While COVID was the focus, state Chief Data Officers went above and beyond in 2020

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.”