Ethical Data Management

Executive Summary

In the age of data and information, it is imperative that the City of Virginia Beach strategically utilize its data assets. Through expanding data access, improving quality, maintaining pace with advanced technologies, and strengthening capabilities, IT will ensure that the city remains at the forefront of digital transformation and innovation. The Data and Information Management team works under the purpose:

“To promote a data-driven culture at all levels of the decision making process by supporting and enabling business capabilities with relevant and accurate information that can be accessed securely anytime, anywhere, and from any platform.”

To fulfill this mission, IT will implement and utilize new and advanced technologies, enhanced data management and infrastructure, and will expand internal capabilities and regional collaboration.

Introduction and Justification

The Information technology (IT) department’s resources are integral features of the social, political and economic welfare of the City of Virginia Beach residents. In regard to local administration, the IT department makes it possible for the Data and Information Management Team to provide the general public with high-quality services, generate and disseminate knowledge, and facilitate growth through improved productivity.

For the Data and Information Management Team, it is important to maximize the quality and security of the City’s data; to develop and apply the coherent management of information resources and management policies that aim to keep the general public constantly informed, protect their rights as subjects, improve the productivity, efficiency, effectiveness and public return of its projects and to promote responsible innovation. Furthermore, as technology evolves, it is important for public institutions to manage their information systems in such a way as to identify and minimize the security and privacy risks associated with the new capacities of those systems.

The responsible and ethical use of data strategy is part of the City’s Master Technology Plan 2.0 (MTP), which establishes the roadmap designed by improve data and information accessibility, quality, and capabilities throughout the entire City. The strategy is being put into practice in the shape of a plan that involves various programs. Although these programs was specifically conceived as a conceptual framework for achieving a cultural change in terms of the public perception of data, it basically covers all the aspects of the MTP that concern data, and in particular the open-data and data-commons strategies, data-driven projects, with the aim of providing better urban services and interoperability based on metadata schemes and open-data formats, permanent access and data use and reuse, with the minimum possible legal, economic and technological barriers within current legislation.

Fundamental values

The City of Virginia Beach’s data is a strategic asset and a valuable resource that enables our local government carry out its mission and its programs effectively. Appropriate access to municipal data significantly improves the value of the information and the return on the investment involved in generating it. In accordance with the Master Technology Plan 2.0 and its emphasis on public innovation, the digital economy and empowering city residents, this data-management strategy is based on the following considerations.

Within this context, this new management and use of data has to respect and comply with the essential values applicable to data. For the Data and Information Team, these values are:

  • Shared municipal knowledge. Municipal data, in its broadest sense, has a significant social dimension and provides the general public with past, present and future knowledge concerning the government, the city, society, the economy and the environment.
  • The strategic value of data. The team must manage data as a strategic value, with an innovative vision, in order to turn it into an intellectual asset for the organization.
  • Geared towards results. Municipal data is also a means of ensuring the administration’s accountability and transparency, for managing services and investments and for maintaining and improving the performance of the economy, wealth and the general public’s well-being.
  • Data as a common asset. City residents and the common good have to be the central focus of the City of Virginia Beach’s plans and technological platforms. Data is a source of wealth that empowers people who have access to it. Making it possible for city residents to control the data, minimizing the digital gap and preventing discriminatory or unethical practices is the essence of municipal technological sovereignty.
  • Transparency and interoperability. Public institutions must be open, transparent and responsible towards the general public. Promoting openness and interoperability, subject to technical and legal requirements, increases the efficiency of operations, reduces costs, improves services, supports needs and increases public access to valuable municipal information. In this way, it also promotes public participation in government.
  • Reuse and open-source licenses. Making municipal information accessible, usable by everyone by default, without having to ask for prior permission, and analyzable by anyone who wishes to do so can foster entrepreneurship, social and digital innovation, jobs and excellence in scientific research, as well as improving the lives of Virginia Beach residents and making a significant contribution to the city’s stability and prosperity.
  • Quality and security. The city government must take firm steps to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, usefulness, integrity and security of municipal information before disclosing it, and maintain processes to effectuate requests for amendments to the publicly-available information.
  • Responsible organization. Adding value to the data and turning it into an asset, with the aim of promoting accountability and citizens’ rights, requires new actions, new integrated procedures, so that the new platforms can grow in an organic, transparent and cross-departmental way. A comprehensive governance strategy makes it possible to promote this revision and avoid redundancies, increased costs, inefficiency and bad practices.
  • Care throughout the data’s life cycle. Paying attention to the management of municipal registers, from when they are created to when they are destroyed or preserved, is an essential part of data management and of promoting public responsibility. Being careful with the data throughout its life cycle combined with activities that ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary, help with the analytic exploitation of the data, but also with the responsible protection of historic municipal government registers and safeguarding the economic and legal rights of the municipal government and the city’s residents.
  • Privacy “by design”. Protecting privacy is of maximum importance. The Data and Information Management Team has to consider and protect individual and collective privacy during the data life cycle, systematically and verifiably, as specified in the general regulation for data protection.
  • Security. Municipal information is a strategic asset subject to risks, and it has to be managed in such a way as to minimize those risks. This includes privacy, data protection, algorithmic discrimination and cybersecurity risks that must be specifically established, promoting ethical and responsible data architecture, techniques for improving privacy and evaluating the social effects. Although security and privacy are two separate, independent fields, they are closely related, and it is essential for the units to take a coordinated approach in order to identify and manage cybersecurity and risks to privacy with applicable requirements and standards.
  • Open Source. It is obligatory for the Data and Information Management Team to maintain its Open Data- Open Source platform. The platform allows citizens to access open data from multiple cities in a central location, regional universities and colleges to foster continuous education, and aids in the development of data analytics skills for citizens. Continuing to uphold the Open Source platform with allow the City to continually offer citizens the ability to provide valuable input on the structure and availability of its data. 

