bonaguro is in the “late stages of socializing the draft” strategy, she said during the meeting, held on Zoom.

• Access is crucial because of what it brings with it — visibility. If people see only part of the problem, Bonaguro said, they may solve it incorrectly. Shared data and assured access ensure problems and their solutions are fully understood — and can help inform officials whether solutions actually work.

• Enduring longitudinal data access sets also empower better data access, the CDO said, highlighting the nascent California Homeless Data Integration System, now in proof of concept, which will aggregate data on people experiencing homelessness to do a better job of addressing the issue.

“What’s great about this is it’s a pull from local data integration of that data, and that allows us to truly understand this issue in a way that we’ve never understood it. We need to support and build out those enduring longitudinal data sets in multiple areas,” Bonaguro said.

*Government Technology magazine is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Techwire.

Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.