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By Stephen Goldsmith • April 18, 2017

This article originally appeared as part of a paper on What Works Cities’ Certification program. To download the paper as a PDF, please click here.

Kansas City, Missouri’s comprehensive data inventory shows the importance of clear internal structures and processes to a successful, sustainable open data program. When Chief Data Officer Eric Roche realized how much time he was spending updating out-of-date, non-automated open data in the city’s portal, he embarked on a project to understand and inventory the data in all departments to develop a more systematic approach to open data publishing in the city.

Roche took a methodical approach to building the inventory: he drew on the relationships he had built through the performance management program, asked for organizational charts, and talked to individual departmental representatives. Through What Works Cities, the Sunlight Foundation and GovEx provided guidance on the inventory process. Roche acknowledged that not all department officials were data systems experts, but nonetheless, he and his team were able to find the answers they needed: “We asked what kind of work the departments do, how they track that work, where they store it and then backed our way into the more technical questions.”

This process has proved fruitful; Roche has been able to identify people who “speak data” in several city departments and this has led to positive relationships that yield results beyond the inventory. This peer-to-peer work in the city government has been the key ingredient in the building of a comprehensive data inventory for Kansas City. Roche said that the biggest lesson he learned was to “start small”— the city originally planned to complete an inventory of seven departments in 60 days, but adapted the plan to incorporate departments in an ongoing way that also builds capacity for data in other city departments.

Roche said the development of a citywide data inventory has given the city a thorough, well-documented resource that facilitates a more effective open data strategy. It allows the city to prioritize data releases based on key priorities and what can be automated, instead of just the “low-hanging fruit.” Technical difficulties are a common barrier to publishing certain city datasets, Roche said, as data systems are not always compatible with publishing online, but the inventory has served as a critical resource for the city in navigating such challenges. “The inventory gives me the ability to move on to the next thing,” Roche said. “It gives me the sense that there’s more out there, there’s a lot more valuable data to grab at any given moment.”

This brief was written in conjunction with Harvard Kennedy School’s Eric Bosco, Research Assistant/Writer.