Nicolette is a citizen of her state. She is employed full-time and pays state taxes, has a driver’s license, owns a home, pays property taxes, pays electric bills, and schedules time to turn off power lines when she needs a tree trimmed. Nicolette interacts with her state and local government regularly but has five different logins, as well as multiple PINs and identifiers.
In another example, Stacey is paid hourly wages by her employer, who reports those wages to the government. Stacey is injured at work and struggles to obtain immediate help paying her medical bills. Stacey finds her state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation, who informs Stacey that, upon further investigation, her employer did not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage but their Uninsured Employers Fund would take on Stacey’s case. Meanwhile, the Division begins their research on the employer’s lack of coverage and realizes that they actually were aware of this organization’s repeated infractions and resulting penalties, which were all mailed through US Postal Service to the employer’s address on file. After comparison of this address to Stacey’s wage statements, the Division realizes that their previous attempts at mitigating this organization’s missing coverage were fruitless, as they had been using an incorrect address for all of their mailings. Stacey struggled to find the support she needed to return to work quickly and in full health, only to find that if the Division connected the employer’s address on their reported wages to their policy data, they could have intervened earlier to correct the employer’s behavior.
Data is Plentiful but Not Shared
Many agencies are transitioning to electronic systems, modernizing processes, and making significant investments into the fundamental data driving their technology solutions. At many agencies, entire teams are dedicated to managing this data, utilizing varying levels of Master Data Management (MDM) principles and solutions and establishing definitions or profiles for the individuals and organizations they interact with.
When agencies operate independently though, citizens must interact with each different state agency for their specific need, often with different online identities. Citizens are increasingly looking for consistent, accessible experiences across agencies. In a 2019 survey of US citizens, 77% accepted that government agencies share employment status, paid income tax, and criminal history[i]. Citizens are shifting from not just accepting that their data is shared but looking for data sharing to provide demonstrable benefits to them on a daily basis.
In an interview with FedScoop, the Chief Data Officer for the Department of Health & Human Services said, “We need to start to think of ourselves as a single organization as we think about how to service the needs of Americans in the best way possible with the resources that we have[ii]. Ideally, data management for individuals and organizations served by the state is centralized into a single governing agency, or managed only by agencies that are the best source of truth for that dataset.
Making the Most of Citizen Data
Step 1: Understand your data and your agency’s role in data governance
The first step is for each agency to understand what data they have, how “good” that data is, and productize the data, so that your agency – and other agencies – can better serve individuals and organizations. Agencies should evaluate their position as regulators. An agency may be a secondary or tertiary source of truth for data needed for regulatory functions and must make critical decisions on the level of investment they will make to ensure consistency and accuracy in their data when not receiving that data directly from the source. If your agency is a primary source of truth, consider identifying the data products you can provide to other agencies to support their regulatory functions. This could include an API endpoint to check a constituent’s address or XML file of an organization’s ownership contacts, for example.
Step 2: Create a common language
Government jurisdictions should analyze the data they collect to support core business processes, such as applications, permits, claims, and stakeholders, such as individuals, households, and organizations. They should then compare how each agency defines the uniqueness of those datasets. Standardizing definitions across agencies not only allows for more efficient methods for linking shared data but also sets up a framework upon which states can develop a single, 360-degree view of the citizens they serve. Data sources should ‘speak the same language’ so that the integration drives meaningful results.[iii]
Step 3: Focus your technology transformations around what you need to enrich your data, rather than maintain i
As government agencies move to electronic, sustainable, modern processes, they should evaluate data needs at the beginning of technology transformations. It is much more difficult and costly to rework systems to utilize clean data than to build fundamental, underlying processes and datasets right the first time. Data aggregation – treating one or more datasets as the source of truth and asking citizens or agency staff to only supplement data – will reduce the time and effort users spend on manual data entry. It will also build a more accurate picture and give agencies access to newer and better targeted insights.[iv]
Step 4: Decide how far your jurisdiction will go
The true value of inter-agency data sharing is created with economies of scale; for example, when all agencies utilize a state’s citizen “master” record for interacting with individual citizens. Legislative and budgeting hurdles may impede agencies from rallying around shared objectives and scoping their data transformations into smaller, more manageable, minimum viable products. Effectively modernizing the citizen experience will depend on states building enterprise sharing agreements and master data management processes. A one-stop-shop experience should be created for citizens, providing a single login where they can access their personal information and are directed towards services and resources based on their profile and desires. Yet, the ability to establish governing bodies to centralize master data governance – such as a state-wide Office of Data Governance or standardized data steward roles – is often limited by shifting political priorities and competing objectives.
Creating a roadmap to statewide data sharing and a unified citizen experience will set a path to long-term value for the citizen and reduced cost of operations for governments. To start, agencies should build a plan to make their data products available for other agencies to consume, as well as scope technology solutions that create single data repositories for the most commonly shared data across their jurisdiction.