March 12, 202–By Tyler Kleykamp

The state Chief Data Officers (CDOs) met for two days in late January to reflect on 2020 and prepare for what 2021 will bring. With a global pandemic shining a light on state government and state data, CDOs continue playing a critical role in state efforts to respond to the pandemic. CDOs were engaged in more than creating the public-facing COVID dashboards that we check daily. Behind the scenes, they were leveraging their state Health Information Exchanges to drive better insights into the pandemic, publishing data on the use of CARES Act funds, and even stepping in to directly lead their health department’s data efforts.

(New Jersey CARES Act dashboard)

While pandemic response continues to be a focus of state governments, there remains critical work that still must be done and CDOs are making advances. One CDO is helping improve the way their state serves veterans by leveraging data to identify those most at risk of suicide. Their efforts helped to identify more than 60,000 veterans living in the state that they were previously unaware of. 

In another state, the CDO is supporting the reform of affirmative action hiring goals for the state by using updated data and analytics to ensure that those goals are reflective of current demographics in the state. Beyond more equitable hiring practices, this process has cut down on time and paperwork. Even before the pandemic, state benefits systems were struggling. CDOs worked to make strides integrating data across benefits systems to improve the delivery of those services.

Open Data Makes a Comeback

Once governors began creating COVID dashboards, the public’s interest in state data exploded. State open data sites began hosting more detailed case and testing data, and traffic to those sites increased exponentially. This created a demand for more data related to the pandemic and states responded by increasing the amount of open data they were publishing related to the economic impacts and demand for benefits. States like Alaska and Ohio launched open data websites for the first time recently, and CDOs are pushing forward with enhanced open data efforts. When the State CDO Network launched in November 2019, open data efforts were in the background, but it’s becoming a clear priority for CDOs moving forward.

Screenshot of attendees at the State CDO Network Zoom meeting.

Looking ahead to 2021

CDOs continue to make progress in critical areas while remaining focused on COVID response. Six clear priorities emerged from the gathering where the Network can collaborate on foundational data issues across states:

  • Data literacy and governance: To use data effectively in states, CDOs can’t do it alone. There’s a growing need for state employees to understand the value of data and how to manage it properly, so that it can be leveraged to its full potential. The Network will work to identify effective governance strategies and successful approaches  to upskilling the workforce.
  • Open data: With a renewed focus on open data, many CDOs have prioritized improving the usability of their open data websites and expanding or improving the datasets being offered. As a network, we’ll explore what the high-value datasets are that states should be publishing and work to better understand how open data is being used at the state level and by whom. The Beeck Center team will also focus on which datasets states can publish to support recovery efforts as we emerge from the pandemic.
  • Data inventorying and cataloguing: As the demand for data grew during the pandemic, many states realized the value of inventorying and cataloging data. “To bake a cake, you need to know where the ingredients are,” one CDO said, emphasizing the importance of knowing where a state’s data assets lie. States have approached this process in different ways and the Network will work to identify which tools are most effective and generate best practices for the states just starting this journey.
  • Organizational strategies: CDO offices vary greatly from state-to-state. As the efforts begin to scale, the Network will evaluate what the core staffing needs are for state CDOs and identify methods to sustain efforts financially over the long term.
  • Advocacy: CDOs are evangelists for data within their states and have to work across agencies and with external stakeholders to advance the use of data. The Beeck Center will continue supporting the network to identify effective strategies to build partnerships, get buy-in from partners and leaders, and communicate the importance of the work of CDOs to individuals with less technical knowledge.
  • Tech platforms: There are no shortage of tech platforms that are used to manage, share, integrate, and analyze data. They all work great during the sales pitch, but how well do they work when states implement them? The Network will work to better understand the needs of CDOs and their partners, and provide space for CDOs to discuss which tools work best.

As state CDOs continue to support critical functions of state government, the Beeck Center will continue to support their priorities moving forward. In addition to building out the toolkit for CDOs, the Beeck Center will be rolling out expanded programming in the next few months to support states in their use of data for economic recovery. Data has become front and center in the response to the pandemic, and when used responsibly, should be driving recovery efforts too. As we wrapped up and reflected on the two days, one CDO summed it up: “On a psychological level I knew the value [of this work], but I think it really hit home.”

September 15, 2020 – By Amen Ra Mashariki

The myriad issues we are dealing with around the spread and impact of COVID-19 in city centers reminds me that we must be forever vigilant when it comes to ensuring government, local NGO, relevant private sector and national and global health data is updated, available and accessible. In 2015, 128 New Yorkers were infected and 12 people died as Legionnaires bacteria spread through untreated water in a building’s cooling tower. During that time, I was New York City’s Chief Analytics Officer, leading the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. My job was to translate challenges like this into questions that could be answered using analytics, and get agencies to use their data in a new way.

What I learned then is that Legionnaires can be a fatal form of contagious pneumonia that preys hard on the elderly and people with compromised health. Legionella bacteria are found in different freshwater environments, such as water tanks, hot and cold water systems, and cooling towers, but it grows especially well in warm water. People become infected by inhaling contaminated droplets and mist released from water systems.

One of the main sources is contaminated central air conditioning cooling towers. There are over one million buildings in New York City, many of which are decades old, and the city has limited resources for inspection. Where do you begin?

Machine Learning Can Help a Human Crisis

During the 2015 outbreak, we began with data to identify locations with the biggest risk for potential outbreaks. At the time, New York City did not have an existing list of cooling tower locations. The team worked around the clock for weeks pulling in fragments of information from multiple agencies. We built a data management process from scratch to gather, integrate, and ensure the quality of cooling tower inspection data on a daily basis. From this, we built a machine learning algorithm.

Machine learning refers to a set of data-driven algorithms and techniques that automate the prediction, classification and clustering of data. Machine learning can play a critical role in spatial problem solving like this one — where do we even begin to look for deadly bacteria in a city of 8.5 million people?

We used machine learning to identify buildings likely to have contaminated cooling towers by understanding cooling tower locations based on building types and land attributes. The team was able to raise the hit rate for identifying cooling tower locations from 10% to 80% with data. That means, every 8 in 10 attempts to identify a building with a cooling tower was successful. The bottom line? Building inspectors were able to identify contaminated cooling towers faster and save lives.

From this machine learning project, the Building Intelligence tool was born. The tool is a 360-degree reconciled database for buildings that provides information more quickly and easily to agencies across the City.

computer generated map showing New York City buildings
The New York City Building Intelligence Toolkit identifies which buildings have been inspected and gives officials a fast way to react to problems.

The Legionnaires cluster was located in buildings without a cooling tower, but they were connected and shared a hot water supply. Three became infected and one died over the course of a year. The simple fact that a common variable was identified in these separate cases over this long period of time is thanks to the City being prepared and having data at the ready.

Emergency Drills are for Data too

I’m confident that New York City will be able to contain this cluster so it doesn’t lead to an outbreak like what we had three years ago, but during the next emergency, invariably, we will find we need access and answers to something we don’t know we need. This is what I call the unknown unknown – data we don’t even know we don’t possess.

How can we possibly collect data on everything we may possibly need? That’s where data drills come in handy. When faced with an emergency, we come upon challenges and significant data gaps. As a result, we become aware of needs we could have never predicted prior to that crisis and can fill those demands before such emergencies get completely out of hand.

Data drills are a concept that started in New York City. They are developed and conducted based on a specific operational challenge involving data and require multi-organizational cooperation to achieve a desired result. They can be designed for individual scenarios such as a Legionnaires outbreak or capacity building, asking questions like, “Do we have data on cooling towers and plumbing city-wide?” Data drills can also be used for operations development as well as software testing.

Overall, data drills are a mechanism for helping a city to baseline citywide data practices. They’re also a mechanism for guiding a city towards improving the ability to identify, understand and use data to solve a city challenge when requested in real time.

Data drills make a city smarter about the information it holds and that is key to using data and analytics to make a city safer, smarter, healthier, more efficient, resilient, sustainable, and equitable. Regardless of whether or not urban analytics are immediately necessary to remediate a situation, for any city, data drills should be considered phase zero — constantly running in the background at a cadence that keeps the city’s data ready to be put into action.

Amen Ra Mashariki is a fellow at the Beeck Center and Global Director of the Data Lab at the World Resources Institute. Follow him at @AMashariki.

August 26, 2020 – By Katya Abazajian

A pandemic may seem like the worst time to fix slow-changing, infrastructural data challenges, but there is no better time to begin correcting systems that just aren’t working. 

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) manage critical data infrastructure that helps states innovate and make data-driven policy decisions. Earlier this month, we published Leveraging Data for Economic Recovery, a report showing how CDOs can focus their work to guide states to equitable economic recoveries. But within state governments, CDOs often struggle to make the case for sustainable data reforms when there are more pressing demands on frontline workers.

