All posts by Kevin McAvey

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.

APDU Vice President: A (Data) Visualized World

Data means nothing without context, and nothing provides context like a picture.  The artful science of data visualization, the ability to use graphics to abstract and convey meaning from data, is among the most important and ill-equipped skills in our Data Age.  Across industries and occupations, public and private sectors, the need to deliver complex information simply and succinctly is pervasive.  I witness it daily in health care.

Insurers, founded on long histories of using data to monitor costs and forecast risks, are investing in new, proactive data strategies that incorporate the use of data visualizations as early as data intake:  programmers using visuals to test the integrity, consistency, and completeness of daily claim-file uploads, allowing them to spot outliers, anomalies, and irregular patterns across billions of flowing records immediately.  Hospital system clinicians and data scientists alike – now tasked with managing the health outcomes of whole populations – are developing new patient-specific indicators to track health and well-being, provider maps to monitor care coordination and referral patterns, and population dashboards to gauge progress on meeting clinical, quality, and financial performance goals.  States and researchers, tremendous data collectors and users – tapping data derived from surveys, discharge databases, and All Payer Claims Databases – are then tasked with distilling down an entire system to what policy-makers and the public most need to know to make more informed health care decisions.

While these examples illustrate the rapid application of data visualizations in health care, their use transcends policy domains.  The Association of Public Data Users (APDU) continues to recognize those who demonstrate the impact data visualizations can have on our discourse.  For the second year, APDU is proud to recognize the country’s top data visualizations that leverage our nation’s wealth of publicly-available data to convey a compelling point or story.  In our second annual “Data Viz” awards, APDU has selected best-in-class data visualizations by a state or local government agency, by a federal government agency, by a private enterprise, and by a researcher or student, each of whom had different audiences and goals, but all of whom recognized the impact data visualizations could have to reach them.  This year’s winners – listed below – will be joining us at our 2017 Annual Conference in Arlington, Virginia, sharing their techniques and strategies.  Join us to learn about these creative visualizations and for another exciting conference.

The 2017 Annual APDU Conference will also host a panel on “Innovations in Data Visualization”, featuring best practices and applications, and examples of how experts have used visualizations to improve their programs, solve critical issues, and powerfully convey meaningful information.  We hope you will join us in Arlington, VA, September 13th and 14th, for our ongoing discussion of Communicating Data in an otherwise noisy world.


Federal Government Category

USPTO PatentsView – US Patent and Trademark Office

  • Amanda Myers, US Patent and Trademark Office
  • Dino Citraro, Periscopic
  • Kim Rees, Periscopic

Energy Consumption and Production in Agriculture – USDA Economic Research Service

  • Claudia Hitaj, USDA Economic Research Service
  • Lori Fields, USDA Economic Research Service

Private Firms Category

Visualizing the Condition of U.S. Lakes – Crow Insight

  • Mike Crow, Crow Insight
  • Sarah Lehmann, US Environmental Protection Agency
  • Amina Pollard, US Environmental Protection Agency

Researchers and Students Category

Mapping Financial Opportunity – Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas

  • Terri Friedline, Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas
  • Xan Wedel, Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas
  • Kirk Jackson, New America
  • Justin King, New America

State and Local Government Category

2010-2014 Women in the Workforce – Utah Department of Workforce Services

  • Lecia Parks Langston, Utah Department of Workforce Services

APDU Conference Chair: 8 Tough Questions for Data Owners

Kevin McAvey is Associate Director of Analytics for Massachusetts’ Center for Health Information and Analysis and the 2016 APDU Conference Chair

We can do better. It is what I remind myself each day. As we navigate through this Data Age, as data producers, stewards, and users, where there are rarely precedents or limits or boundaries on the impact we can have, we can do better, we should do better, and we need to bring others along with us.

As my career has shifted from economic development to program evaluation to health care data, APDU has been a constant asset in my work. APDU’s cross-industry, data-focused programming has made me a more knowledgeable user of our nation’s public datasets; has challenged my approaches to data collection, analysis, and dissemination; and has, each year, given me the opportunity to gather with some of the brightest minds in our field to reflect on our collective successes and failures, and to prepare for our shared opportunities and challenges ahead.

My organization, the Center for Health Information and Analysis – or CHIA – was founded in 2012 with the goal of using data to better inform the health care marketplace in Massachusetts. Armed with over a dozen data sources – all of which are made (at least in part) publicly available – including the Massachusetts All Payer Claims Database, unprecedented for its size and scope, a live repository of billions health service records, we set forth to pursue these ends, and like many of you, did so without a roadmap or guide.

Our progress in Massachusetts has been substantial, but not without challenges. We are continually faced with tough choices and questions:
• Who is using our data, our reports, and our products? How are they using them? How can we engage our users to better understand their needs and adjust our work accordingly?
• With data that could potentially reveal so much, where do we best invest our energy and resources?
• How can we effectively leverage existing public data sources to place our results in context, best frame our results for action?
• How do we demonstrate the value of our work, a public good, to justify our budget? To justify our existence, in a world increasingly suspect of “data”?
• When is the right time, where are the right opportunities for partnerships, both within government and with the private sector?
• What is the right balance between data timeliness and accuracy? Between data detail & privacy and data usefulness?
• What is our responsibility to ensure that not only the well-funded get access to data?
• How do we support the release of public data – our data – to best inform better decision-making?

Never before have we had access to so much data – so much information – about our world: how it functions, how it responds, what it is. It is an exhilarating, and humbling, and scary responsibility. We can empower change, but, while change for many may be welcome, eagerly invited, for some it may be viewed with skepticism, disdain, and even resistance.

The responsibility to use data for good is ours, the challenge is ours, and opportunity is ours, and we can continue to do better. I look forward to talking about how with you. Join me this September at the 2016 Association of Public Data Users’ Annual Conference in Alexandria, Virginia, “Using Public Data to Inform Better Decision Making.”