The relatively new role of the state chief data officer is catching on, Governing reports, with a designated professional support network, growing public pressure for data-based policies and more than half of U.S. states now with such an officer in place.
Louisiana has had a chief data officer in place since 2014, when the Division of Administration’s executive branch was consolidated with IT support, says Jacques Berry, director of policy and communications for the department. Since that time, Robert Manuel has held the position, negotiating data-sharing agreements among state agencies.
“Before 2014, if someone from the Department of Children and Family Services needed employment data to determine some level of eligibility for SNAP, you’d probably have a lawyer saying ‘we need this on a regular basis,’” Berry says. “It’s better to have one person set up an actual mechanism for the data.”
At least 28 states as well as Washington, D.C., have a CDO or its equivalent. It’s unclear why the Governing article identifies Louisiana as not having a state CDO, but Louisiana Division of Administration officials confirm that’s not the case. (Most CDOs work within the state IT apparatus under a CIO who created the role administratively, the article says.)
Across the board, the impetus has been a growing recognition of data as a strategic asset—something that can improve policy or the delivery of public services.
Though there isn’t a universal job description for a CDO, the person is generally tasked with governing data, establishing some form of data inventory and coming up with innovative ways to leverage data that already exists.
Because of this, states usually seek CDOs who are not only tech-savvy but knowledgeable enough about public policy and service delivery to make data useful. For instance, a CDO might help the state answer questions about whether giving children medical insurance through Medicaid leads to better educational outcomes.