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Which state governments are best at fostering data innovation?

This article appears in the issue November/December 2017, [Volume 26, Issue 9]
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For executives in state government, data is an asset that can foster knowledge management gains within and across agencies. Furthermore, building a culture of data sharing with the private sector and academe can be a key aspect of a technology-focused economic development strategy. So how are our state governments doing at creating data innovation ecosystems?

In July 2017, the Center for Data Innovation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, published a report ranking the states on data innovation, using 25 indicators across three categories to assess which states are doing the most to encourage and enable data-driven innovation. Those categories are:

  • data—the extent to which key datasets are available, including data about the government, education, healthcare and energy;
  • technology—the availability of key digital infrastructure, such as broadband, smart meters and electronic health records; and
  • people and companies—human and business resources, such as the number of open-data companies in the state and the size of the data professional community.

The report notes that some states are actively building the necessary foundation for a thriving data economy and others are lagging. “Decisions made today that affect the extent to which a state participates in the data economy will have long-term implications for its future growth, as data plays an increasingly larger role in many different sectors across the economy,” according to the report.

In an interview with KMWorld, Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation, explained some of the center’s goals for creating the ranking. “When they look at technology adoption, some state leaders assume it happens organically without much leadership and vision driving that change or that everyone goes at the same pace,” he said. “What we wanted to show is that there is actually a variety of levels of investment and adoption of these technologies, and it depends on policies put in place. While most states are eager to see data-driven transformation in their states and the benefits of the data economy, they are not all pursuing these policies with equal vigor. So, by identifying where states are leading and where they are lagging, we are hoping we can point them in the right direction.”

Some of the states that come out on top in the ranking, such as Massachusetts, Washington and California, have natural advantages such as strong private-sector technology sectors and clusters of universities drawing federal research grant money. But Castro pointed to Utah as an example of a state that has put a strong focus on digital transformation and e-government services to reach the No. 6 spot in the ranking. See chart on page 13, KMWorld, November/December 2017, Vol. 26, Issue 9 or download chart.

In lists such as this one, Utah consistently comes in ranked near the top in e-government, Castro noted. “I think that has a spillover effect in other parts of the economy and society. They are attracting a tech-savvy group within government, and a lot of businesses are drawn to a state that creates that kind of environment. You see that kind of commitment to data pays off,” he said.

The potential of open data

One area the study focuses on is the quality of state open data portals. It is still early in their development, yet Castro said that state and city governments are starting to see economic development startup activity around their open data. The city of Chicago, for example, was an early mover on open data. It started publishing information such as where people were getting parking tickets. A local startup used that open data to create a data-driven parking system app that is now used in other cities.

That type of value creation requires government agencies to think about someone other than themselves. Castro said, “They are not publishing the data for their own use, but that data might have value to others, and they are taking those steps outside their organizational mission. One of the challenges of open data is getting agencies to think in that new mindset.”

The report draws on the KM term “communities of practice” to describe what some states and regions are creating for data science professionals. “Meetup groups in San Francisco and Boston each have thousands of members and serve as communities of practice for professionals interested in data topics ranging from data visualization to artificial intelligence,” the report notes.

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