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Podcast: Data Collaboration & Responsible Use with Natalie Evans Harris, BrightHive

Posted on August 14, 2020


Natalie Evans Harris GovLove

Natalie Evans Harris

Natalie Evans Harris
Co-Founder & Head of Strategic Initiatives
BrightHive
Bio | LinkedIn | Twitter


Increasing impact through data. Natalie Evans Harris, the Co-Founder and Head of Strategic Initiatives at BrightHive, joined the podcast to talk about using data to improve local government’s response to COVID-19. She shared how BrightHive is partnering with public sector agencies and their recently released Responsible Data Use Playbooks. Natalie also discussed trends she’s seeing in public sector data use.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Learn More

BrightHive Responsible Data Use Playbooks

BrightHive Website

AMA with Natalie Evans Harris: How Can Data Save the World

Natalie Evans Harris Website


Episode Transcript

Kirsten Wyatt

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is GovLove, a podcast about local government. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co-founder and executive director and today I’m joined by Natalie Evans Harris, BrightHive’s Head of Strategic Initiatives. Natalie, welcome to GovLove.

Natalie Evans Harris

Thank you. I ‘m so excited to do this Kirsten. Thank you for having me.

Kirsten Wyatt

Today, we are talking about BrightHive’s new responsible data use playbooks for local government. But first we will get started with a lightning round. Natalie, what is your favorite font?

Natalie Evans Harris

Oh my gosh, so I love Calibri. I think it’s Calibri. It’s like very whimsical and still clear to understand. So I  think that’s the one that I like to keep on my phone and love the most.

Kirsten Wyatt

And I think that that’s Microsoft’s default font. So I feel like you’ve picked one that is, you know, appealing to a lot of people.

Natalie Evans Harris

I just want to make sure everybody can understand me. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

And what is your most controversial nonpolitical opinion?

Natalie Evans Harris

My most controversial nonpolitical opinion? Ooh, that’s a good question. So I would say that I, I believe that, oh, non-political, that’s hard. We might have to come back to that one.

Kirsten Wyatt

Okay, I’ll ask you the third one first, and then we’ll come back.

Natalie Evans Harris

Okay.

Kirsten Wyatt

Okay. What did you, what did you want to be when you grew up when you were 10 years old?

Natalie Evans Harris

So when I was 10 years old, I wanted to be the first African American female supreme court justice. That was my goal. I completely deviated from that goal. But like, that was my plan when I was 10 years old. I was gonna be the first black girl on, on the Supreme Court. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

So, um, you know, you obviously have always dreamed to bed, and when did the derailment happen?

Natalie Evans Harris

Oh, so the derailment happened when I was in college. My first job in college was actually setting up and this is going to age me, setting up the internet fiber for the campus. So I was literally like creating wires and laying wires for us to have internet access across the campus. And that just introduced me to this world of, of like technology and access to information and how with that, that can create a sense of equality. And I said, you know what, whatever job I have next is going to combine technology and policy together. And I’ve been on that track ever since.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, see that’s a good that’s a great answer. I was worried you were gonna say your first job was like in a law office and that made you like hate the legal profession or something, you know, that really like, broke you down. [Laughter]

Natalie Evans Harris

No, I’ve never worked in law at all. And if my experience is coming close to it, it would have actually told me that that is not the right road for me. So I quickly realized that getting there was not going to happen unless you can do it without being a lawyer.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, [laughter] that might be a little tough. All right. We want to revisit your most controversial nonpolitical opinion.

Natalie Evans Harris

My most controversial opinion is that oh, you know what, that oh gosh, so I’m living in this world of like COVID and being a mom and working from home and and immersing all these worlds. And I believe that anybody that tries to tell you that you can balance work and life is a liar. Wholly and completely.

Kirsten Wyatt

Preach. I mean, that is absolutely 100% true. We’ve had a lot of writing about that lately for ELGL. And I’m with you 100%.

Natalie Evans Harris

Yeah, but that’s where my head is right now is that if somebody has that magic sauce for how do you properly balance, work and life, patent it and share it, because I haven’t seen anything that told me how to do it, right.

Kirsten Wyatt

I mean, I think it would involve illegal drugs like taking speed or something, because I mean, it really isn’t possible in a normal 24 hour span.

Natalie Evans Harris

Or wine. Wine is the answer.

Kirsten Wyatt

That is true. That’s true. All right. So I want to learn more about your professional path after you were installing a fiber network as a college student. Where did life take you and what has your career path been?

