We are living in a period of big data. From how ads target your online experience to how legislatures make decisions, data is being used to ostensibly create a more informed and better-tailored result.
In corporate culture, the Chief Data Officer role was created to better handle and make use of data to improve decision-making. Now, governments have begun creating similar positions to wrestle with and make use out of decades of dormant data.
Noting this trend, Technical.ly sought out nine government CDOs we thought you should know about. These are primarily city-level positions, but we threw in state, federal and national CDOs to provide a peek at all levels of government data management.
1. Heather Hudson, Baltimore
Heather Hudson, like many on this list, is the first chief data officer in her city. Previously working in IT for both NASA and Baltimore City, Hudson’s new position is meant to continue building out OpenBaltimore. Hudson told GovTech.com that her job is to fix culture as much as it is about building an open-data platform. “When I would go to agencies and ask them for data for OpenBaltimore they would give me these summarized reports,” she said.
Her mission is to get the raw data from every agency and to warehouse it in a central repository to both improve government transparency, but also provide more information for CitiStat, the data-driven measurement system used by city. When asked by Technical.ly Baltimore about this undertaking back in 2013, Hudson said, “I’m excited, but I’m also like: Oh God. It’s a huge effort.”
2. Tim Wisniewski, Philadelphia
Tim Wisniewksi joined Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration in its last quarter, but this isn’t stopping him from tackling big goals.
Wisniewksi told Technical.ly Philly that his vision wrapped around three major goals. First, he wants to make sure that the data Philadelphia releases is open to everyone, not just those who know about APIs. “We want to make sure we’re reaching 100 percent of Philadelphians,” said Wiseniewksi. Second, he wants to build capacity of individual agencies to release their own data, and not just through the Office of Innovation and Technology. Last, he aims to prioritize the release of the data sets that residents want. A more recent Technical.ly Philly article chronicles his rise from civic hacking hobbyist to City Hall — and his biggest data release yet.
3. Amen Ra Mashariki, New York City
Data is in Amen Ra Mashariki’s veins. With a Ph.D. in engineering from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Mashariki has been an assistant director of infomatics at the University of Chicago Medical Center, a computer scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, a White House Fellow and the CTO of the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management before becoming New York City’s Chief Analytics Officer.
A little less than a year into this position, Mashariki is focused on bringing data to everyone. With an already impressive data portal started under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City continues to expand its open data offerings. The city recently stated it plans to add at least 90 new datasets by the end of 2015. By 2018, the city hopes to release 250 more.
4. Joy Bonaguro, San Francisco
Joy Bonaguro has been working in public data for a while now. Starting in New Orleans, she was an early adopter of the data democratization movement. In an interview with Energy.gov, Bonaguro said of technology, “[It] can either support good policy and decision-making or it can actually derail it.”
Beyond her prescribed tasks of opening up and standardizing city data sets, she aims to make the data useful, especially for the disenfranchised. At the Atlantic’s City Makers Summit in June Bonaguro said that just pushing out data is another form of disenfranchisement. By improving user experience, Bonaguro hopes to change the way people interact not only with data but also with government itself.
5. Abhi Nemani, Los Angeles
Abhi Nemani was LA’s first chief data officer. After 13 months on the job he left his post in late September.
“To say that public service is a thankless job is an understatement,” he wrote in an unofficial goodbye post on Medium. “The way most interact with a government official is to complain. But here’s the thing: our governments do wonderful work. Based on my experience at Code for America, I walked into City Hall last year with a list of things I wanted to do. Guess what? Most — if not all — were already in place.”
Nemani was formerly the co-executive director of CfA. As CDO of LA, Nemani was tasked with running the city’s open data portal. This includes coordinating departments to increase the number of publicly available data sets and improving user experience.
6. Jason Hare, Raleigh-Durham
Jason Hare got his start in open government data in North Carolina. Then he traveled the U.S. and abroad, including Ireland, China and Colombia, improving how data is used and accessed. Now he’s back in Raleigh-Durham to run its new open data effort.
Whether in North Carolina or abroad, Hare has advocated for usability and citizen engagement with “data as infrastructure” according to a Durham City Hall press release. In a 2013 interview about Open Raleigh with OpenSource.com, Hare said, “There is no transparency without data usability.” With that sense of usability, he sees the work around open government data as an evolutionary process. “Open data is the start of an acculturation process leading to a transparent and collaborative relationship between city government and citizens.”
7. David Stringfellow, Utah
David Stringfellow is a CDO by task, not by title. As the Chief Economist in the Office of the Utah Auditor, Stringfellow’s work is big data analytics. His efforts center around the state’s $5 billion economy, public policy and cultivating useable data to improve both.
In an interview with KDnuggets.com, Stringfellow said that there are two clear benchmarks for governments attempting to use open data, “[first,] the extent to which data is made available to both the public and data community in useful ways, and [second] whether a government employs the right human capital in executive positions with both subject matter expertise and fluency in data use.”
8. Linda Powell, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Linda Powell is the only federal CDO on this list, and she is also the only one with a strong background in economic data.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Powell has 20 years under her belt managing data at the Federal Reserve and two more years as CDO at the Office of Financial Research before joining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2014. In 2015 she spoke with KDnuggets.com about her new role. Her focus is on centralizing and standardizing data, and unlike many government CDOs, Powell says one benefit is that the CFPB was formed in 2011. “An advantage for this role at a new agency is that we don’t have legacy systems or processes that we need to accommodate.”
9. Henri Verdier, France
On the heels of the UK’s Government Digital Service, the French government founded Etalab. Etalab was to act as a startup within the government to modernize the French state. Henri Verdier oversees Etalab itself and the country’s open data portal.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Verdier stated his belief that open data is a sign of the modern state. With a limited budget and a staff of 10 at the time, Etalab sought help from the tech community to scale its offerings. Verdier decided that to gain traction the organization would not pre-moderate uploaded datasets. Anyone should be able to make an account and simply upload a dataset to the site. This idea took some work as ministers were worried about inappropriate uploads, but Verdier’s team pushed on. “We wanted to create a sustainable and scalable open data movement,” said Verdier. “We thought like a startup.”
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