Data is an essential asset states should use to make emergency response processes more effective and efficient. Through responsible data-sharing, advanced analytics, and publishing robust open data, states can leverage data as critical infrastructure for disaster recovery.  

Many states have set up centralized COVID data dashboards that serve as the main source of information for CDC reporting and national COVID tracking by civic hackers and journalists. Based on conversations with states, we’ve found that while some dashboards have been developed in coordination with data teams’ best practices, others used ad hoc, paper-based processes to gather and publish data from public health officials. This means in states where cross-agency data sharing is not common practice, public health agencies have had to establish new information sharing processes on top of the existing strain of the health crisis. 

While national data-sharing configurations continue to evolve, states are left to fend for themselves in determining what needs to be collected, by whom, and for whom.

Many states develop mechanisms for data-sharing based on internal legal guidance that may or may not not mirror decisions made by other states. This introduces discrepancies in different states’ interpretations of what data is considered public or private, particularly with regards to sensitive health data. During COVID, each state has had to develop its own solutions for data challenges.  

Suddenly, public health agencies need immediate, open channels of communication and data-sharing across departments to inform how schools, employers, social safety net providers, and other practitioners are supporting disaster recovery. 

The CDO role has proven essential to developing multi-agency emergency response functions to COVID-19 in states that have leveraged their data capacity to enable collaboration. CDOs bring exactly the kind of systemic expertise on data use that governors and executive decision-makers need in order to empower quick action and collaboration as the pandemic’s effects continue to shift. 

CDOs can implement the steps outlined in Leveraging Data for Economic Recovery to find key opportunities to open up data-sharing across agencies. They can also champion internal cultural shifts that will allow public servants across agencies to work better together through open data and data-driven decision-making. 

Often, the changes that public servants need to see in their data systems require adapting tech procurement language and shifting data collection processes. CDOs are particularly well-positioned to advise on these decisions alongside Chief Information Officers (CIOs) by streamlining which tools and data best practices are being applied and replicated across government agencies. 

Not only is better internal data use essential for improving the efficiency and efficacy of states’ public systems, but open data and public communication around information are becoming increasingly crucial for navigating the national crisis. Journalists and advocates have demanded better data reporting on racial and ethnic disparities in the effects of social policies and programs and the spread of COVID-19. But states often lack the data capacity to even collect the right data to report these statistics from the ground up. Resolving these challenges and allowing CDOs to inform how data is collected across agencies will require a fundamental shift in how data is treated as critical infrastructure in state government.  

City officials like Beeck Center Fellow Amen Ra Mashariki, former Chief Analytics Officer in the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics in New York City, were the first to pilot the idea of “data drills,” a nod to the fact that just as emergency systems need to be primed for immediate response, data systems need to be primed for effective use in an emergency. Running data drills can be as simple as setting up theoretical scenarios in which data owners across departments are tested on protocols and best practices for gathering and disseminating data in an emergency. This kind of systemic thinking about how to apply data in the long-run can help states integrate data use into other emergency response functions. 

The key to better collaboration in a pandemic is enabling sustainable frameworks for data-sharing, integration, analytics, and open data. States must advance in how they are applying data in order to be prepared for the next natural disaster. And CDOs have a crucial role to play in bringing states up to speed on innovative data uses for public good. 

Katya Abazajian is a researcher with the State Chief Data Officers Network at the Beeck Center. Follow her at @katyaabaz.

August 10, 2020 – By Katya Abazajian + Tyler Kleykamp

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, state governments have used data to respond to real-time needs for critical information. Every day, governors review data and visualizations to react to the evolving challenges of the pandemic. As we learned from state Chief Data Officers in May, CDOs are working overtime to create the dashboards that governors use and share with the public, map food distribution sites, and integrate testing and hospitalization data across disparate sources. 

While state governments must react to immediate, shifting conditions on a daily basis, they’re left with little time to plan for economic recovery from the fallout. As of June, over 30 million Americans had filed jobless claims. Early reports of economic impacts outline tough times for small businesses, renters, working parents seeking childcare, food insecure households, and others in vulnerable situations. To account for these staggering shifts, states’ recovery efforts must be sustainable, infrastructural, and forward-looking. 

cover of leveraging data for economic recovery: A roadmap for statesREAD THE FULL REPORT

Policy makers need to decide how to respond to each new wave of the virus over the coming years. They’ll need to understand how separate social programs interact with one another, when cutting support to one system may overburden another. States should lean heavily on data to make these difficult decisions on the path toward economic recovery.

cover of Social Safety Net Benefits report
Beeck Center report on Social Safety Net benefits

States that have begun long-term recovery planning are doing so under a framework that was created after Hurricane Katrina nearly 15 years ago and predates the existence of state CDOs along with other modern data and digital service approaches. While we know that the pandemic has disproportionately affected poor communities and communities of color, we still don’t know what the long-term effects will be on these communities. By improving the way they use data, states can go beyond restoring the pre-pandemic conditions that enabled these disproportionate impacts to an environment that supports equity and mobility from poverty.

Leveraging Data for Economic Recovery: A Roadmap for States is a guide to rebuild the system to be better than it was before. The roadmap is initially focused on four main areas where data can be used in recovery efforts: workforce and education, health and benefits, neighborhood well-being, and budget reallocation. Each of these areas contains a series of use cases where states are uniquely positioned to leverage their data or policy making ability to improve recovery efforts. Some use cases outlined in the report should be feasible and actionable across states, while others require stronger enabling conditions that could shift the landscape of data use for economic recovery. Busting silos and enabling better statewide collaboration remains key to ensuring that public servants across agencies can build on and support each others’ efforts. This report not only points CDOs toward the future of their work, but outlines the powerful assets that CDOs already have at their disposal.

State CDOs play a critical role in advancing on the road to recovery. The role has proven essential to developing multi-agency emergency response functions to COVID-19 and will continue to be crucial in coordinating statewide data-driven plans for economic recovery. CDOs can implement the steps outlined in the roadmap by building more sustainable frameworks for collaboration and consulting on technical issues such as data integration, visualization, or privacy. However, CDOs need support. CDOs need comprehensive data sharing agreements and support in shifting states toward more data-driven culture to run successful data programs. Top-level leaders, including governors, must commit to leveraging data as critical infrastructure for COVID-19 response and recovery. This roadmap provides them with clear steps to take on that path.

Katya Abazajian is a researcher for the State Chief Data Officers Network, and an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Follow her at @katyaabaz.

Tyler Kleykamp is a Beeck Center Fellow and Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network. Follow him at @tkleykamp.

July 24, 2020 – By Sara Soka + Chad Smith

“Build back better” is a phrase borrowed from disaster recovery. At its core it means when a system is damaged (or exposed as being damaged), the optimal repair uses all available resources to build back a stronger, more effective, and more resilient system. 

Federal social safety net programs provide basic economic, food, and housing support to millions of Americans, but their eligibility, enrollment, and delivery processes are notoriously difficult to navigate. As demand for benefits grew with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the insufficient capacity and burdensome processes of the social safety net became painfully apparent and widely publicized, though these conditions are not new. At the Beeck Center, we have been researching the leading-edge examples where data, design practices, and technology are being leveraged to more effectively deliver benefits. This ongoing research effort is showing what is possible and where governments, companies, and service-providing nonprofits are leaning into novel and ambitious approaches to help more people, faster, and for less cost.

Earlier this month, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth led a Congressional hearing about the longstanding need for federal investment in modernizing state and federal IT systems, made more urgent in the wake of COVID-19. “State unemployment offices, already underfunded and understaffed, were left completely unprepared for the massive influx of need,” Rep. Yarmuth said. “The federal government has long sought to prioritize modern, secure, and shared IT solutions, but funding uncertainties, stemming from constrained discretionary funding under budget caps, shutdown threats, and continuing resolutions have made agencies more likely to update instead of modernize.”

cover of Social Safety Net Benefits report
Read the Complete Report

To support the ability of agencies to modernize at scale, our research details successful models for bringing social safety net benefit delivery up to contemporary standards. This living report — which we will update at regular intervals throughout 2020 — examines the data, design, technology, and innovation-enabled approaches that make it easier for eligible people to enroll in, and receive, federally-funded social safety net benefits. 

Through our research, we seek to understand what tools and processes exist, which can be replicated, and what experts identify as overarching needs. We will present what new approaches are possible and can be replicated and scaled, especially if there is the political and popular will to drive a large federal investment in a tech-enabled social safety net in the wake of COVID-19. We anticipate that this living report will be of particular interest to leaders able to take integrated, system-wide action, including government executives, policymakers, and philanthropic organizations. We also hope it promotes aligned efforts between the nonprofits, public benefit corporations, and government agencies that are changing benefit delivery for the better.

