For the Love of Data

It’s Valentine’s Day. We consulted a few love experts and thought we’d take a moment to share what we’ve discovered about good habits for a healthy relationship…with public data.

1. Expressions of Gratitude

At Go Code Colorado we are grateful to public data for the very core of our existence. Through the availability of authoritative data sources, public data completes us. It allows us to put public investment in open data from various state agencies to work for Colorado businesses. More generally, we appreciate public data as it allows us to validate whether or not something we’re perceiving is actually true. More open public data is better for government, better for citizens, and better for business. So, if you use public data, don’t be shy! Say thank you. Give feedback. Let the data providers know how you use their data, what worked for you and what didn’t. And, although we don’t suggest you do this in your romantic relationships, data providers often appreciate being told about even the seemingly small and insignificant errors in their data, to correct them of course!

2. Quality Time

The Go Code Colorado data team spends quality time with the data provided by state agencies before it makes its way to the Colorado Information Marketplace (CIM). As is important in any relationship, we take the time to get to know the data. We load it into different programs, remove duplicates to look for categories, find out what all the codification maps to, and sometimes even clean up misspellings and make other formatting changes to make the data more machine readable. The Go Code data team also works with state agencies—the stewards of the primary data—to populate CIM with data that will enable Go Code teams—the secondary end users of the data—to create useful insights and products to benefit Colorado businesses. This is important, because public data grows in value as more people use it, for more uses. We work with subject matter experts to ensure quality metadata that provides context and relays important information about how the data is built to the secondary end user. Subject matter experts also help with determining appropriate decomposition of a database into consumable tables built on themes. Thematically-based tables allow datasets to be titled in a way that makes them discoverable on CIM, and they allow datasets to stand alone as a thematic representation of an element of the CIM database.

3. Communication and Compromise

Here at Go Code Colorado we know sometimes it’s hard for everyone to understand each other. So, we try to help. Our data team fulfills a special role that we like to call “data liaison.” This role requires fluency in all the languages of data love. From data provider speak to tech talk to the vernacular of the data scientist, the Go Code data team works hard every day to grow understanding between all sides of public data’s relationships. Our data liaisons help end users understand that which only the data providers know about the data. The liaisons also capture feedback from Go Code competitors for the data providers. This enables public data sets with thoroughly vetted metadata that is delivered in a well-designed user experience (UX). Government data stewards and secondary end users of data often live in very different worlds, without common language or context for each other’s needs and desires. Having the Go Code data team positioned between the two worlds with knowledge about each side’s needs and desires is critical to bridging the gap between primary data stewards and secondary end users. And, bridging that gap is critical to the crowdsourcing that’s necessary to enable Go Code teams to turn public data into useful tools and insights.

4. Respect

Data providers have their reasons for what they do. Data end users have their own reasons for doing things too. Sometimes both sides must resolve to take that at face value.

The Go Code data Team works with any agency interested in making their data public. Like the infinite variety of human beings, it is impossible to list all of the different system combinations and permutations agencies use to manage data. A central challenge for the Go Code Colorado data team is trying to align all of these various systems with a system that will integrate with one centralized portal, which is critical to making the data discoverable. Think of the portal as a dating app to match data with end users. Without the portal, it would be very difficult to find all the places data is managed by various agencies. Would you, for example, know to look for foreclosures at the Department of Local Affairs?!? Anyway, it is important to respect the individual tech environments in which all the different agency data managers operate. As in romantic relationships, it is unrealistic to expect the primary data stewards will change who they are and how they operate just to conform to CIM. So, the Go Code data team adds the necessary flexibility to the mix, allowing primary data providers to continue being just exactly who they are in whichever environment they’re working, and their data can still be made attractive to external secondary end users.

We also work on the secondary-end-user side of the data love equation. We interview business owners so that we have proof, of sorts, that the public data provided by agencies is actually valuable. And, we demonstrate to the primary data stewards that business owners see value in public access to that data. This helps to ensure that future communication around data updates and data questions is a positive experience, which also includes what’s happening with the data and improvements to metadata.

These acts of mutual respect and appreciation are invaluable to ensuring public data will continue to grow in both quantity and quality. Kind of like how we hope love will grow.

5. Sharing is Caring

Data providers share their data and take the time to share details about it. Please make sure you demonstrate care by being responsible with how you extend the sharing of that data. To paraphrase Edward Tufte, don’t misrepresent the data just to tell a very specific story you might be interested in telling. Data end users can demonstrate caring with sharing by making sure they do their due diligence and only use and represent the data honestly. Strong relationships are built on honesty and disclosure. Would you be happy that a romantic partner didn’t tell you they’d been married before? Or, for that matter, that they’d spent a decade doing humanitarian work in a far corner of the world? Probably not. So, be honest with the data. Let the data tell its own truth—no cherry picking! Keep the structure of data comparisons honest—to keep the fruit thing going, we want apples to apples not apples to oranges. And, finally, present the data honestly in visualizations—no adding unacknowledged emphases where the data has none.

Now, as a parting Valentine gift to you, we extend our virtual hand in data friendship. We are grateful for this time together to respectfully communicate with you and share the deep caring we all have for public data. Send the data team an email. Let us know how we can better serve you with access to public data.

From all of us at Go Code Colorado. Happy Valentine’s Day! In both your personal and data relationships!

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