New assessment gives state chief data officers a political tool

A new self-assessment tool provided by the Beeck Center gives state chief data officers a way to produce detailed reports that might convince their governors to lend their projects additional support.
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The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University recently published a new assessment tool designed to help state chief data officers convince their governors to lend greater support to their efforts.

After a year of development, the Beeck Center last month published its State Data-Maturity Assessment, a self-assessment tool designed to arm state chief data officers with detailed information on where their states are succeeding and falling behind on data initiatives. Though the COVID-19 pandemic helped illuminate the need for states to improve their data infrastructures and generated new funding for technology upgrades, data practices still struggle for staffing and funding in most states.

Milda Aksamitauskas, a former chief data officer of the Wisconsin Department of Justice who currently leads the Beeck Center’s State CDO Network, said she wanted to develop a tool that caters to state data offices and that was free to use. She pointed to similar assessment tools provided by consulting firms such as Gartner, which can require accounts costing $40,000 annually and that contain proprietary information that can’t be widely shared.

Users of the Beeck Center’s tool can answer 17 questions across five topics, like “commitment” and “data action plan,” to receive detailed overviews of their data efforts. For additional credibility, they can submit completed assessments to the Beeck Center, which can validate the assessments by interviewing officials and collecting evidence supporting their answers.


The Beeck Center recommends data chiefs seeking additional support from their states present their reports alongside comparative assessments of neighboring states.

Aksamitauskas said she “extensively” studied the assessments used by governments of the United Kingdom and Australia to develop the Beeck Center’s and that she received help from chief data officers in Connecticut, Idaho and Texas to hone the questions. Beyond the substance of the assessment, she said, developing nice-looking website and ensuring that PDF report files print correctly took a surprising amount of time.

From the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became common for governors and other state leaders to gather data from health and social services departments to understand how the health crisis was unfolding and how well the government was adapting to the prolonged event’s immense pressure, but progress toward achieving sophisticated data practices was slow.

Today, state leaders still mouth support for “data-driven” policies, but most chief data officers have only small teams or work alone. Aksamitauskas said states are additionally challenged by the CDO role’s high turnover and the difficulty in quickly finding suitable replacements. A good state chief data officer, she said, needs the soft skill of convening leaders from across government to establish data-sharing agreements and develop longitudinal data systems.

“States have mentioned that if people in those positions before them weren’t collaborative, things didn’t work out,” she said. “Because there will never be enough money and you will not have that much staff, so you have to really be a collaborative person. You have to influence people. The title alone is not giving you that much authority.”

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