“We cannot afford to pour time, attention, and enormous sums of money into a process for building and buying software that hasn’t worked for decades.”

– Jennifer Pahlka, U.S. Digital Response

Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and co-founder of the U.S. Digital Service and U.S. Digital Response testified before the House Budget Committee, saying,

“We must invest in modernizing the technology that runs our services, but I am deeply concerned that the urgency of the moment will cause us to forget that we must also change how we make these investments. We cannot afford to pour time, attention, and enormous sums of money into a process for building and buying software that hasn’t worked for decades…. To fix this, Congress will need to be more than a checkbook. This body will have to become a staunch and visible ally of hybrid tech-policy teams who practice agile development and user-centered design wherever they exist.”

Our report highlights many organizations that have been developing tech-enabled approaches for years, including Alluma, Benefits Data Trust, Civilla, Code for America, Nava, and others. In gathering and presenting the hard-earned experience of innovators in this space, our report complements a forthcoming analysis of the scope and reach of organizations from the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, as well as timely policy and process analysis from our colleagues at New America’s New Practice Lab

For too long, structural inequities based on race, class, gender, and other factors have kept many Americans struggling for economic security. These existing inequities have intensified the pandemic’s economic and health impacts, which have hit Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and immigrant households disproportionately hard. Design, data, and technology can make the social safety net faster and more reliable, providing a meaningful push toward equity and a more resilient system during crisis.  Going forward, we will keep sharing the work of innovative governments and organizations that are modernizing the social safety net in future installments of our report. We welcome your feedback and insights at sara [dot] soka [at] georgetown [dot] edu and cs1934 [at] georgetown [dot] edu.

Sara Soka and Chad Smith are fellows in the Digital Service Collaborative at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

June 29, 2020 – By Conor Carroll and Giuseppe Morgana

COVID-19 has made the work of government agencies more critical than ever. States are fostering greater inter-department collaboration, innovating with the public, and ensuring their services are accessible to people in need. 

Digital service teams are partnering closely with experts across the government to accelerate this work. The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University launched a research project on these teams to learn from and share their approaches to implementing innovative methods. The State of New Jersey’s Office of Innovation is a partner in this project. The team’s work has informed this list of four important things to keep in mind for a faster, more coordinated COVID-19 response across government (whether or not your state has a formal digital service team).

#1: Design people-centered platforms for sharing information with the public

The COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of our government’s communication with the public. As policies frequently change and impact people’s daily lives in unprecedented ways, widespread public compliance with COVID-19 precautions is made possible by clear and broadly-accessible public information. The Office of Innovation focused on this imperative early on, and prioritized collaborating across government, and with private sector and non-profit partners to develop the tools needed to connect New Jerseyans with consistent, plain-language information about COVID-19

screenshot of New Jersey's Innovation Hub website
New Jersey’s COVID-19 Information Hub –

A parallel effort, in collaboration with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), led to the creation of a user-friendly Q&A tool providing evidence-based information about COVID-19. This information was later integrated directly on New Jersey’s main COVID-19 Information Hub, and also made accessible to other government websites. Through a partnership with Yext, a cloud-based search provider which built the Information Hub with New Jersey, users are connected with the most relevant answers across these different sources via natural language search terms. To ensure the State’s websites reflected the latest policy updates, the Office of Innovation worked with the governor’s office and various other agencies to make the constant flow of updated information useful for the general public. Team members translated executive orders from complex “legalese” into easily-understandable answers to common questions, made content available in Spanish, and studied search analytics to determine which information to feature based on user demand. These content teams were able to coordinate effectively thanks to existing relationships from previous cross-agency projects catalyzed by the Office of Innovation.

This approach provided a great benefit to New Jersey as State employees focused on keeping State-specific information accurate and up-to-date, while also seamlessly providing fact-checked general information about COVID-19 directly on the site, powered by FAS through Ask a Scientist.

Translating an executive order to clear information for residents on

Executive Order 107 mandated the closure of non-essential businesses. Examples of essential businesses could be found in the text of the order. 

screenshot of NJ Executive Order 107


The executive order was translated into a FAQ, easily searchable via

Screenshot of NJ list of businesses that could remain open

The detailed information was translated into easy-to-understand responses, providing users immediate answers and enabling New Jersey to get the most accurate, current guidance directly to the public. 

Screenshot of "are pharmacies open" from NJ COVID-19 info page

#2: Identify and partner with external experts who can bring unique skills to augment internal capacity 

Unprecedented demand for public services and supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), has put significant strain on existing IT and supply chain systems, requiring immediate responses. Traditional government processes for adopting new technologies and hiring new talent may not be designed for the urgency of these issues. But in this crisis environment, additional channels of support are available to augment and expand the capacity and capabilities of the public sector. 

The New Jersey team recognized the urgency of technology and supply chain shortfalls, and are addressing them with the support of skilled volunteers. Volunteers from the U.S. Digital Response, the national effort to provide data and digital support to all levels of U.S. government, were critical to developing the State’s Small Business Emergency Assistance Eligibility Wizard. Additionally, the innovation team worked closely with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Rutgers’ Business School to recruit a team of volunteer supply chain experts from the private sector to perform a rapid assessment of the state’s supply chain situation and recommend industry-proven approaches to pilot and improve the State’s ability to make proactive, data-driven decisions about purchasing supplies. A team from the United States Digital Service also recently joined forces with the Office of Innovation and the State’s Department of Labor to conduct interviews with individuals who filed for unemployment benefits and use the insights to modernize aspects of the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Certification website, including an upcoming improvement to make the site mobile-friendly. 

Small Business Assistance Eligibility Wizard

This tool helps business owners check their eligibility for multiple state and federal assistance programs by answering a series of simple questions

Screenshot of Small Business Eligibility Wizard tool

#3: Use the urgency to address tech and design debt so problems are solved long-term

Innovation teams should work with procurement colleagues who understand options that exist both in normal times and during this crisis to expand or develop impactful partnerships that are in the best interest of the state and its residents. Many private sector partners have made their products, talent, and services available to be deployed in innovative projects at no cost at this time. Innovation teams can add value by understanding these opportunities and performing the diligence to ensure they follow best practices in building modern, responsive technology and will not be detrimental to the state in the long-term. In New Jersey, this has translated to multiple engagements with trusted vendor partners, meaning the team was able to bring in new types of external help more quickly. 

This crisis has revealed the true cost of delayed human-centered modernization of the systems that power our public services. Administrative systems have collapsed under the weight of unprecedented demand for public services. It is through these systems that our government delivers the services that we have legislated and prioritized, making it incredibly important that we ensure they work effectively in good times as well as in times of crisis. Our technical systems are a primary vehicle through which residents experience and interact with their government. The capabilities of our systems directly correspond to our ability to be responsive to the needs of the public. 

Digital service teams should use this time to address long-standing technical issues that have been on their reform agendas for years. There is an opportunity to partner closely with public agencies across government to understand their needs at this time and concurrently address long-standing technical debt – including supporting teams that are already working on these challenges across government.. Depending on capacity and resources available, modernization efforts can roll out in phases. The New Jersey team is working to make public-facing improvements to the user experience of legacy systems during this crisis, such as building an updated mobile-friendly Unemployment Insurance certification website, while also looking ahead to deeper engagements in the future—with considerations to add more functionality and move applications to the cloud for improved scalability. 

The upcoming improved, mobile-friendly unemployment insurance certification website developed in collaboration with the Department of Labor and United States Digital Service

screenshots of old, new, and mobile versions of New Jersey weekly unemployment certification sites

#4: Empower agency partners to co-develop and own new solutions 

Strong agency partners, and specifically the front-line agency workers, are crucial to successful innovation projects, with or without a public crisis. These partners bring subject matter expertise, local knowledge, and the ability to grow the solution after it is implemented. As government becomes increasingly digital, the design and resiliency of technology systems often define how responsive government can be in delivering services to the public. Given how essential these systems are to an agency’s mission, the agency must be empowered to own and refine these systems. Even the most well-designed technology solution will need to adapt to changing user needs, policies, or on-the-ground circumstances, and it is critical that the owning agency partner is positioned to continue to iterate and make the changes needed to be responsive in the long-term.  

