You say you want “Big Data” for Community Economic Development, but are you ready for it?

About the Author

Maureen Berner

Maureen Berner is a School of Government faculty member. She teaches evaluation and analysis courses for MPA students, and provides similar training and advising to state and local government officials throughout North Carolina.

When you make a decision to go forward with a Community Economic Development (CED) project or policy, have you thought through the ramifications for your staff or budget? This year, a course paper on body worn cameras written by a graduate student in the MPA program at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is gaining attention — but not because it touches on sensitive political or racial issues. It’s focus appears much more mundane – how a simple retention policy decision can have major implications for the entire IT department and local government budget. For CED professionals, it is a cautionary tale on understanding your capacity to adequately implement a policy or program before you adopt it.

Justin Kreft, a joint degree student in the School of Government and School of Library and Information Science, used a nation-wide survey of body worn cameras to gain a general understanding of how many camera files were generated and stored. The result was… a lot.   The more sophisticated the camera, the larger the related files, and the more storage space was needed. Add in questions of how long to maintain files, whether to make the files publically accessible, and the staff and expertise necessary to find something on a particular file if needed, and one can see how the mundane issue can explode.   The paper is featured on the front page of the newest UNC Chapel Hill research magazine, Endeavors. Other reports have featured this same issue, such as a report on implementing a body worn camera program by the Department of Justice and stories in the NYT and on NPR.

Understanding internal department capacity to handle chosen policies and projects is important in general, but vital for IT related work. While this example comes from the public safety department, it highlights that technology-related policies for any department may not be as simple as one assumes.   For example, CED professionals are already asking about the potential for ‘Big Data’ to transform how they operate. What is discussed less often is the capacity needed to actually tap into that potential.   An exception is a post promoting the benefits of Big Data by Kevin Desouza on the ICMA’s Knowledge Network, which gives a number of important examples of how local governments such as Dubuque, Iowa and Louisville, Kentucky are partnering with technology companies to take advantage of Big Data in the areas of transit and public health. But at the end he cautions, “…CIOs and local governments have to be ready to take up the challenge of big data.”  He also refers readers to the IBM Business of Government report Realizing the Promise of Big Data. Stay tuned for more posts regarding use of Big Data for CED professionals, especially to evaluate the effectiveness or efficiency of programs.

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