Using Data and Technology to Enhance Governance
By Jennifer Burnett, CSG director of fiscal and economic development
A group of CSG members recently visited the headquarters of CSG Associate member Esri, an international Geographic Information System software company, in Redlands, Calif., to discuss how to use data and apps to make better policy decisions in their states.
“More mayors lose their jobs over snowplowing than any other reason,” said Richard Leadbeater, public relations manager for Esri.
Leadbeater flashed a map on a screen showing how data can be used to help make better decisions about snowplow deployment.
For example, for 2013-14 winter, the City of Columbus Department of Public Services started using a new GIS web application they named “Warrior Watch” to internally monitor both real-time and historical performance of the city's snow and ice removal activities. Moving to a data-focused, GIS platform helped the department to manage the complexities of more than 100 snow operation vehicles and a street network of approximately 2,000 miles.
“Every day as legislators we have to make important decisions about where to spend our taxpayer’s money. We rely heavily on data to help us make those decisions,” said Delaware state Rep. Helene Keeley, who attended the event.
Keeley and other attendees at the session discussed how difficult it can be to access data and information that is trustworthy.
“We ask a lot of questions about how the programs we fund will benefit our constituents and what those funds will be used for,” said Keeley. “Isn't it just as important that we ask where our data is coming from and if we can trust it?”
Reliability isn’t the only obstacle attendees identified when it comes to using data in decisions—it also needs to be presented in a meaningful format, especially in a world of big data. Big data encompasses huge datasets that include everything from traffic patterns to grocery purchases. But, as Leadbeater explained, big data doesn’t have to be intimidating.
“The biggest, the oldest example of big data? Weather data,” said Leadbeater. When he asked who had checked a weather app that day, almost everyone raised a hand.
Weather data is a good example of how big data has been made both easily available and is delivered in a format that can be used quickly to make decisions.
“You don’t just get data, you get maps and information in a usable format. Data doesn’t need to just be open, it also needs to be accessible,” Leadbeater said.
“The bottom line is—what can data do to help?”