Five Issues to Watch in Data and Technology

By Stephen Goldsmith • December 12, 2013

This article originally appeared in Government Technology magazine.

Next year, public officials will much more aggressively begin weaving their technology threads into a larger tapestry as the cute and helpful become vital and mainstream. Last year, hackathons and mobile apps proliferated on a growing foundation of open data.

Next year will herald a more widespread substantive use of data and technology to significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of local government. But much depends upon how well government integrates data and hardware offerings. As the McKinsey Global Institute reports, the combination of opening data and applying analytics could generate more than $3 trillion annually in new businesses and products as well as increased productivity.

Hot subjects for next year will include:

1. Predictive Analytics

As public-sector databases grow more sophisticated, more policymakers will use predictive analytics to target government services, identify trends and refine operations. Falling costs of data storage, memory and higher-speed computing will make analytics more powerful and available. Chicago will launch its open source predictive analytics platform next year, which will allow other cities to more easily understand the power of prediction.

2. Breaking the Data Silos

Different departments in government build their own data sets, often with conflicting standards and formats. It has been difficult for analysts to navigate these data silos, but that will likely change in 2014 as more cities understand that powerful new tools make these previously hardened silos permeable. In New York City, many agencies providing health and human services have connected their data sets under an initiative called HHS-Connect. The recently announced collaboration between SAS and SAP, two major IT vendors, could also yield new processes that eliminate data duplication and ease reconciliation.

3. A New Class of 311

With New York and Chicago leading the way, 2014 will see the emergence of a new class of 311 offerings that move it from a call center to a community platform. The widespread use of Internet-enabled smartphones means that a telephone hotline is no longer enough; residents want to interact with their local governments through social media, mobile apps and texts. These new 311 platforms will include better apps like Citizens Connect, an approach created by the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics that allows people to submit geotagged photos of potholes and other problems and also track the city’s response.

4. The Maturing Civic Startup Sector

A new group of civic startups has created successful apps and other services from open government data, supported by programs like the Code for America Accelerator. As the total number of public data sets across the country increases exponentially, the opportunity for third-party use that makes government information more valuable to the public will grow. Data standards and open source development will allow lower-cost adoption and repurposing of other cities’ projects.

5. Demystified Data

In October, Chicago launched its Data Dictionary, a catalog that will house metadata for all of the public data sets maintained by the city. While many cities have begun opening up their data, jargon and peculiar formatting limit the user friendliness of these data sets. Data dictionaries represent one element of a public education initiative that can help push the value of open data past token transparency and toward real public value.

About the Author

Stephen Goldsmith 

Stephen Goldsmith is the Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His latest book is Growing Fairly: How to Build Opportunity and Equity in Workforce Development.

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