Acting on values central to leading civic tech organizations, the New Jersey innovation team takes the approach of building with, not for, partners and users. This means taking the time to understand partners’ priorities and know what other projects they are working on. Teams across government are doing critical work to respond to the crisis, and it is important that partnerships are respectful of colleagues’ other efforts. Office of Innovation staff collaborates not only with the staff directly overseeing the issue, but also with other important stakeholders, like IT, legal, and communications teams. This approach cultivates a sense of ownership among partners and develops their capacity to deliver future projects with less direct involvement from the innovation team. By being directly involved in the work, agency colleagues contribute their expertise, become aware of existing resources available to them and develop new skills for delivering projects.

Conor Carroll is a researcher with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, conducting research with the New Jersey Office of Innovation. 

Giuseppe Morgana is the Digital Director for the New Jersey State Office of Innovation.

June 9, 2020 | By Tyler Kleykamp

As the world becomes increasingly digital, what’s become clear for both the public and private sector is that data needs a leader. Since 2010, states have been establishing Chief Data Officer (CDO) roles and most major cities and large federal agencies have them as well. As the number of CDOs has grown to over 25, and the size of their teams have increased, the role has evolved and matured from being primarily focused on open data, to ensuring data is shared and used effectively across their states.

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests against police brutality highlight the unique role the state government plays and how it directly impacts people’s lives. Data is already in the spotlight and will play a critical role in how states recover from the pandemic and address systemic racism if leveraged properly. For years, Connecticut has been collecting traffic stop data in an effort to determine whether drivers are being stopped due to racial profiling. A growing number of states are providing COVID-19 case data broken out by race, illuminating the disproportionate toll the virus has taken on communities of color. States must also recognize that years of systemic and structural racism has resulted in overrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups within their data systems. With their ability to engage across agencies and departments, the CDO will be a hub for state governments moving forward.

cover of report: The Evolving Role of the State Chief Data Officer
Read the full report

The goal of the State Chief Data Officers Network is to surface and scale best practices and opportunities for collaboration across states. We also aim to support states in the creation of a CDO role. This means we need to better define what the CDO roles and responsibilities are. While there are case studies and playbooks to support CDOs in various levels of government, most aren’t geared toward the unique challenges states face. City CDOs are often focused on open data and analytics. Federal CDOs roles are generally defined by the Foundations for Evidence Based Policy Act. To help states improve their use of data, the State CDO Network created a core framework to guide them in structuring effective data programs.

Through the insights collected from state CDOs since November, and drawing upon resources from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Results for America, six core elements of a successful state data program have emerged:

  • LEAD – Designate an executive level data leader as the Chief Data Officer
  • PLAN – Create a strategy, governance structure, and inventory of data
  • BUILD – Increase the capacity of stakeholders to effectively use data
  • SHARE – Establish clear and predictable processes for data sharing
  • ANALYZE – Provide mechanisms and platforms to enable data integration and analysis
  • SUSTAIN – Ensure ongoing support exists for data efforts

To implement this framework, we’ve created two tools states can use. The Evolving Role of a State Chief Data Officer will help policymakers and state CDOs alike shape the role and responsibility of a CDO. State Data Policy Options is a guidebook with examples of effective legislation from states that can be used to support efforts to implement this framework. The policy options will grow over time as states continue implementing effective solutions.

States don’t need to implement this framework all at once. Rather, it should be used as a roadmap to help them mature in their use of data over time. Just as the CDO role has evolved since its inception, it’s likely this framework will too. These tools will help get states moving in the right direction.

Tyler Kleykamp is a Beeck Center Fellow and Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network. Follow him at @tkleykamp.

May 27, 2020 | By Amen Ra Mashariki

In September 2015, I was sitting in the NYC Office of Emergency Management’s (NYCEM) famed “war room”. It was packed. Literally standing room only. Yet somehow the steady influx of important looking people into the room continued. Was the crisis an impending storm, or a blackout? Neither. This was a “Tabletop,” a simulated emergency situation. In this exercise, the Commissioners of most NYC agencies and their senior staff, some state personnel, and private sector entities (i.e. gas/electric utilities) gathered to review and discuss the actions they would take in a particular emergency, testing their emergency plan in an informal, low-stress environment. This made it easy for everyone to calmly rehearse their roles, ask questions, and troubleshoot problem areas.

people sitting around a conference table with projection of data behind them
NYC Emergency Management “tabletop” exercise. Photo by Amen Ra Mashariki

After 9/11, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and the Legionnaires outbreak, we knew very well that it’s the unknown unknowns that hurt you the most. This is when I along with a few colleagues created data drills. Data drills help a city baseline where they are with citywide data practices. They also help improve a city’s ability to identify, understand, and use data to solve a challenge when requested. Data drills help a municipal data team move faster and better, but it’s also a very important tool to understand exactly where the holes and problems in your data operations are.

Why was I, the Chief Analytics Officer and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) at a tabletop emergency management event? To understand, rewind to the beginning of summer 2015 and the outbreak of Legionnaires disease in the city.

Legionnaires—a type of pneumonia—was spreading in the Bronx and Manhattan through contaminated water in cooling towers sitting on top of buildings. My office was brought in to build a machine learning model to help find where every building with a cooling tower existed, and to count and track the registration and ultimately the cleaning of those towers. This was a citywide emergency effort, and because MODA played a key role in its successful conclusion, from that point on it was clear to city leadership that collecting data was key to emergency response efforts. Hence the invitation to the tabletop.

As I watched these agency heads work out their emergency response muscle so they could improve, I realized my former office, as well as the data teams or personnel in other agencies, should find a way to get better at finding, accessing, integrating, and sharing data during an emergency. Agency data leaders needed our own tabletop exercise, because when we weren’t thinking about using analytics to solve a particular problem, we needed to be thinking about data all the time.

We understood that there is data that we know we have, data that we know we don’t have, and data we know absolutely nothing about, including even the fact that it exists (Donald Rumsfeld’s famous “unknown unknowns”).

Related Links

In general, data drills are developed and conducted based on some operational challenge that involves data and will require multi-organizational cooperation to achieve a desired result. Drills can be designed for (but not limited to):

  • Specific scenario: hurricane flood zone, homeless counts, data center disruption
  • Capacity building: collecting data, learning how to operationalize a specific dataset
  • Operations development: down trees clean-up operations between two agencies
  • Testing Software: testing new features in a data sharing platform

Data drills help us take on that challenge by having organizations across the city surfacing, sharing and integrating data. A drill takes place with specified start and end times, forcing all participants to work within real life time constraints. Every data drill results in overall citywide-data I.Q. growing ever so slightly.

Data drill deliverables should be defined early in the planning phase. They may include (but not limited to):

  • Identification of data sets with metadata and data dictionaries
  • Organization-specific operational workflow relevant to data and use-case
  • Interagency workflow for operations, analysis and/or network infrastructure
  • List of organization contacts, roles and responsibilities
  • Documentation of activities and observations
  • Report with recommendations

NYC’s first interagency emergency data drill was conducted by MODA with assistance from NYCEM’s GIS and Training & Exercises divisions, and the 1st Deputy Mayor’s office, from October 14 – 16, 2015. It included an initial data call, assignments for agencies, and an in-person concluding session. Fourteen agencies were participants in the drill, and there were over 60 individual participants.

The scenario for drill play was an extended power outage in an area of downtown Brooklyn affecting 97,000 residents. Eleven agencies contributed data sets to test data sharing mechanisms and MODA’s data integration effort. Immediately after the completion of the drill, a post data drill review showed the drill successfully tested the capabilities it was designed to test.

Capability to TestGoalResult
Points of Contact (POCs)It is important to define and rely on data POCs for responding agencies so when an emergency happens you already know who to reach out to for data.In sending out invitations to the drill, we used a list of data POCs from the various agencies we had developed over the previous two months. In the course of the drill, additional POCs were identified.
Data Call
There must be an existing mechanism in place to convene data leaders across agencies so when a crisis breaks out, communication across data leaders can happen instantaneously.We successfully conducted an initial data call on the 14th and simulated a second data call “in-person” on the 16th.
Data Sharing Mechanism
The need to be able to swiftly share data during an emergency with metadata templates for tracking is key to executing a successful emergency response. A data sharing mechanism was successfully used by all participants.
Data Integration
Data integration is one of the most complex things to do in general, but when you attach this need to the timeliness and precision requirements that must be met during an emergency, data integration without planning, process and skill is almost impossible. MODA successfully integrated data from a large sample of the data sets provided by the agencies, even when given a few hours to complete the needed integration.
Reporting Metrics
Leaders within the city, first responders and other stakeholders during a crisis require immediate, accurate and consistent reporting during an emergency.MODA led the effort to work with agencies to propose draft reporting metrics. The 1st Deputy Mayor’s office reviewed and commented on the draft metrics.