Strategic areas

In order to deploy the strategy for the responsible and ethical use of data, the following areas of action have been established, which we will detail below, together with the actions and emblematic projects associated with them.

In general, the strategy pivots on the following general principals, which form the basis for the strategic areas described in this section.

  • Data sovereignty
  • Open data and transparency
  • The exchange and reuse of data
  • Political decision-making informed by data
  • The life cycle of data and continual or permanent access

Data Governance

Data quality and accessibility are crucial for meaningful data analysis, and must be ensured through the implementation of data governance. IT will establish a Data Governance Board, a collaborative organizational capability made up of the city’s data and analytics champions, who will work together to develop policies and practices to treat and use data as a strategic asset.

Data governance is the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity and security of data used in the city. Increased data quality will positively impact overall trust in data, resulting in increased use and adoption. The ownership, accessibility, security, and quality, of the data is defined and maintained by the Data Governance Board.

To improve operational efficiency, an enterprise-wide data catalog will be created to inventory data and track metadata from various data sources to allow for rapid data asset discovery. Through the data catalog, the city will capture tribal knowledge related to data and its use. This will provide an additional layer of transparency, allowing different users and job functions to gain insights on the data and, in turn, accelerate the development and utilization of data analytics.

Automating common tasks is one method that will be used to enforce data governance. Through the creation of applications with built-in workflows, users can quickly perform tasks while ensuring the proper sequence of events will take place. For example, rather than requesting training classes manually, users can fill out an online form that triggers a workflow in the background that stores the request information and sends it to the correct supervisor for approval. This process ensures that the right users are being sent to the right training events with the appropriate approvals.

Data Accessibility 

Today’s data comes in various formats ranging from structured formats such as tables or geospatial data, to unstructured formats such as multimedia content and text. The range of available formats introduces an additional layer of complexity in providing access for the end user. The DIM team will implement structures, platforms and processes to simplify obtaining access to the city’s data. 

Cloud data storage, either in-house or through a government certified third party, reduces the risks of data corruption, duplication, or difficulties locating data that is managed via spreadsheets or a database on an individual’s machine. Cloud data technologies also provides better data access, facilitating rapid data insights.  

To ensure both the security and high-availability of city data, IT will reduce the on premise storage of data to 40-50% of the current volume by moving the majority of applicable content into secure cloud infrastructures. This will allow the city to take advantage of the disaster recovery and business continuity features built into current government cloud offerings, and ensure accessibility regardless of the conditions or disasters that may impact the city’s computing infrastructure. 

Locally and haphazardly stored data collections subject users to limited access and increased risk of data loss. To improve the data collection and storage of this information, a ‘data lake’ collection environment in a government cloud will be implemented. The data lake will have a goal of moving and storing 90% of all departmental non-critical and business functional, non-database data sources. To support overall organization digitalization efforts and adoption of Office 365, all business Microsoft Access databases will be converted into more resilient databases such as SQL Server.  

In conjunction with the data governance initiative, a data catalog will help provide users with information on systems, databases and datasets. Each dataset within a catalog will have a data dictionary that will inform users about the data source. The tracking of this metadata allows users to have a clear understanding of results from business intelligence platforms. The organization will improve the accessibility of data through the adoption and deployment of these modern tools and approaches. 

Open Data Enhancements and Regional Collaboration Effort

Transparency in government is highly valued by our citizens, and IT will launch a new Open Data initiative to provide citizens with more methods for interaction and greater data discovery.  The existing Open Data platform will be replaced by a new platform that operates under an ‘open source’ licensing model. A significant benefit of open source solutions is that they can be shared with external agencies and organizations without incurring licensing costs in those organizations. This can facilitate collaborative efforts between different municipalities, agencies and educational institutions.

The Data and Information Management team will implement the new ‘Open Data – Open Source’ tool to provide citizens with new and improved functionalities. Enhanced features include data discovery, analysis, dashboards, scheduling of alerts, and integration with other tools to export and further investigate the data. The new platform is also mobile friendly, and a user does not need a technical background to build interactive dashboards. Through this initiative, the city has the power to increase citizen participation in government, create opportunities for economic development, generate open dialogue, inform decision making in the public and privates sectors, and spur innovation. These functions integrate and engage citizens though an enhanced user experience that fosters data exploration and analysis.

A related initiative, ‘One Platform – One Region’, is intended to incorporate many other regional datasets on the city’s Open Data platform. Because there is no cost for external organizations to share data on the open source platform, it is anticipated there will be great demand to leverage the city’s platform and participate in regional, collaborative efforts. This new openness will allow for an unrestricted and inclusive platform that enables collaboration between citizens, university partners, students, organizations, city employees from all levels and departments, and other regional municipalities. As a regional effort, the initiative’s goal is to continuously add local, state, and federal datasets, in various file and data formats, to the open data portal. Users are exposed to greater analytical opportunities when they can access data from numerous sources and organizations in one platform.

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