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EP 14: (Data) Clarity Is Kindness with Jason Lally of the City and County of San Francisco (Pt.1)

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Joining Cindi today is Jason Lally, the Chief Data Officer for the City and County of San Francisco. On this episode, Jason and Cindi discuss the kindness of data clarity, why open data is just the tip of the iceberg, and the power of a declarative mission statement. Plus, they dive into Jason’s 10+ years of experience and unique career trajectory that brought him to his current role. 

This is Part 1 of our interview with Jason Lally. Listen to Part 2 here, where Jason discusses making the government’s data work for the people it serves, the key gateway to better communication, and how to turn problems into opportunities.

Key Discussion Points:

    • As Brené Brown would say: clarity is kindness. A declarative mission statement outlining your department’s intentions can act as a powerful liaison between the work you’re doing and the people you’re serving.
    • Open data is really just the tip of the iceberg. This is what people in the outside world see; what they don’t see is all the work that goes on underneath that data — all the internal collaboration, getting the stakeholders on the same page, and the massive range of data sources that make it all possible.

Key Quotes:

DataSF’s mission statement as crafted by Jason and former Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro: “DataSF’s mission is to empower use of data. We seek to transform the way the City works through the use of data. We believe use of data and evidence can improve our operations and the services we provide. This ultimately leads to increased quality of life and work for San Francisco residents, employers, employees and visitors.”

Not many data and analytics teams even have a mission statement, so what was the thinking behind presenting this one?: “In order to be effective in this work with few resources, I think it forces you to get clear on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. By being clear, by executing on a mission over and over again, it helps to build trust in what we’re doing and I think that clarity is kindness to all of our stakeholders.”

What’s been the biggest impact data set of 2020?: “It really is the work around COVID; even without trying, everybody is looking at this data right now because we are in unprecedented times. I think in terms of the impact on the organization and what we’re doing, it’s tremendous because one, not only are we getting the data out there, but we’re doing the things that we, as a program, as DataSF, have always wanted to do, which was level up the way we communicate, we respond, we take feedback. … The data is kind of tricky, but we’re committed to listening to that feedback and trying to make it better over time. And I think when I look at that, that’s where we want to be with any open data, regardless of a pandemic, we want to make sure that we’re helping people unpack and understand the data sets that we’re putting out in the world and we’re not just doing checkbox transparency — that we’re communicating and that we’re also listening.”

How much of Jason’s time is spent on helping all the agencies and divisions use data better versus the open data?: “80%? It’s always hard to estimate because we look at it as a continuum. We actually start with our internal stakeholders because that helps us get to more consistent and reliable open data. Criminal justice or housing or things that touch multiple departments, multiple systems, multiple people, the internal work actually is the bulk. That’s the iceberg, right? That’s the part underneath open data that everyone sees out in the world. What people don’t see is all the work that happens internally. Luckily, I do have staff that I can have help work on the machinery of getting open data out and making sure that it’s reliable and consistent. But we do spend quite a bit of our time in that stakeholder engagement process on a variety of things. You cannot do the open data without doing the internal work.”

More About Jason:

Jason Lally is the Chief Data Officer for the City and County of San Francisco, responsible for developing city-wide data policies and leading the DataSF team to remove barriers that prevent departments from maximizing their data’s value. He has been with the City for over 6 years and came to open government and open data through his work in cities and regions across the country on data-informed, community planning processes.

Jason’s mission is to grow and build teams that put data to work through analysis, engineering, and data science. He is a leader in civic data and its many uses with 10+ years of experience in data management, analysis, visualization, and engineering. Jason earned his Masters in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Data Chief is presented by our friends at ThoughtSpot. Searching through your company’s data for insights doesn’t have to be complicated. With ThoughtSpot, anyone in your organization can easily answer their own data questions, find the facts, and make better, faster decisions. Learn more at thoughtspot.com

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The Data Chief is presented by our friends at ThoughtSpot. Searching through your company’s data for insights doesn’t have to be complicated. With ThoughtSpot, anyone in your organization can easily answer their own data questions, find the facts, and make better, faster decisions. Learn more at thoughtspot.com.

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