As part of two of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ initiatives dedicated to helping cities harness the power of data, The City Data Alliance and What Works Cities Certification, Public Digital is helping cities to become more data-informed, digital organisations. The essence of this transformation is to shift cities from thinking of data as something they might publish simply for transparency, towards implementing what we call “Data as a Service”.
One approach that we’re supporting cities to adopt is the development of a Data Service Standard*, which sets out what good looks like for developing and implementing high quality data and analytics services.
The intention behind a Data Service Standard is to generate more high quality data services, and fewer low quality ones. Data Service Standards symbolise intent to raise the bar, systematise good practice and scale knowledge and communities.
Much like Service Standards, Data Service Standards include four things: the standard itself, the guidance that supports it, the governance that implements it, and the team that builds and runs it. We’ve already shared our sample Data Service Standard for cities to learn from and adapt to meet both their needs and the needs of users and communities they serve.
The core principles of their Data Service Standard include:
publish data with a purpose
understand users and their needs
inspire creative use of data within the local data community
make the service consistent and simple to use
choose the right tools and technology for user-centred services
Amanda: Congratulations on becoming the first US city to publish a Data Service Standard! We know how important the support of leadership and governance is to making these practices happen, and in your Data Service Standard you reference your city’s Data Governance Group. Could you start by sharing a little more about that group?
Susan: This is a multidisciplinary team that truly represents the range of services that the City is responsible for. It’s composed of around 30 different departments that come together to share their different perspectives on the services we’re providing and our various initiatives.
Sarah: We have named the group the “Data Governance Innovation Team” (DGIT). My team ensures that DGIT meets quarterly to identify issues, find new ways to do things - and where we should stop doing things. If we have a new data project or request, DGIT is a resource for our departments to problem solve using data and available technologies.
Amanda: Arlington’s Data Service Standard has 10 principles. How did you choose them?
Susan: From a communications perspective, so many elements of good practice for a Data Service Standard are elements we’re aiming to abide by when communicating to the public - for example, inspiring use, creating with purpose, and making things easy. When I reviewed the sample Data Service Standard** it really spoke to me. Data is information, it’s a story. And so the way we present data to the public should be the same way we tell stories to the public: easy to understand and in a way that makes sense for everyone to decide what they do next.
Sarah: From a more technical perspective, we wanted to make sure that the points we chose for the Data Service Standard would provide meaning to the services we develop and provide. We have so much data and can use it for a lot of things, but with limited time and resources, it’s important to make sure the data and analytics we produce are meaningful and useful.
Amanda: What are your plans for iterating and improving?
Susan: This is our introduction to this world. We want the Data Governance Innovation Team to evolve this continuously. We presented to them in December and have been following up with the group this year. Some of the criteria in the sample Data Service Standard really resonated with us, but we aren’t ready to tackle those yet. As we implement standards, as we get more comfortable with our practices, then we’re going to keep growing and developing - and make Arlington’s data services the best we can.
Sarah: Buy-in throughout the organization is really important for us too. We want to introduce the concepts from the Data Service Standard in a way that shows that these principles will help everyone complete their work more efficiently and more easily, so making sure that we clearly communicate the goals of the Data Service Standard and implementing them consistently is our starting point for continuing to improve our data services.
Amanda: It was wonderful to have both of you participate in our What Works Cities learning opportunity on ‘Designing and Developing a Data Service Standard’ in Autumn 2022 - what were the main takeaways for you?
Susan: The first thing that really struck me was re-reading our Open Data policy and realizing that we always planned to create something like a Data Service Standard, but just hadn’t gotten there. When this learning opportunity came up, it made so much sense. This is the next step for us to take.
In the sessions you talked about ‘publishing with purpose’, and datasets need to solve a problem, they need to help people to make informed decisions, get to where they need to go, and so on. It’s easy to just put data out there, but datasets need to go towards solving a problem - what do they really do for the community?
Data Service Standards aren’t a common thing yet in the US, but they need to be, and I’m excited to see this work from Public Digital, Results for America, and Bloomberg to help cities think about the best course of action, and adapt to new practices in the world of data.
Amanda: Why is the Data Service Standard important, and what’s coming up next for the city of Arlington?
Susan: The Data Service Standard isn’t just a document. These are criteria that are important to us, and that we feel best serve the public, especially when we’re publishing datasets and developing (and launching!) data services.
Working on the Data Service Standard really brought fresh energy to improving our work. Since the Sprint and going back to DGIT we’ve recruited new people. We’re getting them excited about this project, why it matters, and how they can adopt the Data Service Standard.
We’re also working across the city to make sure we’ve included everything to help other Departments do what they need to do. Above all, we want honest feedback - from our community, our users, our peers on our Data Service Standard so we can incorporate that into our next version.
Amanda: What’s the aspiration for your city’s data culture?
Susan: For me, it’s more participation from departments, keeping our datasets fresh, communicating more about open data, engaging more with the community, developing more tools and services that our users need.
Sarah: I would agree with Susan. I think it’s important to continue to educate our departments on our citywide goals for promoting a data-centered decision-making organization and community. When we have the data, we also have the resources to use it to solve problems (even when it seems really hard or time-consuming). Outside of the organization, we want our community partners to be able to use our data services and know that they are accurate and reliable. We want everyone to be able to use city data to tell their story in our community.
Congratulations again to Arlington! We hope they will inspire more cities to publish their own Data Service Standard.
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