A key takeaway from this blog is that we built the concept of data drills in NYC up from a simple idea to a very complex, citywide, highly impactful undertaking. This wasn’t just because it was a good idea. Good ideas come a dime a dozen.  This was an idea that every agency in NYC government felt was overdue. This was something that we all knew needed to happen. Therefore, high participation and ultimately impact was inevitable. For every city, domestic or international, data drills should be a key part of their data strategy. These drills should constantly be running in the background at a cadence that keeps the city’s data ready to be put into action. Data drills make the city smarter about their data, and that is key to being able to use data and analytics to make a city safer, smarter, healthier, more efficient, resilient, sustainable, and equitable.

COMING SOON: Executing a Data Drill

Stay connected to the Beeck Center

Sign up for our newsletter and get regular updates on what’s happening at the Center, news about our portfolio interests, social impact job opportunities and more!

sign up now button


May 27, 2020 | By Erika Seth Davies

Historic discriminatory policies and practices intentionally designed to eliminate access to economic opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) have ensured that everyone doesn’t enter a level playing field when it comes to the world of finance. Less than 1.5% of the $70 trillion handled by the asset management industry each year is overseen by BIPOC and women managers. That’s a problem.

Although it has long been touted as a system built on meritocracy and market-driven performance, access to capital markets, like all other facets of American society, is influenced by the same policies, practices and cultural representations that accumulate advantage and disadvantage along the lines of race. We haven’t “found ourselves” in this predicament. The disparities in access and opportunity are the result of intentional decision making. Dismantling the barriers that have resulted requires equal intention and naming the difficult truth of institutional and structural racism in the room. In this unprecedented moment of crisis, we have the opportunity to learn important lessons and move differently to advance a system that generates shared prosperity.

Racial literacy is crucial in the age of COVID-19. We do not stand a chance of advancing shared prosperity for all unless and until we address the racism in the room. As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Fundamentally, this pandemic puts the racism inherent in the structures of the American economic, political, media, and social systems on full display. From disproportionate rates of infection and death, the lack of funding to businesses owned by people of color, the rhetoric regarding reopening state/local economies, and violent attacks are deeply rooted in the structures of U.S. society and a basic language for describing it matters deeply to advancing change.

The time has come to reframe and redefine risk to challenge commonly held beliefs. We are witnessing what happens when we view risk through a binary of winning and losing, protecting and mitigating loss, but we are not weighing the risk of inaction. When we allow the status quo to remain, when we don’t change what is clearly not working, our economy and social fabric face an even greater risk of failure.

Over the coming weeks, the Equitable Access to Capital Markets project will explore the intersections and implications of placing the invisible influence of institutional racism on display through an analysis of common policies and practices, governance structures, and the role of implicit bias in generating current outcomes.

We’ll share insights and more importantly, offer solutions for owners of asset capital to transform their processes and approaches to engage overlooked and expand access to opportunity. Ideas like understanding and mitigating implicit bias in your process, why “color blind” policies and practices result in racialized outcomes and how to be more intentional, why equitable access requires a systems approach, and what are frameworks for race lens investing to shift capital. But this won’t work unless an open dialogue exists about this issue, so in July, we are partnering with Common Future for a series of conversations with people working to deliver systemic change. The longest journey begins with a single step, and we look forward to you joining us on this one.



Erika Seth Davies is a Beeck Center Fellow and Founder of the Racial Equity Asset Lab. She has extensive background in racial equity advocacy and launched the first field-wide philanthropic initiative designed to incorporate a racial equity lens in foundation endowment practice. She authored white papers promoting policies and practice in support of this approach, including Foundation Investment Management Practices: Thoughts on Alpha and Access for the Field and Diverse Managers: Philanthropy’s Next Hurdle.

Stay connected to the Beeck Center

Sign up for our newsletter and get regular updates on what’s happening at the Center, news about our portfolio interests, social impact job opportunities and more!

sign up now button


May 21, 2020 | By Tyler Kleykamp

The COVID-19 pandemic affects each state differently, but data is a valuable asset and state Chief Data Officers are taking on increasingly central roles as the crisis evolves. Creating the dashboards that governors use everyday, troubleshooting state unemployment insurance systems, and even supporting secure access to data in the shift to remote work are just a few ways CDOs are scrubbing into COVID response.

Last week, the Beeck Center hosted its second convening of the State Chief Data Officers Network. Twenty-five of the nation’s state CDOs gathered from their home offices to share experiences and collaborate on ways to further leverage data to support recovery. In times of crisis, community support is critical. Deepening the connections with their peers builds morale knowing they’re not alone in their journey. “It’s good to know others are going through similar throes as I am” one CDO commented as we wrapped up.

screenshot of Zoom meeting with 24 attendees
Members of the State CDO Network gathered on May 12-13, 2020 to discuss their work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s happening in state-level data?
Every state is using data to communicate with the public using online dashboards and in governors’ briefings. Every number produced for the public represents infrastructure and analytical capabilities behind the scenes, often orchestrated by CDOs. What might be less noticeable is that state governments also had to ensure the integrity of state data as they quickly set up remote work environments for offices that were unaccustomed to operating remotely. Ensuring state employees had access to the data and systems they need to continue providing critical services was a key early focus. As the pandemic’s effects spread outside of the public health threat, the CDOs’ roles grew to supporting unemployment insurance call centers and small business loan applications. As states plan for reopening, CDOs are measuring economic impacts, supporting contact tracing efforts, and developing dashboards to show progress toward meeting reopening milestones.

“Map Everything!”
As in real estate, location may be the most critical aspect of the pandemic response, and one CDO’s advice was “map everything!” Creating the maps that show the spread of the disease, where vulnerable populations exist, and where to get tested have been central to state efforts. Beyond disease-specific issues, CDOs are supporting mapping of critical facilities like child care, transportation hubs, and food banks. These resources help both governments and the people they serve understand where services exist, where there are gaps, and how to support the people who need it most.

screenshot of Pennsylvania Hospital Preparedness Dashboard
Hospital Preparedness Dashboard from the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Coordination is Critical
As the pandemic grew across states, the use of data increased far beyond testing and case counts. Initially it was availability of personal protective equipment and documenting hospital capacity, but expanded to data on prisons, businesses, and employment. These data come from a variety of different departments in states, and having a CDO to coordinate across agencies has been vital. CDOs often found themselves in a coordination role, ensuring that subject-matter experts were able to access the data they needed to support their work. Some states have “agency data officers” who are a single point of contact for data issues in a department. This structure helps streamline data discovery and access in states. Where states lack this structure, CDOs facilitate conversations directly with the individuals that manage specific data sources within a department.

For state CDOs, the pandemic highlighted the need for umbrella data sharing agreements in states. COVID-19 didn’t wait for states to develop the legal infrastructure necessary to share data, and the next crisis won’t either.

cover of Sharing Data for Social Impact reportWant to learn how best to share data with other organizations? Download “Sharing Data for Social Impact: Guidebook for Sharing Responsible Governance Practices” from Beeck Center Fellow Natalie Evans Harris.

With an economic crisis bearing down and a second wave of the disease looming, data-driven decisions are now at the forefront of policies and actions taken by states. Arizona’s Jeff Wolkove pointed out, “the data ‘nice-to-haves’ of a few months ago are now mission critical and we should leverage this opportunity to build what we need for the future.” In particular, centralized access to data resources solved many challenges. State governments are also going to need to become more agile. We’re still learning about the diverse impacts on state operations resulting from the pandemic, and the ability to adapt quickly to changes will be imperative.

As states transition from response to recovery, and prepare for a potential additional waves of the pandemic, CDOs brainstormed ways they can support their states. This exercise generated nearly 300 ideas in under 20 minutes. Three themes emerged:

  1. Relationships matter. Data sharing is built on trust, and ensuring that the departments and individuals they work with trust them to use data responsibly will accelerate the state’s ability to share data.
  2. “Demos not memos.” This is the mantra of the Beeck Center’s State Software Collaborative, and it seems CDOs are of the same mindset. Quickly prototyping data dashboards on potential emerging issues can help state leaders understand what’s possible and help surface any underlying barriers so they can be addressed early on.
  3. Know your data. An inventory of what data each department collects, what information the data contains, and who can access the data will help states be better prepared. This information also lets states begin to map out various data sources and start developing processes and infrastructure necessary to pull data together in advance. For example, CDOs are expecting greater demand for data on economic impact, and vaccine distribution in the future.

State CDOs continue to step up and support their states in new ways, and at the Beeck Center we are committed to highlighting those efforts so they can be replicated across the country. We published best practices on using data for COVID response and are building a roadmap to address recovery related issues and use cases for states. The State CDO Network will continue to convene online and we look forward to meeting in-person when it’s safe to do so.

