What Kind of Data do Government Agencies Have?

Real World
Location: Mission City B1
Average rating: ***..
(3.75, 8 ratings)

The “information economy” is greedy. The growth in our ability to store, retrieve and analyze data has resulted in a virtually insatiable appetite for more and better information. Everyone—from the corporate CEO looking for new market strategies, to the public policy expert designing job creation programs, to the civic application developer—wants more. The advent of new technologies potentially allows far more data to be brought to bear on their questions—more data can be collected, prepared quickly, distributed widely, and analyzed in extraordinarily complex ways. One major focus has been on data available from government agencies – the Gov 2.0 movement. But is there really good data to be gotten from government agencies? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is that I’ve found that new entrants into the world of government information tend to believe more data are available than really are; or that the data are in better shape than they are; or that there is no difference between operational data, administrative data, and statistical data. To a certain extent, it is true that there is potential to access more data in new ways, but the ubiquitous presence of technology and visualization has also lulled us into a false sense of security. It is as though technology lends the data an aura of respectability that the data don’t deserve. The reality is that data emerge through a complex socio-operational context, and understanding that context is crucial for building good apps, good visualizations, and making good decisions.

This talk will introduce the machinations that lead to the collection of local and federal government data. What data do government agencies collect, and why? What IS the difference between operational, administrative and statistical? Gov 2.0 types are interested in operational and administrative data for both local and federal government for the most part. Legacy institutions have made it their business to understand and use data from the federal statistical system. What’s the difference, why should we care, what’s it mean for civic application developers? For example, on a Friday you’ll hear that the economy lost 100,000 jobs but that the unemployment rate declined by .5%. The former data point comes from administrative data (data collected as part of the administration of unemployment insurance), while the latter is collected through a statistical survey known as the Current Population Survey. Knowing the difference is crucial to good decision-making.

Photo of Virginia Carlson

Virginia Carlson

Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC)

Virginia Carlson, Ph.D. Virginia Carlson is a national figure in the role of information resources and their role in harnessing information for urban revitalization. She has developed and applied her expertise in a variety of settings, including: identifying data sources for the State of Illinois Index of Leading Indicators; constructing economic indicators for redevelopment options in Gorj County, Romania; identifying key data intervention points for federal data as the Deputy Director for Data Policy at the Brookings Institution’s Urban Markets Initiative; and designing the strategic information approach for the campaign to induce The Boeing Company to move its headquarters to Chicago. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Association of Public Data Users.


  • Thomson Reuters
  • EMC Data Computing Division
  • EnterpriseDB
  • Microsoft
  • Gnip
  • Rackspace Hosting
  • IBM
  • Windows Azure MarketPlace DataMarket
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Aster Data
  • Cloudera
  • Clustrix
  • DataStax, Inc. (formerly Riptano, Inc.)
  • Digital Reasoning Systems
  • Heritage Provider Network
  • Impetus
  • Jaspersoft
  • Karmasphere
  • LinkedIn
  • MarkLogic
  • Pentaho
  • Pervasive
  • Revolution Analytics
  • Splunk
  • Urban Mapping
  • Wolfram|Alpha
  • Esri
  • ParAccel
  • Tableau Software

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