How government can create a culture of data sharing

New York City agency leaders discussed ways to improve on the challenges of data sharing Friday, specifically focusing on how they could embrace and implement a culture of data-sharing that leads to better outcomes for constituents.

The event, “Creating a Culture of Data Sharing,” sponsored by software provider GCOM and held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage Museum in Lower Manhattan, explored how governments can take data assets and use them to develop meaningful insights and analytics solutions that can be used by public officials, government agencies, as well as health and community service organizations, as they respond to the needs of constituents.

“We selected this topic because of the importance it has to all the work that you in this room do on it on a daily basis. The importance clearly will grow over time, because it really is at the heart of so many of Mayor [Eric] Adams’ initiatives,” GCOM Senior Vice President Rick Nessel, the event’s emcee, told attendees in his opening remarks. “And (it is) key to initiatives such as crime prevention and improved education and public health outcomes.”

“So how important is data sharing to us?” Nessel asked. “Well, if there’s one thing that government has, it’s a wealth of valuable data. And if there’s another thing that government has, it’s almost endless need to draw insights from that data in order to better serve our constituents. And what we find is that the more that data is shared, the better the insights are.”

Keynote speaker Martha Norick, who serves as chief analytics officer and director of the mayor’s office of data analytics, in her remarks said there was likely no problem “more ubiquitous across city governments than the challenge of sharing data across city agencies.” 

“I anticipate this is a real preaching-to-the-choir moment,” she told attendees, before describing some of the “current potholes on the road to data sharing.” 

“Too often, right now, data sharing feels like starting from scratch each time, an artisanal process as opposed to one that’s working off of a template,” she said. “The technical and legal costs can be high, discouraging data sharing for research or analysis that might be in a more exploratory phase.”

“And discovering what data is out there, is hard,” she added. “Much of the knowledge of what’s out there in terms of data can only really be gleaned from experience. And when folks go or retire from the city, you know, move on, we start over yet again. It’s all enough to make one want to throw up their hands in despair.”

Norick, however, described herself as still optimistic about the potential for data sharing. “I truly believe that things can get better, and that the way things are now is not the way things have to be forever,” she said. “There are a lot of New Yorkers who do not perceive their government as a series of silos. And when we force them to jump through hoops, giving us the same information over and over again, instead of sharing this information with each other, we do actual harm to the people we serve.”

Norick later joined a panel session that expanded on the event’s discussion of creating a culture of data sharing in city government, and which was followed by a question and answer session with attendees. 

Among the other panelists were Patti Bayross, chief information officer and executive vice president of information technology at the New York City Housing Authority; Benny Thottam, chief information officer at the New York City Fire Department; Deshard Stevens, chief information officer at the New York City Commission on Human Rights; Andrew White, deputy commissioner for policy, planning & measurement at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services; and Council Member Jennifer Gutierrez, chair of the Technology Committee. 

Carlos Rivero, vice president of data and analytics, client outcomes at GCOM served as moderator.

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