Maryland continues to blaze trail in data-based policy making

In a presentation at the University of Maryland this week, Governor Martin O’Malley said that government transparency and openness, through the relentless collection of data, was the future of public policy. He also spoke of the challenges in completing a data-reliant picture when coordinating with other states or county jurisdictions.

Speaking at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, Gov. O’Malley said technology could help policymakers better understand and measure the outcomes of policies they enact, and do so in much shorter timeframes. He stressed the importance of information that is “shared by all” in order to help citizens and leaders understand what is at stake.

Gov. O’Malley started by speaking about his efforts to leverage data while mayor of Baltimore.

“We’re kleptocrats,” O’Malley said, “We like to steal good ideas where ever we can find them.” Gov. O’Malley was speaking about his award-winning CitiStat, which was a tool modeled off New York City’s ComStat that aggregates crime data onto a map to determine the best way to deploy law enforcement resources. CitiStat is currently a primary resource for law enforcement, but it has expanded beyond the ComStat model to measure performance in many city agencies, from waste management to housing to transportation. CitiStat has been further adopted by other governments both in the US and abroad.

Building on the success of CitiStat, Gov. O’Mally instituted StateStat and BayStat once he arrived in Annapolis. And over the last three and a half years, Gov. O’Malley’s data-driven policies have set the bar for governments nationwide. In a recent survey of state Recovery Act websites, Maryland was among the top three states, earning top marks in user interface and transparency in tracking stimulus funds. And last week, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) awarded Gov. O’Malley the 2010 National Technology Champion Award. “He clearly understands the fundamental role that information technology plays in delivering efficient and effective services to citizens,” NASCIO President and Utah State CIO, Steven Fletcher, said in a statement. “and [he] has innovatively leveraged IT to optimize government performance in the State of Maryland.”

One of O’Malley’s managerial keys to success, he said, was remembering the simple things about human nature. For instance, agency heads meet at least once every two weeks to discuss a bevy of reports and projects. And when conducting projections, two-year milestones are much preferred to twenty-year outlooks. “People work against deadlines,” he said. “They work better against more deadlines.”

Although this performance management strategy is setting new standards in governance, Gov. O’Malley acknowledged challenges with such a data-driven approach. When working on big problems, like the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed over many years, the only way to get things achieved is to work together. But on something like the Bay, O’Malley said it was particularly difficult because the state of Maryland has little leverage to make Virginia and Pennsylvania comply with initiatives he wants to see carried through. He also said that local government cooperation was a challenge because “each county government is at a different point along the continuum of progress towards performance measured, open and transparent government. And at the state level you’re in the middle of all these things.”

“One of the most difficult things is getting people to collaborate when there’s not one department that can be held publicly responsible,” he said.

“The only way around that is to measure progress openly and transparently.”

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