Unlocking the Power of Data
With GovEx Executive Director, Amy Edwards Holmes
In the most recent GovEx DataPoints podcast from the Bloomberg Center for Government Excellence, Executive Director Amy Edwards Holmes gives a rundown of the data management and performance strategy that she led during her first year at the helm.
Here are highlights of her observations and a look at upcoming plans for GovEx work in the coming year. Holmes was interviewed for the podcast by GovEx Chief of Staff and Director of Planning and Operations, Rudy de Leon Dingles.
(Note: We worked with Holmes many years ago on the Government Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States and we have also written in the past for the Bloomberg Center for Government Excellence, GovEx, at Johns Hopkins University)
The quotes from Holmes, below, have been edited to condense space.
Beginning at GovEx
“My first week at GovEx, we were launching the Bloomberg Philanthropies City Data Alliance program. And that very first month, I got to participate in the first convening of that alliance, (which) convened over 20 mayors here in Baltimore. It was a great way to roll up our sleeves, talk about how we’re going to create data driven plans and initiatives and really jumpstart their city-wide activities.”
As Holmes describes it, the Bloomberg Philanthropies City Data Alliance is a groundbreaking effort to focus on building city leaders and the upper level of management to use data to ask the right questions and put in place citywide policies that make the use of data routine so that city work “is being guided and led by data and informed by data.”
Data and Evaluation
Holmes started her working life as a social worker, working for a Head Start program in a tiny windowless office in rural Appalachia. As Holmes recalls, this early job provided her with meaningful but heart-wrenching work and ignited her future interests and career.
“One of the exciting things that happened for me when I was with Head Start is I had the benefit of being there when they were being evaluated by the Department of Health and Human Services at the national level. We had a team of program evaluators come into this little tiny center. They’re asking questions. They’re collecting data. And I’m like, ‘that’s a job?’ So, you’re going to take all this data from us, take it back centrally, and look for ways to improve the services, the consistency and the quality of the programming that we’re providing to these children and these families?’ And I was like, ‘that’s a job? That’s the job I want.’”
Preparing to lead GovEx
After working on the Government Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States (roughly during the Great Recession), Holmes directed the Government Performance Task Force, under Sen. Mark Warner, chair of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. There, intense work on the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010, and the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act led her to a job at the U.S. Department of Treasury leading the implementation of the act.
“This legislation was important in many ways. It really connects to the work that we do at GovEx because it’s about setting standards and linking data to make it useful to decision makers and to the public.
Focus on the workforce.
“We’re doing something, I think rather novel in the Data Alliance which is creating Data Workforce Plans – a specific plan for how every city working with us is going to upskill their workforce.”
The short-term future.
“We are developing a City Data Aggregator tool that I think holds a lot of promise that really is taking other data that’s out there in the public sphere – open data from national statistical source and we’re trying to bring that data together so that we can generate value from it in the same way we did with the Coronavirus Resource Center. We sunset that effort this year at GovEx and at Johns Hopkins. But the lessons learned through that work are going to carry our work forward for many years to come.
“I think there’s a lot of promise in taking data, translating it into the context needed for the public, for journalists and for policymakers and making that available at your fingertips in an easy-to-read way.”
In GovEx’s analytic work, it is looking at emerging technologies, and how the growth of open data leads to explorations around Artificial Intelligence. “How we’re levering AI and the path to AI is something that we’re spending a lot of time thinking about.” The issues are many: Data assessment and quality; ethical considerations, operational testing, and “how we can help cities be better informed (and) better understand the opportunity.”