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Talking Data Minimalism with The Commonwealth of Massachusetts


Christophe Bertrand: (00:04)
Hello and welcome to Data-Driven 2019. I’m Christophe Bertrand, I’m a senior analyst at ESG. I am joined today by Holy Sinclair who represents the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And Holly, you have a very interesting title. It’s a double title. You’re Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Officer. So CDO squared. Tell us, what do you do?

Holly Sinclair: (00:27)
Uh, it’s a good question cause I’m the first person to hold these titles in the Commonwealth. And so along with Secretary Curtis Wood and Governor Baker, we’re defining what that role is. The Executive Office of Technology Services and Security was just created two years ago as a secretariat, elevating the IT function to a cabinet level position. So the Chief Digital Officer is charged with improving constituent digital experience and then the Chief Data Officer is charged with encouraging data sharing between different secretariat’s. That can be done through establishing standards or investing in technologies and so on.

Christophe Bertrand: (01:05)
It’s very interesting because you have this sort of double hat here where you have to share data, so it’s the power of data, but also really place yourself in the consumer interaction where you’re trying to present more services in an easier way to consume for the constituents. Now you mentioned in the keynote here at the event you talked about data minimization and I thought that was a very interesting concept. Could you tell us what you mean by that and maybe put it in the context of data privacy?

Holly Sinclair: (01:35)
Sure. So there’s this concept that, as I’ve read about recently from Fjords Trends 2019, they look at all the digital trends for a year and they started something called data minimalism. And I think that really rang true with me as well in government. We were really, originally like two or three years ago, actually, probably five years at this point, looking to open data, put all the data we had on our websites for people to access. That got very costly. Not a lot of people will use that data. It sounded good, it looked great, but not everybody used the data. And so the idea that we’ve then shifted to is demand driven data. We provide data when it’s asked for when people want it, whether that’s a policy maker or the public. You know, when we are a government organization, the public has a different level of expectation and trust for us than they do it for private sector. So we have to be very careful and very thoughtful about what data we collect and what we do with it. And then I think the next wave will be for us to link that to transparency. So our constituents know when we’re using the data and why. And so data minimalism is really about being very deliberate about what data you collect and only collect that data and you really have to link that to your business objectives and then make sure that the data you’re collecting really can create that positive feedback loop you need between your objectives. Are you meeting them? Can you see that signal in that data and you affect the change that you want?

Christophe Bertrand: (03:01)
Right. It’s really this combination of privacy in many ways where you’re trying to minimize the amount of exposure from a product perspective, the extension of the individual is the data in many ways. And then the business where you’re connecting that data you’re collecting to effect a result, which in this case the government service. If you place yourself and look ahead in the next five to 10 years and look at government in general, not just at the state level but maybe in a broader fashion, what do you see happening to big data or should we call it small data now?

Holly Sinclair: (03:34)
I talk about big data as being a relative term. To a certain extent we don’t have very many big data sets as defined by multinational corporations and such. I think we’ll be more focused on modular approaches, being able to pull pieces off of whatever investing in, whether it’s a technology stack or thinking about how to stamp out algorithms and make them more transparent to our constituents. I think we’ll be looking at modular approaches. And seeing what we can use different places and then what we can quickly change out so we can keep up with technology. One of the challenges we have in government is we’re just catching up with private sector constantly. Now there are some benefits to that. We sidestep some of the pains of the evolution that needs to happen, but we have a hard time keeping up.

Holly Sinclair: (04:21)
We really need to get better at catch-up and keeping up and keeping up with technology. When we purchase almost anything in technology, it costs a lot of time for us. We often are buying things and it ends up being for a five to 10 year time horizon, not a two year time horizon. So anything that we can buy off the shelf or that’s a service is preferred as long as it meets our needs and the constituents’ needs. I think the other piece is, you know, as we’ve already seen, data is really important. We have limited time and resources, so we really need to be strategic about where we spend our time and resources and data is the best way, in addition to talking to people, for us to really target and get the best return on our dollar.

Christophe Bertrand: (05:04)
Excellent. What it’s really what I call this concept of intelligent data management. The data has context and content and you understand what it is. You understand what to do with it, and you use it to be better at automating and learning about what processes can be and should be doing.