Natalie Evans Harris

Oh, wow. So I, I have spent, I spent 16 years in the federal government primarily working with the National Security Agency, doing all kinds of fun stuff around making data usable to solve really hard problems. And how do you get people who don’t typically collaborate to collaborate around data. So primarily in the intelligence community was where I worked for the first, probably 13 or 14 years of my career. And then I took it from being fellowship on the Hill because I wanted to, I wanted to do some more of the policy work and touch that law side that I always wanted to be able to do. And I spent a year and a half on the Hill working for Cory Booker as a Tech Policy Fellow with Brookings Institute, and quickly realized that no, I made the right decision focusing on tax and, and writing policies and laws. While it was fun, it did not give me the satisfaction that I was looking for. So then I went to work for the Obama administration. Not as easy as I may be. And found it was a lot of conversation. But I did end up connecting with the US Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith and the US Chief Data Scientist, DJ Patel while I was on the Hill. And they offered me the opportunity to work for the administration, as a senior policy advisor, leading out on building federal government capacity to use data responsibly and effectively towards mission. And I jumped on it quite honestly, if they had asked me to sweep the floors, I would have said yes, because it was the Obama administration. So I did that for about a year and a half, set up a data cabinet, did workforce data initiative, really all of it centered around bringing people together to identify best practices and using data responsibly, and how do we unlock the power of workforce data, primarily with the focus on how do we identify the skills and the training necessary to get jobs. How do we build that bridge and make those connections better for individuals and local communities so that they know that if they spent their dollar on getting training and developing a set of skills, then they have a better chance of getting a job, and making their money back and getting a living wage. I did that till the end of the Obama administration, said that I wanted to try something different from working in government, and co-founded BrightHive with Matt Gee, Tom Plagge and Andrew. And that’s where I am now where I’m Head of Strategic Initiatives, and really focused on bringing together smart people and organizations really, really focused on how do we convene and build the power of the collective to make a difference with data and skills and all of the things and I love it, and I’m having a ball. And I don’t know what I could do different. Other than make a million dollars, everything in my path has not involved anyone offering me a million dollars.

Kirsten Wyatt

[Laughter] Well, maybe after, maybe after GovLove that will happen. Maybe…..

Natalie Evans Harris

Maybe. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

And to our listeners, go out to LinkedIn and connect with Natalie. She has one of the best, most descriptive descriptor lines on her LinkedIn account. She says I just want to see data used to transform lives. Tell us more about that. Where does that where does that passion come from? Where does that interest come from?

Natalie Evans Harris

So I’m a I’m a daughter of immigrants from Jamaica, who lived and grew up in Bronx, New York, and Dover, Delaware and all these places. And the one thing that has been consistent in my experience is that people around me that have needed support the most from social services haven’t been able to get it for reasons that I never understood. So I knew early on that whatever I did, it was going to be to fix that problem. And so when I was 10, I figured fixing that problem would be going to the Supreme Court. What I learned throughout my life, and throughout my career was, was that my best avenue for for building that was actually making it more accessible and easier and better for government to actually use data to make decisions around where money should go and where attention should go and where improvements should go. So I’ve spent my career modernizing government for that purpose of how do you use data and technology to improve our social service delivery, therefore improving the lives of people. … goal is that like having a conversation around data, is it just for people who have degrees in technology and data science, but like being able to have that conversation with my mom, or your mom or anybody, and just like data, which has become such a norm in our lives and defines who we are as people, everybody actually understanding what that means and the implications of it and being able to make decisions responsibly around it.

Kirsten Wyatt

So let’s talk about the Responsible Data Use Playbooks that you and BrightHive have made available. Tell us more about these playbooks and how a GovLove listener working in local government might find them useful.

