Public Data Leaders Gather to Look Ahead:  Closing Thoughts on our 2018 APDU Conference

By: Kevin McAvey, Vice President, Association of Public Data Users

This year, in mid-July, public data collectors and users across the country gathered in Arlington, Virginia to discuss the future of public data and its promise to inform public and private sector decisions.  From Stanford University librarians to data-reliant private sector executives to commissioners of our nation’s top statistical agencies, all reaffirmed their unwavering belief in the value of public data and of the unique perspective APDU’s Annual Conference provides in understanding how our critical public data resources continue to evolve.

APDU President Cliff Cook set the tone of this year’s conference, challenging participants to not only look at what we have accomplished over the past year, but to take the opportunity to engage other APDU members in where we need to go from here.  The opening panel, which I had the privilege of moderating, only reinforced the point.  Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician of the United States, and Nick Hart, Director of the Evidence-based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, outlined for APDU participants how the federal data landscape is changing in important and beneficial ways.  They discussed the impact the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act has had on how federal policies are developed, and highlighted recent steps the federal government is taking to rationalize our federal data agency resources in the pursuit of a comprehensive federal “data strategy.”

Data strategies are methodical plans to connect data users to the data they need, when they need it.  They are foundational to enhancing and modernizing any data ecosystem, and have long been a staple of many data-reliant private sector industries (including my own, healthcare).  It was uplifting and encouraging to hear the breadth and depth of thought our federal data policy leaders are investing into our nation’s long-term public data plans – and the earnestness with which they want feedback.  Dr. Potok, in particular, encouraged all APDU members to submit use cases to their federal data strategy website, and to stay in-touch as an active and engaged constituency.

Per usual for so many of us, the 2018 APDU Conference rolled quickly – too quickly – on from there, engaging members around public data updates and cross-cutting public data challenges.  A small sampling of the topics included:

·        Shari Laster, Head of Open Stacks at Arizona State University, led a panel on how we should all think about preserving “born-digital” public data, in an era where our knowledge and records can (literally) be deleted with a click;

·        Kathy Pettit, Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute, moderated presentations and discussions around key indicator innovations around housing, consumer credit, and labor market reporting;

·        Mary Jo Hoeksema, the Director of Government and Public Affairs at the Population Association of America, tag-teamed APDU’s staple “Washington Briefing” with James Dyer of Baker Donelson, providing audience members an inside – and off-the-record – look at the “on the Hill” challenges facing our country’s federal statistical programs; and

·        Warren Brown, APDU’s President Emeritus and Research Faculty at Cornell University, rounded out our critical technical conversations, leading a panel discussing on best practices for linking administrative and survey data.

The APDU Conference’s second day was also treated to a lunchtime conversation with Erica Groshen, former BLS Secretary and current Cornell University Visiting Senior Scholar, John Thompson, Executive Director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, and a (returning) Dr. Potok, where they discussed the federal government’s recent proposals to significantly reorganize several federal data agencies.

The 2018 APDU Conference was another successful event created by members for members, and left all with a better sense of the year behind us.  Even more importantly, however, the Conference primed us for the critical decisions and steps that lay ahead, as we collectively reshape our public data environment to meet our rapidly evolving data needs.

Thank you all for joining us, and I hope to see you all again in 2019.