Over the past few months, we’ve seen a disconnect forming between the government and data communities as data resources becomes less of a priority for the new administration. While on the campaign trail, President Trump was the first to admit that his campaign was not a data-backed machine, in contrast to his opponents. Instead, he successfully won using powerful personal branding. Although unconventional for a modern politician, it worked, and Trump’s win took many in the data-science community by surprise. Now, three months down the road, this disconnect between data and government is growing. “Fake news” accusations make it hard to know what information and numbers are credible—both from the White House and the media. Additionally, threats to remove pages of the EPA’s website sent the data-science community scrambling to save years of climate-change data. Looking ahead, many are still wondering how this administration will handle the data-driven programs that were created over the past eight years.
While the future of data in the government is unclear, it’s imperative that the two communities continue to work together. The projects that have been started and the partnerships between data scientists and the White House have been hugely impactful.
Here are four reasons it is vital they continue to work in tandem:
1) No turning back now. The Obama administration ushered in the first U.S. chief data scientist, opening the floodgates on the use of data in government, and put truly relevant federal data in the hands of the American people for the first time. This is going to be a difficult door to shut, knowing that the data is already out there and people are currently using and benefiting from it. But it is unclear from the existing Project Open Data pages if the current administration plans to keep this information updated, or they plan to deprioritize, allowing it to lapse. It appears that Project Open Data Dashboard, which was used to measure how well federal departments were performing on this initiative, is no longer being updated (as of November 30, 2016).
2) All signs point to success. For many, the merging of government and data has already had a big effect. Locally, towns all over the country have created data-backed projects to help solve issues ranging from identifying off-track students to mitigating stormwater runoff. These projects are expanding to the state level, with Ohio governor John Kasich announcing a state-wide initiative to use data-backed resources to address the state’s toughest problems. This is true for the federal government as well, where data-based projects have been executed by agencies ranging from the CIA to the Department of Transportation with valuable results. Turning our backs on data now seems like an attempt to turn back time—but, as we know, backwards is not a popular direction for government agencies or anyone else.
3) Everyone else is doing it. Governments around the world, from the UK to Nigeria, are looking toward data to offer smarter, more predictive solutions to their citizens. To stay competitive in an increasingly data-driven world, the US cannot afford to lag in this movement. And, more importantly, American citizens shouldn’t miss out on the critical insights data science provides.
4) Democracy! Putting federal data in the hands of US citizens keeps them engaged in the political process. By making government data widely accessible, it levels the playing field for Americans, giving everyone the tools needed to participate in the political arena. For example, one of the biggest conversations in American politics right now is tax reform. TaxBrain is an open-source tax policy reform initiative led by the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Open Source Policy Center (OSPC). In layman’s terms, TaxBrain allows everyday users to study the effects of different tax policies transparently, and offer up their opinions and solutions. This is just one example of how data science plays a critical role in the democratization of data.
While the government may continue to use data internally, it’s unclear if data will continue to be shared with the masses, including the data-science community. However, by keeping federal data from American citizens, the new administration runs the risk of halting productivity at the local, state and federal levels, of falling behind in the global race towards innovation and, most importantly, alienating the American people.
Michele Chambers is EVP Anaconda Business Unit and CMO at Continuum Analytics. Continuum is the company behind Anaconda, an open data science platform powered by Python. An entrepreneurial executive with more than 25 years of industry experience, she has authored two books: Big Data Big Analytics, published by Wiley, and Modern Analytic Methodologies, published by Pearson FT Press. Before Continuum Analytics, Michele held executive leadership roles at multiple database and analytic companies, including IBM, Netezza, Revolution Analytics, MemSQL and RapidMiner. In her career, Michele has been responsible for strategy, sales, marketing, product management, channels and business development. She holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Nova Southeastern University and an M.B.A. from Duke University.
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