Natalie Evans Harris

Sure, so what we were finding, especially with the, with COVID coming on, government shutting down, what we were finding was that government leaders and folks in all kinds of sectors were having to make decisions on how to use data rapidly, well responsibly and rapidly to get data and information to organizations, typically outside of government that would then support the needs of individuals. So for instance, when you think about the unemployment, and how will people find jobs, once things open up, government has all of this administrative data, but they were struggling with how do they make this data available to nonprofits and organizations that could match these people with jobs. And so we were getting these requests and trying to figure out well, how do we support them and support them rapidly? And so I posited after writing this guidebook through Beeck Center in January, I posited that why don’t we create a series of plays that help make these decisions easier. And so that’s what we did as a company working closely with others in the field. So for the for our workforce playbook, we worked really closely with Allie Bell, who, who is with ….., which is focused on eating out on the data for the American Dream cohort, and is also an expert in this space. And Michelle Weise who comes from a foundation background and is an expert in just understanding the needs of workforce and workforce development and data and creating a playbook on how do you make your data available for job seekers matching. And then we wanted to really do something around contact tracing. We were getting asked around, how do you make data available to contract tracing apps and as a responsible data person coming from the background I have, I was really leery and I said, listen, if we’re going to do this, let’s talk about how to do this responsibly. So we created a playbook with Future of Privacy Forum that really lays out what are the, what are the components of making this decision around sharing data, sharing administrative data, encouraging citizens and individuals and communities to share data around their health and not be and not doing it in a way that they’re fearful of what could happen with that data once it’s been shared. That’s the intention, right? The intention is that a local government leader can pick it up, review the plays, and if they know the challenge that they’re seeking to overcome, one of these plays can help. If they don’t even know where to start, read this playbook. It’ll help you address some of the key pain points, and how to maneuver through them in your own unique way.

Kirsten Wyatt

And so, you’ll have a playbook for digital contract, contact tracing, a playbook for job seeker tools, any other playbooks on the horizon? Is this something that you’re working on and developing as rapidly as you know, COVID is developing? Anything that you might want to preview or share with us at this point?

Natalie Evans Harris

I don’t think anything could happen as rapidly as COVID is happening.

Kirsten Wyatt

[Laughter] That’s true.

Natalie Evans Harris

Quite honestly, but we are starting to look at additional playbooks, in particular to support Chief Data Officers at the state level, and in particular working with Tyler Kleykamp, state CDO network. How do we create a set of plays that helps CDOs navigate the legal, technical and policy challenges with making data accessible? And so we’ve been working really closely with them on identifying what those pain points are. And then what are the series of plays that will help them to be able to respond responsibly and rapidly to doing this? And so we I’m excited, because this is a playbook that we’re going to do as a true community wide playbook. And that’s something we’ve stressed is that this is BrightHive kind of leading it, so these are not BrightHive playbooks. These are really about answering questions that the community is struggling with, and using community resources and experience to provide actions and answers to the people that need them the most and look at it.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and our listeners will remember that back in February back pre COVID, which seems like years ago, Tyler was a guest on GovLove talking about the role of state Chief Data Officers and the network that he’s creating working on. So I definitely think that, you know, that work is important. And then again, for our listeners who are working at the local government level, on data driven decision making, obviously, these tools are a huge help and a huge resource. Umm so tell me more. Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

Natalie Evans Harris

Oh, no, I was just gonna say that that’s exactly right. And we’re living in a time now, right, that, that it’s not just a matter of how do I get my data out there. So open data was all about get your data and get it out there. But it was really about how do I how do i do public private partnerships? How do I work with other agencies where typically I can’t, but I have to now to really meet the needs of my community. And that’s hard. That’s hard with the policy structures that we have set up overseeing counties like Santa Clara, really try to navigate this and figure this out, and states like Virginia and Colorado really try to work this out. And so it’s exciting to see this all happen, because it’s the right thing. But it’s hard. And so we just want to make sure we provide resources that help navigate this a little bit better.

Kirsten Wyatt

And for listeners who may be unfamiliar or not as up to speed, what are some of those considerations, you know, with designing a framework for a data collaboration that is so essential or so important for the public agency to consider and why they should use these playbooks?

Natalie Evans Harris

Oh, good question. I feel like, I feel like we take for granted the importance of people. So one of the most important things when you’re, when you’re building these collaborative is, is making sure that there’s a level of trust with the different organizations that are involved, and that there’s a shared and aligned incentive and purpose for doing this work. So often when you try to get people to work together it falls apart because the incentives aren’t aligned. So when you look through the playbook, it actually gives you some suggestions on how do you bring people to the table and get those incentives aligned in a way where you can work towards a common purpose. And then some of the plays really highlight, here are the things that you, here are the questions that you need to think about, as you consider the privacy and security implications. How do you make sure that the data is encrypted the proper way? How do you make sure that you’re aligning with the different privacy laws, whether it be GDPR your local and state privacy regulations, I’ve left this if we ever get something national, right, there’s a lot of questions around, how do you make sure, and also, how do you talk to your lawyer and show them that this isn’t, this is something that can be done and other states have been doing it. So that’s really what this playbook is about. It’s almost like how do you talk to the lawyer? How do you get leadership buy in? These are the questions. How do you make sure that you’re doing this and can be transparent in the way that you’re doing it so that not only are you collecting, especially for context tracing, you highlight this is how we’re protecting your data now, but then also, this is what we’re doing post to make sure that your data isn’t just sitting around and being exposed. This is how we deprecate your data at the end. That is what this playbook really wants to make sure that you consider, is not just what’s happening today, but what do you need to make sure your prophecies align for in the future.

