Posted at 5:08 PM
On July 30th, the Commerce Data Advisory Council convened its second meeting to review and provide guidance on the Department of Commerce's data. This one-of-a-kind gathering of digital technology executives was eager to dive directly into the work of the Department and provided dozens of excellent recommendations. A great deal of the feedback can be summarized as "Thumbs up. Continue the good work." Though there were some very specific suggestions for improvement areas. But as with any insightful discussion on how a business is using its information to help its customers, the conversations about improving data led to provocative and fundamental questions about the processes, tools, and skills required to deliver on the Department's strategic data objectives.
Consider these questions, that were asked by the Council:
- "Are the people within the Federal government really the best ones to tell inspiring 'stories' about how their data is being used?"
- "Why do the majority of large government information technology projects fail?"
- "Are we investing enough in training programs for our existing workforce?"
Even though these questions are taken out of context, they demonstrate that meaningful conversations about "data" are often more than just a debate about web sites.
The way people use information is at the heart of how every organization makes decisions.
Grand Topics, Specific Recommendations
With this wide range of conversations, and the Council's packed agenda, there were two stand-outs of Bureau innovation worth highlighting.
First, the Census Bureau - led by its Director, John Thompson - did a demonstration of a new Income product that seeks to address long-standing issues in our nation around economic inequality. The product demonstration was framed by the extensive work already being done by the Census Bureau to collect and disseminate information on topics like income inequality and wealth. This new product - still in early stage development - seeks to bring greater attention to the issue, provide easier access to relevant data and improve the mechanisms for public feedback on income data. It was a rare opportunity to get product-level feedback from technology titans like Allan Blue, VP of Product Management and co-founder of LinkedIn, and Jack Dangermond, the CEO and Founder of ESRI. But with these expert insights documented, the Census team continues to iterate on its experimental product.
The second major Bureau innovation worth highlighting was the Open Data Roadmap from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). With a strategic vision outlined by Michelle Lee, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the PTO, Senior Advisor Tom Beach presented how PTO is planning to open up more of its data for public consumption and also improve the Bureau's digital operations. The general feedback was very positive to the PTO's plan, which detailed quarterly milestones for product delivery, public engagement, and stakeholder collaboration. Some of the specific suggestions were to build on the PTO's patents dashboard and also to solicit innovative participation through sponsored challenges.
The Council was also invigorated by Hilary Hartley's presentation on the skills agenda and ethos of 18F - the civic consultancy, within the General Services Administration, that enables Federal agencies to rapidly deploy tools and services that are easy to operate, cost efficient, and reusable. Their focus on project selection, employing agile and lean startup methodologies , and product delivery was lauded by Council members, who thought the model should be adopted by other government agencies.
As with any good advisory group that meets on a regular basis, the goal is to provide ongoing strategic direction and feedback. It's unclear at this stage if future sessions will continue to have live musical performances. But all participants should expect a continued stream of feedback-solicitations and questions about how to continually improving the products and services being delivered to the Department of Commerce's customers.
Follow this link for the full set of recommendations, major initiatives to consider, and the action items for Council Members before the next meeting, which will take place in Boulder, CO on October 29th and 30th.