#MACoCon Sheds Light on “Dark” Data

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. – Sherlock Holmes

“Big data” receives a lot of attention among policy wonks and elected officials for its power to make government operations more efficient. While big data and analytics play an increasingly important role in developing strategies and informing decision making in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, local governments face barriers in acquiring and using such data.

That’s where “dark data” comes in.

On Wednesday, August 15, 2018, from 3:15 pm to 4:15 pm, data experts presented on exactly how counties can best access dark data: big data that is collected but not fully utilized.  During the MACo Summer Conference special session, “Still Waters Run Deep: Dive Into Your Dark Data Potential,” attendees learned about data resources available from various state and federal agencies – and how to make use of that data to inform economic development and government operations decisions.

Cory Stottlemyer, Senior Policy Analyst, Maryland Department of Transportation Office of Planning & Capital Programming, provided an overview of growth trends in population, labor force, and employment, and applied them to current commuting patterns within Maryland. Nearly 80 percent of residents in Charles County commute out of the county for work every day, for example – and some go as far as Frederick County every day! It is important for economic development experts and the private sector, as well as transportation planners, to understand where people live and work, and how that is changing, before incentivizing and developing where people live and work.

Benjamin Birge, CountyStat Manager, Office of the County Executive, Prince George’s County showed how counties use data to make their decisions currently. While data sets may be less plentiful to some local government jurisdictions than, say, the federal government, local leaders can still use data in daily decision-making if exercising an ounce of creativity. Birge demonstrated how his team used Census data to try to understand drivers behind grocery store chain site selection. Want a Trader Joe’s? Don’t bother asking them what they are looking for – instead, ask Ben Birge.

Gary V. Hodge, President, Regional Policy Advisors, and former Executive Director, Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, and Charles County Commissioner led a discussion on how data can drive policy decisions – and, policy decisions can drive data-mining. At the end of the day, data can entirely, 100 percent, prove the viability and necessity of a transportation project – like the proposed Charles County Light Rail. However, without political will, data does nothing.

The session was moderated by the Honorable Jeff Ghrist of the Maryland House of Delegates.

The 2018 MACo Summer Conference was held August 15-18 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme was “Water, Water Everywhere.”