Kirsten Wyatt

And what strikes me about these two particular playbooks is that they’re dealing with some very, just some very important and personal issues right now, obviously with public health, you know, with the contact tracing and then and just with a sense of self worth, and, you know, contribution, you know, with the job seeker tools. I mean, these are highly personal processes that local government is trying to help or benefit or run. And so all the more reason why a responsible data use policy is so important. You know, anything else that has kind of gone into creating these playbooks that’s taking into account how very human these data challenges are?

Natalie Evans Harris

It’s an interesting question. So we try to take, each of the plays are taken from a human lens. And then human lens is from the perspective of recognizing that collaborative are not just about the data leader, or not just about the data leaders that has to make decisions and get this through, but it’s also the leaders that have to get by that they have to get buy in from. So your governor and your mayors that have to say, okay, I’m willing to allow this to happen, aligned with my priority, aligned with my administration priority. It’s also your IT people, right. So we often forget that above lawyers and legal and your leadership and the data people, your IT people are the ones that have to keep this boat rowing. They’re the ones that have to make sure that the data is flowing, that the security is in place and the privacy is there. And this playbook also provides some guidance on the things that they should consider as well. And whether they should say yes or no to this or what it looks like to implement and adopt it. We don’t tell you which encryption methodology you should apply because that’s really dependent on your situation. But we also question, here are the things that you should answer and be comfortable with before you say yes to that, to that developer that wants to provide the solution to you.

Kirsten Wyatt

Thinking more generally, about data driven decision-making in government, umm what are some trends that you’re seeing either COVID related or just generally speaking, about how local governments are approaching the use of data in their organizations?

Natalie Evans Harris

That’s a good question. I think I’m gonna answer it in two ways – I’m going to answer what I’m seeing. But I’m also gonna, I’d love to be able to talk about like, what I would love to see more. I am, I am seeing, I am seeing a lot more conversations around how, I’m seeing a lot more conversation around how can the administrative data we have, connect with other agency data to understand how utilized as a social service is. So like I’m seeing a lot of conversations around how can the Department of Education work with the Department of Health to better understand or, or yeah, like the or the Department of Housing to better understand people that are using multiple services, in a locality. So why isn’t, why is a student not going to school? Could be because they’re homeless. And you have to be able to connect those data points in order to better understand the story of the individual. So I’m excited to see this cross agency collaboration happening more, and we’re seeing that more and more of agencies more willing to have those conversations and figure that out. I would love to see that happen more with criminal justice data. That’s hard. But I think that that’s important to figure out how do we collaborate responsibly around criminal justice data in a way that doesn’t make individuals and communities really worried about the implications of that, and the inequity, and the potential bias that comes with those types of collaboration. I think those conversations need to be had. I’m also excited that I’m starting to see more agencies at the local level, trying to figure out how to improve data collection with non government entities. So when we think about things like we owe our reporting, and how governments when they issue we owe a grants, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grants, to training providers, and hopes, you know, with the goal of helping individuals get training that leads to jobs. The way that process of data collection was happening was incredibly manual. And the data was almost old, well the data was old and outdated, and the typical ways that agencies were doing it. I’m excited that we’re starting to talk about how do we make that process better? How do we we automate it? And how do we do it in a way where that data is used not just for reporting, but also to inform our own policies and priorities? So how do we make it collaborative that allows for training providers and government to work together to improve economic opportunities for individuals? That’s exciting for me. And I think public private collaboration are really the way of the future. Like government can’t do it by itself. And we have to figure out how to make administrative data more accessible to people outside of government.

Kirsten Wyatt

You know, a huge reason why we formed ELGL was to break down silos in government and let people learn from one another and not worry about job title or job function. And over the years, I’ve become I’ve become, I’ve become determined that the, the reason that that will actually truly happen like in government institutions is because of data officers, that you will be the ones who just say enough, like we’re going to stop, you know, existing in these silos and not talking to one another and not sharing our datasets and not figuring out, you know, how, you know, the information we have, you know, affects another department. And it really seems like larger agencies are making a lot of progress on that front. Are you seeing trends in like smaller mid size governments, you know, where they’re making that happen? Or is this still largely confined to organizations that, that have the resources or have the staffing, you know, for like a Chief Data Officer position?

