This blog is part of an ongoing series by the State Chief Data Officers Network at the Georgetown Beeck Center reflecting the best practices and lessons learned from Data Labs. The Data Labs initiative helps states launch data-driven economic recovery projects as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
February 4, 2022 — By Cuong Pham Vu
The COVID-19 pandemic posed significant policy challenges for state governments throughout the United States. The abrupt nature of the pandemic created a large demand for information and data to address the disease as well as the economic consequences of the lockdown.
Ashley Hungate, Chief of Staff for the Indiana Management Performance Hub (MPH), has witnessed this challenge firsthand. “[During the COVID-19 pandemic,] we saw sustained awareness of one topic for 20 months. [Over time,] the questions from the public got more mature and educated [as] they looked at the [COVID-19] information every day.” As states move forward with COVID-19 economic recovery efforts, the ability of state governments to leverage data-driven policymaking becomes crucial.
MPH Addresses Indiana’s Management and Policy Questions
The MPH—an agency acting as the hub for data collection, analysis, and exchange for the Indiana state government—is a leader in the movement to implement data-driven policies within state governments. Its mission is to provide analytics solutions to address complex management and policy questions, enabling improved outcomes for Indiana citizens. By creating a focal point for state-level data and providing technical assistance in partnership with state agencies, the MPH represents a concerted state-level effort to shift towards a data-driven culture. “Data is a team sport,” noted Ted Cotterill, MPH Chief Privacy Officer.
In efforts to shift government culture toward data-driven decision-making, states should keep in mind key lessons learned from MPH’s success story.
MPH’s Enhanced Research Environment Addressed Public Demand For COVID Data
Having established the necessary infrastructure and technical capacity, the Indiana state government and MPH were well-positioned to rapidly pivot to support efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, in March 2020, the MPH responded to the public’s demand for COVID-19 data by launching the Enhanced Research Environment (ERE), a platform where vetted independent researchers and trusted partners can interact with Indiana’s data in a secure, firewalled environment. The ERE supported researchers from the Indiana Department of Health and the Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to create a population-level dataset representative of the state, fully equipped with contact information for random testing and study selection. This dataset supported research efforts to identify and study asymptomatic populations in a novel random-sampled COVID-19 prevalence study.
The platform allowed key research efforts like this to move forward without significant interruptions or delays. “To move that quickly in state government is almost unheard of, but we were able to do that because of the work we had put in around legal, privacy, [and] infrastructure tools, [along with] the trust already built up across agencies,” noted Hungate. Within a year, the ERE has hosted more than 100 users across 20 organizations. The community partnerships facilitated by ERE have resulted in the development of Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboards, statewide targeted testing and vaccine outreach campaigns, and the first international prevalence study with Fairbanks, Alaska.
Key Factors That Contributed To MPH’s Success
The success seen by MPH during the pandemic was only possible thanks to the key foundations built previously. What were the key factors that contributed to MPH’s development and continued success? The MPH team highlighted three main factors during the development process:
– Executive leadership: Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has supported the MPH since its formalization as a standalone state agency in 2017, codifying in law the agency’s role as a focal point for data and technical innovation across all state agencies. As part of a wider effort to implement a culture change in state government, MPH became the primary tool for state officials to implement open data sharing and facilitate collaborative use of data across different agencies. Support and commitment from the executive branch were key in the early stages of MPH’s development.
– Building on prior work: There were several disparate efforts through the Indiana state government to implement data-driven approaches. A prime example was the State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS), an effort to develop a statewide data hub on public education to improve educational and labor market outcomes. Rather than discarding existing infrastructure, the MPH team incorporated the SLDS into their structure in 2017. MPH also benefited from the consolidated IT organization of the Indiana Office of Technology, allowing the agency to adapt to the technical systems within existing infrastructures of partner agencies. Extant capacities from the SLDS informed the initial scoping of MPH, its architecture, as well as its operations. Additional capacities were added as MPH staff learned from continued engagements with agency partners and business users. This allowed MPH to begin adding value quickly. States looking to take similar approaches should take advantage of current capacities within their own governments.
– Fostering collaborative partnerships with agencies: The MPH team further highlighted the importance of collaborative partners with a shared vision for data-driven solutions to the success of MPH. Fellow state agencies became the MPH’s best advocates, as they are well-positioned to articulate the value-added by MPH to other potential partners. MPH built a collaborative environment for partner agencies through several different steps:
- > Creating a legal platform with explicit data-sharing agreements. This will allow individual partners to define guardrails for types of data shared and how the data is used.
- > Developing project charters with clearly defined project goals and details. This groundwork ensures that each project meets the necessary legal requirements regarding data privacy while putting agency partners at the forefront of their projects.
- > Establishing designated business teams with a Director of Engagement and Analytics for each agency partner and policy area. The individual business teams, consisting of subject matter experts, served as liaisons between MPH’s technical team and the agency partner. At MPH, business teams handle specific portfolios such as Education and Workforce, Health and Human Services, Public Safety, and Government Services. This structure allowed partners to begin engaging with innovative data solutions with improved communication between all parties.
MPH Still Has Challenges To Overcome
In spite of recent successes, Hungate highlighted several challenges still facing MPH. To start, she noted that navigating state and federal regulations in partnerships with individual agencies remains a key challenge in MPH’s work. Additionally, with a small team of 40 people and limited resources, the MPH faces a significant challenge in deciding between competing priorities and projects.
However, the MPH team has big plans for the future as they continue to work closely with the executive and legislative branches to standardize data requirements and improve the efficiency of projects from the beginning. The MPH team hopes to further develop a data-driven culture through a data proficiency program, which aims to improve a state employee’s ability to work with data. Hungate believes this work is crucial because “Every state employee is a data employee, whether you are a highway tech looking at the weather to see whether the snow thaws out [or] a frontline employee at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles inputting data.”
Cotterill emphasized the importance of iterative efforts when designing and implementing technical solutions. He noted that “efforts are going to iterate,” and that it is critical to be able to flexibly pivot to meet policy needs. MPH itself has made considerable changes in its technical approach in response to a variety of policy issues. Cotterill stressed that “each state environment will be different and thus each infrastructure will look different.” Embracing an adaptable approach allows teams like MPH to find the critical balance between addressing complex policy questions while developing robust technical solutions.
Cuong Pham Vu is a student analyst at the Beeck Center in the 2021-2022 academic year and is pursuing a Masters of International Development Policy at Georgetown University. Connect with him on Linkedin.