New Peer Network Formed for Chief Data Officers in City Governments

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Connecting state and local government leaders

The Civic Analytics Network will help facilitate the sharing of ideas and data innovations to improve municipal governance.

Those who have read “The Big Short,” or have seen the 2015 movie, are familiar with the term CDO. That’s a “collateralized debt obligation,” which helped sink the housing market during the 2008 financial crisis.

But in the world of municipal government, a CDO is a chief data officer. The position is still relatively new and there aren’t that many CDOs around the nation, mainly limited to larger cities.

Municipal officials with an ambitious innovation agenda have been embracing the CDO position. Boston City Hall, for instance, launched a search this winter for its first-ever CDO to help lead the city’s analytics team.

"I am excited to expand the team to include a Chief Data Officer, who will oversee the city's efforts to incorporate data into operations throughout the city and I look forward to working closely together to make our city safer and smarter," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in February.

There’s now a group for CDOs in urban municipalities aimed at sharing insights and finding ways to collaborate on data-centric initiatives.

On Monday, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government announced the formation of the Civic Analytics Network, a national peer coalition for CDOs that will “collaborate on shared projects that advance the use of data visualization and predictive analytics in solving important urban problems related to economic opportunity, poverty reduction, and addressing the root causes of social problems,” according to the Ash Center.

The Civic Analytics Network will be supported by grants from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  

“CDOs are at the forefront of the technological revolution reshaping local governments across the country,” said Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government at the Ash Center and director of Innovations in Government Program. “The Civic Analytics Network will allow us to build an important peer network of digital innovators to share creative solutions and strengthen our understanding of how cities and counties can better harness and apply data to address the 21st century challenges of urban governance.”

More details from the Ash Center:

Key activities of the Civic Analytics Network will include:

  • Analytics use case development. The Ash Center, in partnership with the Center for Data Science and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, will develop use cases to address multi-disciplinary social service challenges where solutions must be cross-cutting and involve multiple agencies.
  • Shared platform for data visualization. The Ash Center will create and promote a shared site for cross city/county collaboration on the use of data visualization to better understand patterns of need for municipal services and gaps in addressing public need. This place-based GIS tool will allow public officials to visualize problems and the various interventions in a GIS-tagged format to improve decision making.
  • Convenings. The Civic Analytics Network will convene twice annually in person and monthly by telephone to facilitate discussion of ongoing challenges and accomplishments.  In between formal sessions, the Ash Center will serve as a central advisory, information and referral source among the cities and counties to catalyze success across the network.
  • Dissemination. Through white papers, case studies, and conferences, the Ash Center will disseminate scholarly and practical research on the use of data visualization and predictive analytics in cities and counties throughout the country. In addition, partner cities and counties will be supported by Data Fellows, who will provide constant documentation and reporting of attempts, processes and successes.

Initial participating communities in the Civic Analytics Network include:

  • Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
  • City of Boston, Massachusetts
  • City of Chicago, Illinois
  • King County, Washington
  • City of Los Angeles, California
  • City of New Orleans, Louisiana
  • City of New York, New York
  • City of Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • City of San Diego, California
  • City and County of San Francisco, California
  • City of Seattle, Washington

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Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty.

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