Tyler Kleykamp is a Beeck Center Fellow and Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network. He is the former Chief Data Officer for the State of Connecticut and you can follow him at @tkleykamp.

May 15, 2020 | By Nate Wong and Audrey Voorhees

Nearly two months into quarantine, we’re seeing a shift in tone of company press releases from generic COVID-19 responses to something different. Beyond donations to relief and assistance, Target is investing over $300 million in employees with added wages, paid leave, and back-up childcare. Intel granted researchers and scientists open access to its global IP portfolio to pursue an end to the coronavirus pandemic. Actions like these no longer seem like window-dressing, but deeper commitments which may signal how some companies see themselves in a post-pandemic world. 

A newer model of capitalism is emerging– acknowledging that “companies, workers, customers and communities are the engines for achieving success,” says Kavya Vaghul from non-profit JUST Capital. Real commitments to positive social impact are taking center stage as leaders know publicity ploys alone will not attract customers, and certainly won’t keep existing employees or their supplier base safe and healthy. COVID-19 is a litmus test for corporate leaders to think beyond maximizing profit and instead reimagine their relationships with workers, communities, and natural systems. Reimagining will require hard-wiring and building impact into their DNA, not just tinkering on the edges of CSR or marketing. 

Enter born-socials with a playbook

Thankfully, a playbook for this new model of capitalism exists. “Born-social” companies put impact into everything they do, and model how to improve social and environmental outcomes while turning a profit. Patagonia and Ben and Jerry’s committed to community-oriented principles early. Warby Parker and Bombas embedded impact through non-profit partnerships. As corporate leaders make the shift from COVID-19 triage to strategic scenario planning, they should be intentional about how they re-form their corporate purpose, taking lessons from their “born-social” peers. 

(Re)define what truly matters and measure it. Born-social companies set clear environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals alongside financial metrics. Sustainable footwear startup Allbirds’ includes carbon as an expense line item on the balance sheet, helping the company reach carbon neutrality before any corporates pledged to do so. Allbirds also plans to reduce the carbon footprint of each shoe produced by investing a portion of the $75M raised in their most recent funding round in regenerative agriculture for raw materials. Prioritizing environmental goals may reduce Allbirds’ profits in the short-term, but it will pay off as they scale a sustainable supply chain that supports their competitive advantage. Even in a constantly changing environment like now, ESG measures can be dynamic in a time of COVID-19. 

Create a stakeholder governance structure to “bake” it in. Leaders both loathe and respect governance. Its true value comes from how these structures help guide decision-making toward shared goals. The B Corp certification provides structure for born-social companies to demonstrate their commitment to creating public benefit and sustainable value for consumers, employees, and investors. Now, with over 3,000 certified B Corporation companies across 70 countries and 150 industries, these born-social companies have tied social and environmental performance to how they make decisions, who’s involved, and how they report it. Others created their own internal structures. Airbnb recently added a new Chief Stakeholder Officer role to execute its commitment to stakeholders in an effort to tie the company to specific principles, for example linking its compensation structure to guest safety and strengthening communities. As COVID-19 ushers in a surge of voluntary executive pay cuts, there’s an opportunity moving forward to better align compensation and incentives with holistic performance rather than stock price

Bring your entire supply chain into the picture. Born-social companies know that each link of their value chain is critical for their long-term success. Sweetgreen carved a fast-casual niche by building a transparent “farm-to-table” supplier network. Rather than just an RFP process, Sweetgreen sees sourcing as long-term partnerships that allow customers to trace back their foods to the farm it was sourced. As this pandemic has made clear, supply chains are inherently linked. Unilever set aside over $500 million for early payment to small and medium-sized suppliers and extended credit to small-scale retailers, reinforcing their long-term value to their operations.

Related Links

Not why, not how… but when

As corporate executives reckon with complex future demands, the question is no longer why value a stakeholder lens (last year’s Business Roundtable corporate purpose statement made that clear). And as the examples above highlight, it can no longer be a question of how to do it. Born-social companies are raising the bar for improving society while turning a profit. It’s just a question of when others will catch up. 

Successful corporate leaders see their actions today as a way to lay the groundwork for tomorrow. These vanguards will use this pandemic to re-tool how they treat their employees, work with community partners, create a resilient supply chain, and source in a regenerative manner. When we emerge on the other side of COVID-19, most if not all companies will need to embed social impact into their ethos to thrive. They will value stakeholders and measure their financial and non-financial performance. Leaders will re-form their corporate governance structure to align compensation with these new performance measures, emphasizing pay equity. Companies will integrate their supply chain more fully into their business with a sustainability-lens, including disaster response and continuity. Let’s start now. A more resilient and inclusive economy depends on it.

Nate Wong leads the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University. He previously helped launch social impact units at Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte Consulting LLP and is passionate about using business assets for the greater good. @NathanielKWong

Audrey Voorhees is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Georgetown University with a focus on private sector social and environmental impact who is passionate about designing innovative solutions across public, private, and social sectors. @VoorheesAudrey

April 30, 2020 | By Tyler Kleykamp 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the critical role data plays in keeping the public informed and keeping ahead of the crisis. On a daily basis, governors report on new data related to COVID-19 cases, hospital caseload, and weekly jobless claims. The pandemic also shows the importance of integrating data sets across agencies and programs. For instance, the new Pandemic EBT program needs to match data so that families who are losing access to free and reduced-price meals at school can continue receiving important nutritional resources at home. 

The 25 state Chief Data Officers (CDOs) across the country who make up the State Chief Data Officers Network are stepping up to support their states’ efforts to use data. Whether accounting for supplies of personal protective equipment, noting which hospitals are nearing capacity, or reporting accurate testing data to the public, state CDOs play an important role in improving how data is shared and used.

Adopting effective practices in the COVID-19 response will help states move from crisis to recovery. Right now states are focused on sharing data about testing, infection rates in nursing homes and correctional facilities, and unemployment. In the future, state leaders will need the right data to inform policies on how to best reopen child care centers, economic sectors, and schools.

Our review of State of the State speeches found that data was rarely mentioned, and often not at all. Now, virtually every governor is basing their decisions on when to reopen state economies on data. If state leaders want to ensure that they have data readily available to support their decisions, the status quo won’t help them. We don’t have six months to negotiate one-off data sharing agreements, and we can’t continue keeping data in silos.

What can state leaders do to advance their use of data? The State CDO Network has issued a report on best practices to improve states’ ability to share and use data:

  1. If a state doesn't have a CDO role, appoint one. We've crafted guidance on establishing a CDO role and compiled a selection of sample job descriptions. We're available to support states, so please reach out.Coordinate data management. Establish an interagency data coordinating body, ideally led by the Chief Data Officer (CDO). 
  2. Remove barriers to data sharing. Several states like Arizona and California are leveraging enterprise memorandums of agreement (MOA) to create streamlined and transparent legal processes necessary for data sharing. 
  3. Make data discoverable. Even when data is protected, the information about what data each state agency has are generally not. Virginia recently released a public metadata catalog detailing the data holdings of many of its agencies
  4. Format data to be useful. Ensure any data exchanged is in a machine-readable format (searchable, sortable, and digital) at the finest level of granularity allowed by law that’s necessary for the intended use. 
  5. Centralize data access across agencies. Indiana and North Carolina have statewide data warehouses that can readily secure new sources of data and make them available to appropriate individuals for analysis. Data that can be shared within government should be accessible through a centralized clearinghouse or repository. 
  6. Publish public data as open data. When data is public, make sure it’s available through the state’s open data website. Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are publishing COVID-19 and other related datasets on their open data portals.
    screenshot of Connecticut data site
    Map of Health Facilities in Connecticut. Via

    PDFs and Dashboards are great for communicating top-level findings, but should be accompanied by machine-readable data.

  7. Lead with the analysis. Not everyone is comfortable with or has the time to work with raw data. State leaders and the public often need easily digestible information at their fingertips. Readily available reports and dashboards can help people answer questions quickly. Maryland’s COVID-19 website provides easy access to top level statistics.

With executive support, Chief Data Officers can play a critical role in supporting emergencies like COVID-19 by using their centralized position to get the right data to the right people in a timely fashion. As state governments adjust to remote work, these practices will improve the way agencies communicate about and use data. It will also better prepare states for any future outbreaks that may impact the people and families they serve. 


Tyler Kleykamp leads the State CDO Network for the Beeck Center, and is the former Chief Data Officer for the State of Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter at @TKleykamp

April 28, 2020 | By Amen Ra Mashariki

Governments should protect the data and privacy rights of their communities even during emergencies. It is a false trade-off to require more data without protection. We can and should do both — collect the appropriate data and protect it. Establishing and protecting the data rights and privacy of our communities’ underserved, underrepresented, disabled, and vulnerable residents is the only way we can combat the negative impact of COVID-19 or any other crisis.

