- January 25, 2017
- Civic Analytics Network
This paper is part of the Civic Analytics Network initiative at Harvard's Ash Center. To download this paper as a PDF, please click here.
A Chief Data Officer (CDO) can lead a city or state toward greater data-driven government. Leveraging data enables more responsive and rational allocation of government resources to address priority public needs. Data-driven executive leadership in government is relatively new, with just over a dozen cities and a handful of states having named a CDO as of late 2016. There is growing momentum and increasingly frequent news of the next government CDO appointment. While there is a growing proliferation of CDOs in government, there are few resources that describe the landscape, either for the benefit of the chief executive appointing a CDO or the new CDO taking office. This paper intends to help new entrants by documenting selected current practices, including advice shared by existing government CDOs, observations by the author, and analysis from government technology and analytics experts. A few key points for a new CDO to consider include:
- Support from the chief executive sets the CDO up for success. Whether a CDO reports to the chief executive (mayor, governor, or county commissioner) or not, it is important to have the support of that chief executive and have the resources, credibility, and authority that go along with executive sponsorship.
- Basic management skills can accelerate progress. Strong basic management and leadership skills, the ability to clearly articulate the mission and roadmap to achieving it, and the ability to hold staff accountable for results will accelerate success for a CDO. Standardizing tools and processes, including project management tools, will make the work more efficient. Balancing the demand for results with the need for foundational data stewardship demands leadership from a CDO and a delicate balance of people and technology skills.
- Data stewardship can create the conditions for solid analytics. Data stewardship – comprising data governance and data infrastructure – lays the foundation on which analytics is built, and whether these activities are part of the CDO operation or not, they are essential to the success of any analytics program.
- Setting priorities becomes an increasingly important and challenging task for a successful CDO. As the profile of the CDO grows and demand for services increases, it can be difficult to manage priorities and stay true to the mission. As one expert advised, CDOs should stay focused on important policy issues and operational improvements in government, and avoid “data qua data” analytics.
This paper describes an operational framework for the role of a CDO office, and provides observations on fostering a data culture in government.