Delaware Gov. Jack Markell is convening a new council of leaders to chart the state’s open data strategy, with a particular focus on overhauling its open data portal.
Markell signed an executive order last week to create an open data council, chaired by Chief Information Officer James Collins, to draft a new roadmap for how the state opens up its data going forward. The group will be primarily charged with transforming the current data portal, which currently links to a series of data sets hosted by the agencies responsible for maintaining them, into a central website for users to access and download all the state’s open data sets.
“Making the data available is one thing, but what I think this particular executive order will do is help us take the data that we have, that’s really in most cases available in a very static format, and use tools to publish that data in a dynamic way,” Collins told StateScoop.
Not only does Collins view this effort as a sign of the governor’s commitment to transparency, but he added that he sees it as a “natural progression” of Markell’s 2010 executive order to centralize the state’s IT services.
The order “resulted in a lot of modernization of applications and enterprisewide applications, which I think have positioned us to make this next logical step to making data available,” Collins said.
Collins also thinks the council will be able to spur further modernization efforts across the state’s agencies as it examines the “universe of information” currently available. As the group of leaders — which will include eight cabinet secretaries, the head of the state’s Government Information Center and a representative from the governor’s office — considers how the state’s agencies already use and post data, Collins expects they’ll identify areas where technology upgrades are needed to standardize the publishing of data going forward.
“The data will need to be scrubbed,” Collins said. “Data is only as good as the input. So I think the council will be really helpful in helping us to assess the efficacy of the information we have out there.”
As the agency leaders on the council discuss the data they’re working with, Collins foresees them identifying more data-sharing opportunities in the process. He said the state’s Department of Corrections and staff with the court system have already identified data sets they can start sharing to improve efficiency.
The CIO added that, while his Department of Technology and Information is responsible for storing the “petabytes” of data generated by the other state agencies, IT staff often aren’t intimately familiar with the data’s details.
“We don’t know the data, in most cases,” Collins said. “So having the representatives on the council from the agencies, they know what their different stakeholders are interested in, they know what data is considered public under the law.”
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In particular, Collins is excited about how the new collaboration will help the state post more robust transportation, mapping and public health data. Collins noted that the state’s developer community has enthusiastically lobbied his department for more access to machine-readable data in those areas specifically.
“They’ve been having some meetings to figure out what they’re interested in, so as we’re prioritizing information to put in the portal, we can consider their input as well,” Collins said.
But he added that the governor’s order hasn’t quieted all the questions coming from outside the statehouse.
“It’s like when you’re single, everybody says, ‘When are you going to get married?’ And when you get married, it’s ‘When are you having kids?’” Collins said. “It’s kind of like, now that we’ve done the order, it’s like ‘OK, when are you going to have your first meeting? What’s their agenda? Where are they going to meet?’ It keeps on going.”
Collins expects to give the council’s members six to eight weeks to get organized before plunging into the project. They won’t have long before their first deadlines for action come into focus — the order charges the council with delivering a progress report by July 31 and a final “Strategic Plan for Statewide Integration of Open Data” by Sept. 30.
“That plan is kind of a roadmap going forward,” Collins said. “But what I hope to get in place in the coming months is the foundation and governance structure to figure out and sustain this well into the future.”
While the state will relaunch the open data portal in the coming months, Collins expects that the plan will also lay out a variety of phases for how the agencies add more data to the site. With that in hand, he hopes to make it clear to people in the state and around the country that Delaware is committed to open data.
“Expectations continue to rise, but I think that we will soon have a single state portal that will be well known,” Collins said.
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