Building trust is critical. Governments can strengthen data privacy protocols, beef up transparency mechanisms, and protect the public’s data rights in the name of building trust — especially with the most vulnerable populations. Otherwise, residents will opt out of engaging with government, and without their information, leaders like first responders will be blind to their existence when making decisions and responding to emergencies, as we are seeing with COVID-19.

As Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, I often remembered the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, especially with regards to using data during emergencies, that there are “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, and we will always get hurt by the unknown unknowns.” Meaning the things we didn’t know — the data that we didn’t have — was always going to be what hurt us during times of emergencies.

“City officials admitted at trial that there were no emergency plans specific to evacuating or providing life-saving services to the most vulnerable population during disasters.” – Disability Rights Advocates,

Case in point, after 2013’s Hurricane Sandy, a federal court ruled that New York City discriminated against vulnerable populations including people experiencing homelessness, the elderly, and disabled in its failure to plan for their needs in large scale disasters. John Watson, a resident of the Coney Island Housing Projects in Brooklyn, testified about living on the ground floor of the housing development, and being flooded during the storm. After his family got rid of all of their soaked belongings they “endured living in a moldy apartment for over two months until the New York City Housing Authority finally moved them into a hotel to make repairs.” Or, like the many stories coming out of Brooklyn’s Gowanus projects, also in a predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood, where Paula Diaz spoke of how she and other residents, many who were elderly and disabled, were “forcibly confined” to their apartments because the projects went without electricity for weeks. According to a release from Disability Rights Advocates, “expert witnesses testified about major deficiencies in the city’s planning for a wide range of emergencies, including such events as explosions, terrorist attacks, and hurricanes. City officials admitted at trial that there were no emergency plans specific to evacuating or providing life-saving services to the most vulnerable population during disasters.”

It was clear that while the city may have responded to this catastrophe, the leadership knew little about the most vulnerable in the community, including where they lived, their needs and services needed. There could be many reasons for this gap, including 1) limited data sharing capabilities, 2) overly stringent data regulations, and 3) lack of trust in government leaders having access to their information. However, more could have been done before and during that crisis to protect the vulnerable and ultimately have a successful and complete response to the challenges NYC faced during Hurricane Sandy.

There are three key steps that governments can do right now to use data most effectively to respond to emergencies — both for COVID-19 and in the future.

Seek Open Data First

In times of crisis and emergencies, many believe that government and private entities, either purposefully or inadvertently, are willing to trample on the data rights of the public in the name of appropriate crisis response. This should not be a trade-off. We can respond to crises while keeping data privacy and data rights in the forefront of our minds. Rather than dismissing data rights, governments can start using data that is already openly available. This seems like a simple step, but it does two very important things. First, it forces you to understand the data that is already available in your jurisdiction. Second, it grows your ability to fill the gaps with respect to what you know about the city by looking outside of city government. How do you do this?

  • Start with what is on your open data portal and extend to the data that city/state agencies may host on their websites.
  • Look at data from academic institutions in your community that is already public (i.e, research papers, web portals, etc.).
  • Reach out to county, state and federal government partners to get their public data.
  • Work with NGOs in your municipality, who likely have publicly available data.
  • Work with private companies that can make their data available (e.g. Mastercard, Zillow).

The advantage of prioritizing open data is there are already stewards of this information, and it’s likely been used before, or has been vetted to maximize “responsible use.” By using open data during emergencies governments can both improve effectiveness and accountability without infringing rights.

Show Your Work

Reporting to communities how data is being used puts accountability into action and builds trust. It also shows the public how open data can be useful and effective. But, transparency should not just be about open data, but also when using closed or private data sets. This data has been managed or purchased over time. By showing communities and citizens how their data is being used starts to build grounds for trust. Reporting ALL data use on a consistent basis should be a best practice and it will help cross the chasm of trust between citizens and their governments.

Learn from First Responders – Practice, Practice, Practice

First responders constantly train for emergencies. They don’t just create processes to respond to emergencies. They run preparedness drills to understand the best tools, processes, and tactics to utilize during emergencies. They continue to refine these steps; practice further; and report publicly on their efforts. We should do the same for data during emergencies.

I learned this when I participated in a tabletop (simulation) exercise with the Mayor’s office and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in NYC. This exercise is a simulated emergency situation where leadership across all city agencies review and discuss the actions they would take in a particular emergency, testing their emergency plan in an informal, low-stress environment. With that in mind, my office, the Office of Data Analytics, developed a concept called “data drills” in conjunction with OEM. A data drill is a multi-agency collaboration exercise that is used to gain greater insight into how a city collectively thinks about, manages, shares, and uses data.

Data drills help cities create a baseline on types of data available, how well agencies work together and build city-wide data practices. Done well, these drills help cities improve their ability to identify, understand, and use data to solve city’s challenges as needed. Data drills also help address privacy concerns around data sharing. It shows which data will likely be used, the data rights implications of that data, and the best way to use it while remaining transparent and accountable. Through practice, we can know when and how to manage data privacy and protect the rights of citizens.

It is not acceptable that the most vulnerable members of our communities remain invisible during emergencies and crises. Government can restore trust with residents to ensure that their data rights are protected and data privacy is taken into consideration — both on a daily basis and during emergencies. This is an important first step to closing the chasm of trust that exists between residents and governments.

Amen Ra Mashariki is a Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and is the Global Director of the Data Lab at the World Resources Institute. He is the former Chief Analytics Officer of New York City. Follow him at @amashariki.

Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

April 24, 2020 | By Elaina Faust

Economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak have challenged America’s social safety net in unexpected and unprecedented ways. Temporary closures of non-essential businesses across the country have led to large-scale layoffs, and as a result the country is experiencing record-breaking numbers of unemployment claims. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps,” is also facing a rapid increase in demand, overwhelming government service delivery systems.

The Beeck Center launched our Social Safety Net Benefits project this year to study systems and tools being developed to make it easier for people to apply for benefits. Our mission—to surface actionable recommendations for leveraging data, digital, and innovation-enabled solutions for eligibility screening and enrollment in federally-funded social safety net benefits—is now more important than ever as civic tech teams and government agencies race to meet the overwhelming demand.

In response to the outbreak, the federal government is putting billions of dollars into the safety net through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Together, these two measures extend the time limits on SNAP and WIC (food assistance for Women, Infants, and Children), boost the amount of unemployment insurance available per week, and open unemployment eligibility to self-employed and gig workers who ordinarily wouldn’t receive these.

Additional changes are happening at the state level to waive work requirements and automatically extend existing benefits, postponing the need for in-person renewal meetings.

This unprecedented test of the system reveals important lessons and highlights strengths and weaknesses in current eligibility screening and enrollment practices. Here are a few lessons COVID-19 has taught us:

Remote eligibility screening, application, and enrollment tools are must-haves, not nice-to-haves.

Tools for online eligibility screening and safety net benefits enrollment have begun to emerge in recent years, yet, according to research by Code for America’s Integrated Benefits Initiative, at least 30% of benefits applications still aren’t available online. In this era of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders, the ability to remotely apply for and enroll in social safety net benefits is essential for applicants to access the assistance they need without putting themselves and their communities at risk. State governments should take advantage of newly-available opportunities to waive or delay in-person application requirements if they have not already, and continue to expand online alternatives to paper-based applications.

Mobile-first solutions are needed to reach low-income populations.

In the United States, 17% of adults rely on a smartphone as their only means of accessing the internet at home. Smartphone dependence is disproportionately high among low-income individuals, impacting more than a quarter of those earning less than $30,000 a year. With public libraries, coffee shops, and other public internet sources closed in an effort to flatten the curve, accessing the internet is even harder for those without a broadband connection at home. Organizations creating digitally-enabled tools for applicants and participants of safety net benefits programs must design and optimize their solutions for use on mobile devices. Likewise, state government officials must favor mobile-friendly technology in vendor and product selection processes if they are to reach the most vulnerable among their target populations.

Digital solutions must be equipped to handle increased volume in times of crisis.

Unprecedented levels of traffic crashed unemployment application websites across the country in recent weeks, evoking painful memories of the 2013 launch of New York State experienced an almost 900% increase in web traffic, leading the government to request that New Yorkers file for unemployment only on designated days of the week, assigned alphabetically. Illinois implemented a similar system in an effort to keep existing resources up and running. Whether online application systems are designed by internal government teams or by external vendors, system designers—and those managing the systems—should equip them to handle increases in volume where budgets allow. When budgets are lacking, state governments should at least establish non-tech-driven protocols for distributing website traffic to prevent undue added stress for applicants during difficult and scary times.

