Photo of downtown Carlsbad, California.

Nov 07 2022

How Carlsbad Improved Data Sharing Across Local Government

The city took inventory of its data, built a data library and provided resources to analyze information.

It’s safe to say that government at any level — local, state or federal — has many moving parts. Siloed data streams and a lack of effective communication between departments can cause havoc from the standpoint of data governance.

This is the situation that Carlsbad CIO David Graham and Chief Data Officer David van Gilluwe found themselves in a few years ago. “Things were a mess when it came to our data governance structure, our data,” Graham said in a presentation during Smart Cities Connect 2022 earlier this fall.

According to Graham, the city of Carlsbad, Calif. — now a leader in smart city initiatives — had nine networks (wired and wireless), siloed data, unconnected departmental experts, no inventory of all its data and no single data governance leader.

It was clear to Graham that Carlsbad needed to change the way data was collected, structured and shared. To this end, the city created an initiative called Connected Carlsbad, which laid out a plan to “invest in improving connectivity for its residents, businesses and visitors,” using “information and communication technologies to increase efficiency, communication, transparency and the overall quality of government service.”

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The City Started Data Management with an Inventory

To get a handle on its data and create structure, the city began by taking inventory of all data. Van Gilluwe led the initiative and saw an opportunity to bring the city’s many data streams together to reveal new insights and spur innovation.

“If we think about all of our different data sets that we have throughout the city, we know that we have these vast arrays of information. If we can marry those data sets together, we can find deeper insights about new questions that will be asked, questions that we may not even know of in the future,” he said at Smart Cities Connect.

After taking inventory, van Gilluwe’s team created Carlsbad’s data library, one that would make all of the city’s data available and easy to find. The library is designed with accessibility in mind, van Gilluwe said, and users don’t need to have library science expertise or know SQL programming or Python to find data in the library.

“Just like as a child, you can go to the library and not just wander aimlessly to find a book that you want, even a type of book. We need to have that Dewey Decimal System here in our cities to have that common language of how we find information,” van Gilluwe said.

David Graham
“You do need that vision in leadership...at every level in the organization, who have bought into your vision of innovation.”

David Graham CIO, Carlsbad, California

Chief Data Officer Deputized Departmental Representatives

Once the data was placed in one library, van Gilluwe thought about how he could empower individual departments to analyze data effectively on their own. He and his team decided to teach departments how to use Tableau, a visual analytics platform that helps users understand data.

He launched a data deputies program, which involved hiring individuals who would train departments on Tableau. After initial training, these analysts were available to work with departments one-on-one to solve challenges with data analysis. By creating departmental deputies, Carlsbad provided staff with points of contact to continue internal education.

“That’s powerful,” van Gilluwe said. “It’s way more powerful when you work with your own data than when you say, ‘Go to this Tableau training or attend this online thing. And, yes, you’re going to use these sample data sets. Good luck.’”

EXPLORE: Why citizens are demanding immediate data from municipalities.

Interagency Cooperation Helped Break Down Silos

In Carlsbad, van Gilluwe said he and his team were lucky in that many departments are open to sharing information.

“That's not always the case. You have these institutional, vast departments saying, ‘Why do I need to share that data with this tiny department?’ Or ‘What is the point of cross-linking our data?’ One of the things that we told our city council is, if we can actually bring these things together with a central governance structure, we'll be able to do amazing things,” van Gilluwe said.

“You do need that vision in leadership,” Graham said. “It doesn't have to be your mayor, your council, your city manager — although those are nice — but leadership in the organization, at every level in the organization, who have bought into your vision of innovation.”

Carlsbad’s municipal agencies are receptive to the idea that shared data can provide many opportunities, van Gilluwe said.

“In this governance structure, we've built a policy where the city council can understand where we want to go, where we want to take this, and how we actually operate,” he said.

Art Wager/Getty Images

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