The Causes, Costs and Consequences of Bad Government Data

“Data is the lifeblood of state government,” reported CSG Senior Fellows Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene in the June cover story of Governing magazine. Unfortunately, in case after case, states’ internal veins and arteries are full of data that’s inaccurate, misleading or out-of-date. In some instances, vital information is simply missing altogether for a variety of reasons, including a tendency of agencies to hoard their own data, missing out on opportunities to be achieved by sharing it with others in their state.

In this session, Barrett and Greene will give a report from the front, providing provocative details about the ways in which states can miss the data mark. They’ll share a number of specific and illuminating stories just beginning with: a state facility for homeless veterans that had no idea how long its residents stayed on the premises; the inability to document vital information about the proper operation of tools used to measure water levels in another state and a third state’s sick leave records that sometimes confused 8 hours with 80 or 800. 

Over recent months, Barrett and Greene have spoken at length with scores of men and women from almost all of the states who spend their days evaluating the utility and accuracy of data. The vast majority said bad data was often an impediment to state agencies doing their work effectively.

Bad data isn’t a new issue, of course. In fact, advances in technology have helped states to better gather, organize and disseminate the kind of information that’s most important to stakeholders, including legislators, executive branch officials and the general public. But, on the flip side, as technology has encouraged a growing reliance on data to solve problems, the flaws have become ever more hazardous. Reliance on more data—including the much ballyhooed subset labeled “big data”—means that bad data is all the more painful to a state’s smooth functioning.

What are the problems that lead to bad data? In this session, Barrett and Greene, also known as B&G, will delve into a number of factors including error-filled data input, ineffective systems controls, untrained workers, inconsistent definitions, siloed systems, a lack of centralized control of data and problems with data collected by private-sector contractors.

Participants in this session will have ample opportunity to participate, not only through a question and answer session but also through interchanges with one another and the speakers.