For the past five years the Connecticut Data Collaborative has been trying to get the state to give it access to its raw data. Last month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order making that possible.
“We want to get public data that’s useable and accessible in the hands of consumers,” Michelle Riordan-Nold, executive director of the CT Data Collaborative, said Monday at an open data forum at the Hartford Public Library.
She said going from agency to agency to collect the data was time consuming and difficult. The CT Data Collaborative, a project the New Connecticut Foundation, manages CTdata.org, which gives users access to data from federal, state, local and private sources relating to the health, well-being, and economy of the residents of Connecticut.
Two months ago, the Office of Policy and Management inked a $256,000 deal with a company called Socrata that will help state agencies gather the raw data and make sure it’s in a format that can be shared with the public. Socrata’s products are issued under a proprietary, closed, exclusive license.
The idea that the state would decide to hire a company that doesn’t make its code transparent, under the guise that it’s increasing transparency by releasing all of this information, rubs some in the open government movement the wrong way.
But Riordan-Nold isn’t bothered by the decision. She said there’s ways the CT Data Collaborative can grab and translate the information from Socrata to CKAN through an application programming interface.
“I’m sure they had a good team that looked at all their options and chose the one that worked best for their model,” she said, referring to the state’s decision to give the contract to Socrata.
Office of Policy and Management’s Chief Data Officer Tyler Kleykamp said they didn’t go out to bid for the contract because they used an existing contract to complete the transaction. He said they spoke with other states and looked at other platforms, but some of those would have required additional development and would have taken more time to get up and running.
“It’s like purchasing off-the-shelf software,” Kleykamp said.
He said each state agency will be able to publish its raw data sets on their websites for the public to view in about four to six weeks.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said when she was co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee they were always looking to get their hands on data to be able to make good decisions about what state agencies and programs should continue to receive funding. She said often times that information didn’t exist because it was collected in different forms in every state agency.
“Moving government agencies in the right direction and getting information to the public can be slow and tedious,” Merrill said. “But there’s one thing you need to keep government moving and focused on these innovations and well I guess you could guess it might be patience, but no that’s not it. Although it helps. What you need is steady, committed leadership from the top.”
She said those in public service can’t be a resource to the public “if we’re a government of secrets where only those who know the right people or the right questions to ask can have access to the most interesting information.”
She said if anyone understands that, it’s Malloy.
When Malloy took office in 2011 he was appalled at the condition of the state’s information technology infrastructure. He told the group gathered Monday at the Hartford Public Library for the open data forum that the technology he had when he was mayor of Stamford was far superior to what he found when he took over the state.
In addition to systems so antiquated they were last updated in 1989, Malloy also found there were silos created by certain state agencies.
There seemed to be the mentality among state agencies that if they paid for information and data to be collected then they owned it and didn’t have to share that information with anyone else, he said.
“This isn’t just government against the people,” Malloy said. “This is like government against government.”
He said the release of this information will help create a more efficient government.
“We may find that we’re collecting insufficient information, the wrong information, or we’re not asking the right questions,” Malloy said. “Until you lay it all out there it’s tough to know.”