May 13, 2022
New York City held its annual Open Data Week early March, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the City’s Open Data Law which required state agencies and departments to make their data available to the public. By using open standards and interoperability standards, NYC aims to improve intra- and inter-governmental communication and service/benefit delivery across the city. The Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity used this year’s Open Data Week to demonstrate the value of integrated data platforms. The NYC Workforce Data Portal uses an integrated data platform to better visualize and learn from data gained through the City’s Workforce Development Program on how New Yorkers are finding and retaining employment, to gain greater insight and value from the data they already hold.
What is an Integrated Data Platform?
Integrated data platforms allow users to consolidate data from multiple sources to provide up-to-date, complete, and accurate data for processes like data analytics and visualization, business intelligence, and cross-programmatic learnings. As a case study, the NYC Workforce Data Platform demonstrates the way interoperable platforms and data can be used to better serve a city’s workforce, and how such platforms can be adapted and scaled across regions and sectors.
In New York City, the Workforce Data Portal serves as an integrated data platform, with two primary features to help prospective employees entering the workforce.
- The Common Metrics interactive dashboard visualizes data across thirteen standardized performance measures related to key workforce milestones, such as job retention or credential attainment. It offers a holistic analysis of all the differing eligibility requirements, offered services, and size of programs in the city that make it easier for New Yorkers to find and retain employment, centralizing data from career advancement programs found across departments from the Department of Parks and Recreation to Youth and Community Development to Small Business Services, and more. Unemployed New Yorkers can use this to find state and city opportunities and services without the typical intermediaries.
- Data Stories goes beyond the common metrics mentioned previously and uses data to further NYC’s workforce program learnings and insights. These stories provide data-driven approaches to workforce program decision-making by mapping workforce clients in areas with high rates of unemployment and spotlighting participation across multiple agencies in workforce development programs. Another feature of these stories is their ability to answer common questions New Yorkers have in regards to employment in a multitude of sectors. As the workforce grows and changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, data platforms like this can help provide clarity and assistance to those seeking work.
Why Do We Need Data Platforms?
Insight from integrated data platforms can help inform civic solutions across all levels of governance–city, county, state, and federal by:
- Generating comprehensive views of data by providing cross-agency and cross-program analyses that are often stymied by information silos;
- Providing standards for data, definitions, metrics, and measurements that may differ across departments or government levels; and
- Centralizing and visualizing short, medium, and long term outcomes based on current data
At present, there aren’t many platforms like New York’s being utilized by other cities in the United States, but it is safe to assume this landscape will evolve as more cities, states, and federal departments are seeing the benefits of using integrated data to inform their work. For example, South Carolina used data to identify trends in public spending and maximize efficiency in the workforce, which resulted in more than $10 million saved since 2011. California has been utilizing an integrated data exchange to merge with Inland Empire Health in the hopes of creating a database that electronically alerts primary care doctors when their patients arrive in the emergency room. The non-profit world is no stranger to this type of data sharing as well, with the “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” coming together as a result of assessing all relevant data, consulting with technical experts, and working with 31 civil engineers from across the country in order to assign grades to states on the quality of their infrastructure.
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Labor has already recognized the value of data in helping close the equity gap, reduce unemployment, creating initiatives to improve the digital landscape for workers by widening access to employment-based data, and modernizing the delivery of critical workforce resources across systems. What if all of these features were found on one integrated platform with the specificity of a city program but the resources of a federal one?
What Public Value Could Integrated Data Add in the United States?
- Data dashboards draw upon examples from business intelligence systems and transform raw data into meaningful information, which can then be tailored to the needs of a community and designed to provide a wide range of insights. In the case of unemployment, federal data dashboards can be used to help unemployed populations find and retain jobs that are well-tailored to them. For example, a job quality dashboard could present analytics in a way where policymakers can visualize patterns, trends, and other intricacies of workforce policies in order to create incentives for critical fields that are losing employment (e.g., teachers, nurses, utility workers) by investing in educational programs. Furthermore, another type of dashboard can display pertinent information such as the fastest growing fields of work by state or the average salaries for a given region in the country, consolidating all this information in one place in order to increase transparency and empower prospective workers to make the most educated decisions for their next career move.
- Data sharing is a common practice found in major cities, but honing in on its uses can help create a better integrated system to address issues such as environmental sustainability, public health, and benefit delivery. Siloed data repositories have already been built out in the past couple of years and some cities have developed data sharing platforms in order to improve government transparency. Adopting this model of open data platforms aimed at sharing data across agencies and government levels can lead to better informed policymaking and civic program development.
Challenges, Opportunities, and Next Steps
Integrated data platforms provide an unique opportunity to help improve government services and better meet community needs. However, implementing such platforms is a gradual process that requires overcoming roadblocks in current systems and incorporating the full value of data insights at the onset of program development.
While these data platforms are a valuable asset for improving civic programs and governance, governments face challenges such as access to resources, capacity, and talent, which can limit platform implementation. At the same time, initiative support from leadership is needed to realize the full benefits of integrated data programs. Some governments are seeking outside partnerships to augment their capacity and knowledge. For instance, Austin’s Smart Mobility Office Pilot Program, which is overseen by the Transportation Department, is leveraging public-private partnerships to discover and eventually deploy emerging transportation technologies.
Interoperability is a key to success for integrated data platforms and providing in-depth analysis, and can be difficult to achieve both technically and logistically. Implementing interoperability requires leadership and investment from governments to overcome technical roadblocks and government information silos, while prioritizing interoperable systems at the onset. However, some cities, such as Denver and Boston, are improving interoperability by creating platforms that gather data about transportation, weather, and environmental health.
Overcoming these obstacles is crucial to realizing the full value that integrated data platforms can have for jurisdictions and communities across the United States. Due to their flexibility, utilization of open source data, and ability to provide data-driven insights, open, integrated data platforms can transform the future of digital governance and community development.
Avery Reyna is a rising fifth-year at the University of Central Florida and interns with the Digital Impact and Governance Initiative (DIGI) team. They’re passionate about researching digital public infrastructure, applied machine learning, and computational social science.