Municipal Data Integration: Breaking Down the Silos and Sharing Information

A commenter on a recent post I wrote highlighted the distinction between open data and actual information.  Raw data are valuable, but the information synthesized from the data is golden.  My experiences this summer continue to highlight the need not only for better data, but also for better information. I’ve come across several barriers to better planning related to the sharing of information – or lack thereof.  There is a need to coordinate plans and funding schedules across departments (both for practical reasons but sometimes by mandate).  There is an issue of outdated information when data are shared ad-hoc and not systematically.  There is a need for collaboration to increase efficiencies and avoid duplicate work.  But the problem is that cities exist as disparate departments that collaborate on limited special projects at best.  Information owned by one department is not accessible by others without special requests, which causes information quickly to go stale and become not only not useful but also misleading.

In thinking about this problem, I’ve come across a few examples where government entities have tried to bridge the information gap.  At the Federal level, USA Spending aggregates federal spending information and packages it into a query-able (but not so clear) website. encourages the public to help solve problems within government by sharing deeper information about those problems – often requests to distill a lot of information and put it into one easy-to-understand package.

In Fairfax County, VA, they organize website information by “constituent interest” rather than by department.

In Chapel Hill, they’ve started a new online permit center, which seeks to streamline the development permitting process by removing the barrier of dealing with multiple city departments; all information regarding the status of the request will be made available online.  This new online tool will, they predict, actually better coordinate offline interactions between city departments.

Lastly, I came across Edgesoft, a software company who has developed a solution called Enterprise Land Management Solution, which I think gets at the heart of the problem of open data and interdepartmental sharing of information.  It does this by linking this information based on location data; their theory, which I’ve found to be quite true so far, is that a lot of this city information is location-based, and therefore can be organized by this parameter rather than by the department to which it belongs.  From a simple Google search, it appears several cities are already using this solution including Beverly Hills, Burbank, and Glendale, CA, Kyle, TX, and Salt Lake City, UT.

While some cities are making strides and others are at least making steps, a significant and/or comprehensive solution to interdepartmental data and information sharing has yet to be found.  Who leads the charge?  A colleague claims the federal government has started the push by establishing the E-Government Fund and adopting the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act that established a CIO within every Federal agency and requires each to develop an IT plan.  It doesn’t seem likely that individual municipalities will be able to establish their own e-gov funds, but perhaps the federal fund grows to make grants to localities.  In San Francisco, our CIO says we need 3 things for successful municipal information sharing:

  • We need to have a vision
  • We need to be willing to do the actual, physical work required to re-integrate systems
  • We need to inspire other agencies to participate

Check out his other insights in the video below.


- Terra Curtis