State's Commitment Bodes Well for Data Liberators

Sandra Shewry, Vice President of External Engagement

October 07, 2016
Sandra Shewry
Sandra Shewry

When government data are freely available for everyone to use and republish as they wish, they can drive social change. We are fortunate to have leaders in Sacramento who are committed to removing restrictions on the availability of data and promoting their use.

Making government information available to the public in machine-readable formats can facilitate government transparency, accountability, and public participation in government decisionmaking. When numbers are presented in useful ways that infuse policymaking with evidence, we can make better-informed decisions. Open data provides an opportunity to elevate public discourse through facts that are communicated in ways that resonate with all of us.

CHCF has been a proponent, funder, and partner in California's open data efforts over the past five years. Our support has focused on building the internal capacity for state leaders to publish data and on encouraging use of these data by public interest groups, activists, entrepreneurs, and news organizations across California.

CHCF partnered with state data leaders to develop a portal through which data from all 12 California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) departments are made available. Likewise, we supported work to help all CHHS departments implement guidelines to make more detailed data available while preserving individual privacy. CHHS' data portal now includes more than 150 data sets. With the development of the single data library, collaboration across departments has increased.

The process of liberating the data brought senior state leaders into contact with entrepreneurs and helped spark interest within CHHS to develop, in collaboration with FUSE Corps, California's first Health Innovation Office. The office will lead a process for responding more efficiently to external data requests.

A California health official addresses a CHCF-sponsored gathering of Code for San Jose, a group of civic hackers, in December 2015 (photo by Avram Goldstein)

In addition to infrastructure funding, CHCF helped the state connect with external stakeholders. We provided assistance to build up CHHS's capacity to communicate data releases and supported large events in Sacramento, regional code-a-thons, roundtable discussions in Sacramento between state staff and a range of audiences (including county health officials, entrepreneurs, and journalists), and community meetings with civic coders in Fresno, Los Angeles, San Jose, and elsewhere. Much of this was done through a program that deployed local health data ambassadors to connect CHHS to the data interests and needs of local communities.

We are proud of the open data movement's achievements and are encouraged by the enthusiasm, leadership, and accomplishments of its members. We remain supportive of efforts to use data to inform decisionmaking. CHCF funding in the coming year will support the state's transition to internal support and/or alternate funding approaches designed to institutionalize open data activities across CHHS departments. To the extent that CHCF provides additional funding, it will be prioritized in areas that advance one of our programmatic goals.

In the next year CHCF is partnering with CHHS on projects to:

  • Develop a CHHS data commons. Envisioned by state leaders as an online platform to connect state and local innovators, this website would lead data users to the CHHS open data portal and enable sharing of stories and analyses by external communities that are using data to improve California's health care system.
  • Fund an additional year of FUSE Corps support of the CHHS Health Innovation Office. CHHS established the Health Innovation Office in 2015, in partnership with the FUSE Corps program and using CHCF funding. The mission of the office is to reform programs through the use of data, analytics, digital services, and technology. CHCF will provide an additional year of funding to support another private sector leader with senior experience to be placed at CHHS full-time for 12 months starting this month. CHCF anticipates that state funds will be made available for this effort beginning in 2017.
  • Sponsor the CHHS 2017 Innovation Conference. CHCF is partnering with The California Endowment and the Blue Shield of California Foundation to sponsor the second annual CHHS Innovation Conference. Hosted by CHHS Secretary Diana Dooley, the conference showcases the state's annual Innovation Challenge and features updates from health data ambassadors throughout the state.

We look forward to building on the gains that have been made in expanding and promoting access to health data and to partnering with open data colleagues from across the state on these and other projects that advance our mutual goal to make health care work for all Californians.