Connecticut moves openly toward more data transparency

Some state employees will soon have to move to another building — but there’s one thing they won’t be allowed to bring with them: paper.

“We’re being pretty strict that paper should not move,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday at an open data conference hosted by the CT Data Collaborative at Hartford Public Library.

Instead, the data and documents on paper will have to be digitized — and the paper left behind. It’s part of the governor’s push to put data on a public-facing web portal, as directed by Executive Order No. 39.

“Ultimately, we want a substantially more efficient state government,” he said. “We may find that we’re collecting insufficient information, the wrong information, or we’re asking the wrong questions.”

Part of Malloy’s motivation comes from inheriting a $3.6 billion deficit when he took office. He said when he analyzed how the previous administration got there, he found they had “an insufficient amount of information available.” So he wants to make sure his administrations — and future administrations — have the proper, up-to-date information to make decision.

Silos

The word virtually everyone used at the conference was “silos,” which refers to data being trapped within departments and organizations.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said that holding onto data is a way people “control what goes on with them,” and it causes friction with citizens who want to participate.

“It’s limiting access to the best decision,” she said.

Malloy said that when some of the data is uploaded to the portal, it will be the first time some of it will be shared with other departments within the state, who have been territorial with their data. State Rep. Toni Walker added that there are agencies right next door to each other who don’t share data.

But that said, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said he wants to allow different department to continue creating their own data-sharing platforms to see what works, before they are swallowed up by the open data platform. Lembo runs Open Connecticut, a data portal with state financial data that is more interpreted than the open data portal would allow.

Concerns

Some within government were hesitant to release inaccurate or dirty data — a concern that open data scholar Joel Gurin sympathized with. But he said, “Holding the data back will not work.”

The federal data policy is now that data must be presumed open, he said. In addition, he said acknowledging the flaws in the data has allowed organizations like USAID to crowd-source the cleaning of data.

Lembo added that state officials have to prove they are willing to put up data, even if it makes them look bad. This requires them to trust the electorate and partner with them to see if the “ideas we put forward are what happened.”

Another concern was the misuse of data, but Gurin said being able to have a discussion about data analysis is valuable — “Any reliable analysis should be on a site that has a robust comments section.”

Implementation

The open data portal is scheduled to be launched in four to six weeks, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said. It’s a slight delay from the originally aimed launch date, but he said the state should have the underlying technology in place for a soft launch in that timeline.

The first data sets to be updated and maintained will depend on priorities arranged at the agency level. In addition, Barnes said it’ll be “stuff I want — and stuff the governor wants.” But Barnes pushed nonprofits and government employees to work with the state’s new chief data officer, Tyler Kleykamp, to determine what data sets they want to see on the portal.

The last question of the conference was directed at Kleykamp, who was asked what would make the portal successful.

“It will be a mix of: Are we getting people using the data? And are we getting a lot of that?” Kleykamp said. “And then are there results on the other side that have been a benefit of open data.”

 

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