Writer: Mallory Lawrence
For over a decade, the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government has provided engaging, accessible data analysis and visualizations to state and local governments. Now, the Vinson Institute is taking its data expertise to the next level. Its newest initiative, the Georgia Data Innovation Hub, aims to provide data training to individuals at all levels of government.
“The mission of the Data Innovation Hub is to enhance the data analytics capabilities of state and local governments to increase data-informed decision-making,” explained Anna Wrigley Miller, Institute of Government faculty.
Miller leads the Georgia Data Innovation Hub, and it’s a job she takes very seriously.
Photo: Anna Wrigley Miller presents at an Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) training.
“Even though I’m not a data scientist by training or title, I work with data and data scientists every day to condense and analyze large amounts of data on behalf of our government partners,” Miller said. “Many state and local governments are trying to increase their own capacity to work with and present data but don’t have full-time data scientists.”
The hub is bringing together a community of peers who want to learn about data analysis and visualization from experts and each other. Its latest endeavor is the Developing Data Analytics Capabilities Conference, taking place this week at the UGA Center for Continuing Education and Hotel in Athens.
The conference will focus on developing data analytics capabilities and include presentations from data experts and executives from local governments, nonprofits, school systems, and state agencies. Participants will hear from their peers about what they can do to improve their organization’s data capacity.
“It is a really exciting opportunity for folks who might not consider themselves data specialists,” Miller said. “It’s not just designed for data scientists and professionals. It is for anyone who works with data--which is everybody.”
That message rings true for Nick Palumbo, a member of the Savannah City Council since 2019, who took a class Miller taught through the Georgia Municipal Association’s Holtz Leadership Academy. The class covered data literacy and storytelling, and Palumbo noted that he was drawn to the class because it was taught by a non-data scientist.
“It felt so much more accessible knowing that people in ordinary non-data centered jobs could still use the information to improve their organization and make better decisions,” Palumbo explained.
Similar thoughts have been shared in other hub initiatives. In the fall, the Vinson Institute launched a series of data analytics webinars featuring data professionals from all levels of state and local government.
The most recent webinar, "Innovations in Data Analysis and Data Visualization: Business Intelligence Tools," highlighted the various ways governments and public institutions can use business intelligence (BI) software to increase their data capacity. Each webinar has drawn more and more attendees, with over 120 people participating in the most recent webinar.
The 2023 Developing Data Analytics Capabilities Conference will emphasize ways to increase data analytics for all organizations regardless of their current data capacity.
“I think that this conference will be immensely helpful for so many people,” Palumbo said.
Of note is a special session planned for the end of the conference. It will conclude with a live BI tool demonstration in the style of the Great British Bake Off, Miller says. Experts from the Vinson Institute will compete to quickly and effectively develop data visualizations using three different BI tools. In the process, conference participants will be able to see how each software works and how they differ.
“Like the data hub itself, the conference offers something for everybody in terms of technical ability, policy area, etc.,” Miller said. “The hub is a resource for anyone who has an interest in maturing their organization’s data capabilities.”
Photo: Anna Wrigley Miller presents at a National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) event.