Self-service digitally-accessible information saves time for applicants and administrators alike.

As millions work through the benefits application process, many are navigating it for the very first time. Organizations that connect eligible individuals with safety net benefits are experiencing huge upticks in call center volumes in addition to increased online traffic, and applicants are spending hours on hold waiting to be helped, if they can get through at all. Resources allowing benefit applicants or participants to locate relevant information quickly and easily on their own are critical to lowering wait times and decreasing demand on overwhelmed administrators. Up-to-date online guides to the benefits application process, such as One Degree’s COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Resource Guide, allow applicants to find the answers they need, without the wait time. Mobile push notifications or in-app updates can help program participants understand how they are affected by updated legislation and help them navigate the recertification process.

In times of crisis, it can be difficult to find time for reflection. But learning from the challenges we face today is an essential part of creating a stronger and more resilient social safety net for tomorrow.

Elaina Faust is a student analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation working on the Social Safety Net Benefits Research Project. She is a first-year graduate student in the Global Human Development program.

Stay connected to the Beeck Center

Sign up for our newsletter and get regular updates on what’s happening at the Center, news about our portfolio interests, social impact job opportunities and more!

sign up now button

Photo by Andrés Canchón on Unsplash

April 9, 2020 | By Matt Fortier

On Friday, March 6, Georgetown students put their laptops and books away and left Washington, D.C. for spring break. But while they were taking that much-deserved rest, COVID-19 exploded across the U.S. and students were told not to return to campus. Since then, the pandemic has affected every facet of student life. Students found themselves separated from family or suddenly living back at home, striving to maintain focus and motivation in virtual classes, while grappling with this crisis and its far reaching impact, from health to economic hardship.

As educators around the world work to adapt the ways they support students, here at the Beeck Center, we’ve had to rethink how we prepare students to be effective leaders for positive social impact. As we recalibrate our work and lean into the core strengths of our student programming, community-building, reflection, adaptation, and resilience will be of paramount importance. 

One of our core values is Authentic & Constructive Communication, so when Georgetown announced its transition to a remote environment, we quickly reached out to our entire team, including students, providing information, sharing resources, and beginning contingency planning. With genuine care for one another, we have consistently emphasized that the health and well-being of our staff and their families is vital. We’ve backed this up by providing flexible work schedules, sharing tips for personal care, and listening to each other through frequent “pulse checks”. By opening a dialogue and demonstrating our commitment to each individual student, we’ve set a healthy foundation from which to move forward.

screenshot of students in a Zoom meeting
Students engaged in our second virtual Discern + Digest, discussing the question: How do you tell your story when you’re still figuring out what it is?

Our Discern + Digest series, a safe and brave space for challenging and often uncomfortable conversations, is a big part of the feedback loop our student analysts participate in. But body language cues, much better conveyed in person, are critical so it would have been easy to postpone or cancel. Instead, we felt strongly that in the wake of COVID-19, a space for dialogue and reflection was needed more than ever, so we doubled-down on our effort, switching to a virtual environment and adapting the conversation to acknowledge the pandemic and its impact on all of our lives. By modeling resilience and adaptability, we sent a clear message–we can unite and collectively problem-solve to overcome a common challenge. 

Led by Forrest Gertin (SFS’20), more than a dozen students joined from remote positions across the United States to share their workspace, their lunch, and their ideas. They reviewed their community guidelines, discussing modifications and additions for a virtual format, most notably, how to acknowledge that the “no technology zone” was now anything but. In (re)establishing norms, we shared a vision for rediscovering our community.

screenshot of adapted community guidelines
Screenshot showcasing our adapted community guidelines.

The speaker, Molly Porter, opened by sharing some personal reflections before asking how we could reconcile our understanding of community with others while physically distancing in an effort to “flatten the curve.” Students responded eagerly, sharing their challenges and highlighting new ways to connect with their community. The conversation made it clear: we are resilient, we can adapt, and now more than ever, we need to listen to each other and reinvigorate our human connections.  

 “I was in a pretty bad space. I decided to join the call because I knew it would be full of positivity and compassion. Also, I would be able to give myself time to reflect on how I’m feeling amid everything. I am very grateful for the D+D sessions because it provides space for me to find community and reconnect with myself without pressure.” -Donovan Taylor, MSB’20 

We are fortunate to have strong collaborators across Georgetown University, from the Center for New Designs in Learning & Scholarship, which readily deployed tools and resources for instructional continuity, to the Cawley Career Center, which has adapted its career support to provide virtual advisor meetings while working with employers to move events to virtual formats and reaching out to alumni to cultivate networking opportunities. 

We are excited to witness an inspired spirit of collective problem-solving and sharing of ideas and resources from these partners and the greater social impact community. The Beeck Center remains firm in its belief that to solve the most complex problems of our time, we must work across sectors, leveraging all the tools and knowledge at our disposal. Today’s pandemic is no exception and we hope we can model an approach to our students through how we adapt, collaborate, and rise to the challenge in front of us.

 Do you have a best practice or resource to share? If so, please let us know!

Here are some resources that we’ve shared with our students:

Career Planning

Managing Remote Work


Stay connected to the Beeck Center

Sign up for our newsletter and get regular updates on what’s happening at the Center, news about our portfolio interests, social impact job opportunities and more!

sign up now button


April 7, 2020 | By Lorelei Kelly

Last month, as Congress was navigating pressing priorities from COVID-19, the U.S. House of Representatives took action for the first time in 50 years in passing a reform bill to help Congress itself work better for all Americans. 

The Moving our Democracy and Congressional Operations Towards Modernization (MODCOM) resolution, H.Res.756, includes 30 of the recommendations made by the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. It addresses vital needs such as cybersecurity training, staff diversity, and technology upgrades. 

“The House just showed that bipartisan work is possible, and that it can produce important bipartisan reforms that will begin to give Americans the 21st century Congress they deserve.” – Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee

Here at the Beeck Center, our guiding mission is to provide impact at scale. Our research looks at the roles of government, the private sector, and nonprofits in achieving positive societal outcomes. In practice, it means we identify methods and interventions that include and increase beneficial results for more people. At the policy level, this could mean updating a public service, evaluating the balance between public good and private profit, or figuring out a sustainable business model for social mission nonprofits. 

At the institutional level, such as with Congress, it means we are working with methods that are part of a centuries-old, out-of-date institution. In Congress, the rule of law is the process, and scaling social good requires changing the communications systems of democracy itself. Over the past three years at Beeck Center, this has been our priority in research we’ve led to help modernize the U.S. Congress. 

There is no better way to scale social good than to change the law. And there’s no better way to scale a systems change than by reconfiguring how democratic institutions govern themselves. The MODCOM legislation is historic in that it is the first time since the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 that a reform bill has succeeded. Even more groundbreaking, it also takes vital first steps toward building a more informed, effective and responsive governance model for one of our nation’s cornerstone institutions. 

For nearly two decades, I’ve worked with a small group of individuals inside and outside of Congress including members of Congress, the Congressional Management Foundation, the Democracy Fund and my tech partner, Popvox. We are collaborating to build modern information sharing capacity within our national legislature so it can serve the highest ideals of American democracy. The Beeck Center’s Data + Digital portfolio surfaced at exactly the right time to tip the balance of this collaborative effort. The urgent need for action is conveyed in the stark introduction to our recent report:

Congress is knowledge incapacitated, physically disconnected and technologically obsolete. In this condition, it cannot fulfill its First Branch duties as laid out in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

But all of these challenges could be vastly eased if we act now to implement durable changes in Congress’ digital infrastructure. 

Our ability to productively surge into the institutional gray area revealed by COVID-19 is because of our focus on scaling social good. But our ability to move with speed and confidence is due to long-standing investment in trust and relationship building. In just hours, our modernizing Congress team pulled together an online expert briefing for Hill staff on Continuity of Congress. Within the same week, we helped organize a “mock” committee hearing. We were even able to secure retired Democrat and Republican members of Congress to roleplay the committee chairs.  

Meanwhile, Congress itself is taking steps to adapt new digital infrastructure and distance methods for its operations. COVID-19 is a difficult and scary time, but the silver lining can be an improved democracy that serves all Americans. We will keep working to make it so.

Lorelei Kelly is a Fellow at the Beeck Center on the Data + Digital Team. She is an expert on building inclusive and informed democratic systems and leads the Resilient Democracy Coalition (RDC), which assesses how data, technology and new engagement methods can help build a trustworthy modern legislature–specifically focused on the U.S. Congress. Follow her on Twitter at @LoreleiKelly.