Managing the Data Flood at #MACoCon

Attendees to the “Surviving the Information Supernova: Open Government & Performance Management” panel on August 20 at the 2016 MACo Summer Conference learned about the issues they need to consider when an open data policy.

2016 MACo Summer Conference - Information Supernova Panel
(L to R) Ben Birge, Lauren Hamilton Edwards, Ewan Simpson, and Kent County Commissioner William Pickrum

Kent County Board of County Commissioners President William Pickrum both moderated and spoke on the panel. Pickrum stressed the importance of open communication, noting no matter what you do, there is “a segment of our population does not trust our government.” He highlighted the challenges small counties face in distributing information to the public, such as limited local media. He noted that Kent County has tried to counter this by live streaming all commissioner meetings and many other meetings and archiving them on Youtube. He also stressed that counties need to have a different technology perspective for a younger generation. You need to “provide information for tomorrow, rather than yesterday or today,” he posited.

Prince George’s County CountyStat Manager Benjamin Birge discussed how to manage data and convert it into something useful to make policy and budget decisions. He stressed that you need to: (1) get buy-in and support from leadership; (2) have performance management tied very closely to the budget office; and (3) define your goals, success levels, failure states, and failure actions in advance. “Simply improving is not a goal,” Birge cautioned. He also highlighted the importance of making your goals and underlying data sets available to the public.

University of Maryland Baltimore County Assistant Professor Lauren Hamilton Edwards discussed how not to “drown in data” by considering what is useful and relevant to performance management. She noted that data should be SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant and Time-Bound). She also stressed that your goals should reflect the broad priorities of your citizens. “No single metric tells the whole story,” she advised.

Socrata Maryland Account Manager Ewan Simpson noted that Socrata manages data initiatives from Maryland to Maine and all have the same general challenges with respect to performance management. You need to have a foundation for the governance of your data, he advised, noting that software is not absolutely required but can reinforce the process. A county should develop a data performance framework that responds to the unique needs of your jurisdiction – which means engagement with your departments.