Natalie Evans Harris

It’s interesting. I’m seeing an interest at the smaller to midsize government level and the smaller to mid size governments that are lucky enough to have funding from foundations or nonprofits are excited to do this, to do this type of work, and they’re ready to do it and there, they actually have a higher chance of success in making these things work. But it requires those resources. It requires funding and people to make that happen. And doing that at the, the larger government level is a lot easier than it is at the local, the small, the smaller government. So, my best answer for that is I’m seeing interest at all levels and sizes of government. And when we typically have a foundation or funder that’s interested in doing this work, we try to connect with smaller local governments that need funding to be successful and participate in these types of innovation. And we bring them into the fold. But it definitely requires the support of foundations and funders, to make it happen on that level.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and coming up in this, in this next, you know, six to nine months, you know, we’ll be sharing some more information about some programming that ELGL and BrightHive will be doing together around providing some more training and capacity and an ability for small to midsize local governments to get better and to harness their data capacity. And so that’s something that we’re really looking forward to being able to share with our members into the future. And then, kind of last question here. Are there any areas where if you could kind of if you could give our listeners or give local governments kind of a challenge or call to action on something that they should be doing or they should be doing better right now, what might that be? And it can either be related to COVID or just in general about, about how local government can maybe be better stewards or more responsible with their datasets, or maybe even more effective in using them?

Natalie Evans Harris

This is a really good question. I think the, the biggest piece of advice I can offer is, don’t be afraid of No. Like, no is usually the people around you don’t understand why yes is the right answer. And, and I feel like if the information is out there, if the resources are out there, and they and people that want to see these innovations and business data and data used in these ways, have what they need to have those conversations and to get that buy in, then innovation happen. It usually ends because somebody says no, and the person who hears the no moves on or is afraid of that no one doesn’t even try. Don’t be afraid of no. And don’t be afraid to not know and ask the question. I think is the biggest thing like the value of, of your organization and BrightHive and all of these other organizations outside of the government is that we’re always willing to have a coffee. We’re always willing to hop on Zoom, and answer questions that will help you in your government setting to move something forward. And if you need help finding funding, all you got to do is talk to people. Somebody can help you find it. Matt Gee, who’s the CEO of our company is amazing at it. Like it’s one of those things where oftentimes things don’t happen because people don’t ask. And I think the biggest, the biggest piece of advice I could give is, if you believe in in your heart, and if you know it, because you see it, talk, talk, talk about it, and ask questions and reach outside of your circle and get information that you need in order to make it happen and don’t let it go.

Kirsten Wyatt

I love it and what a what a great way to wrap up a good conversation today. But I do have one last question. Maybe your answer will be as inspirational as that last answer, but we’ll see. All right. So if you could be the GovLove DJ, what song would you pick as the exit music for this episode?

Natalie Evans Harris

Oh my goodness. Okay. Um, so oh my gosh, what? So I’ll be, I’m going to tell, I’m going to give you, so Oh gosh, I have so many answers. So when I, so when I worked on the Hill under Booker, we talked about like, what’s the song you hear in your head before you go out to speak to other people. And there’s this song and I’m a hip hop person. And there’s this song called Dreams and Nightmares by Meek Mill. That is a song that I hear in my head because it amps me up. Because if you listen to the words, it talks about, life is hard. But it’s, but it’s but it can be better if you just work at it. And like I love that and then also just like Beyonce who runs the world. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

Right. But it’s great.

Natalie Evans Harris

Yeah. I just love songs that are just like, you know life is hard, but you know what, we can make it better. Let’s just do that.

Kirsten Wyatt

You know at ELGL we call that our public meeting pump-up song. So, and it’s the same concept. What song gets you pumped up before a big public hearing. So those are two great additions. We’ll close out today’s episode with one of those. And I want to thank you for coming on and talking with us today.

Natalie Evans Harris

Thank you so much. This was a lot of fun Kirsten.

Kirsten Wyatt

I want to thank BrightHive for all of their support of ELGL. Jason Jones, a longtime ELGL member is going to be helping us out on City Hall Selfie Day on August 14. He’ll be helping us compile the thousands and thousands of City Hall selfies that are submitted on that day to show pride in local government. So huge thanks to BrightHive and also to Jason. We want to remind our listeners that our conference is coming up in October of this year. We’re spreading the conference over the full month of October, so you don’t get Zoom burnout. You can pick and choose the sessions you want to attend. And we’re calling it Local Gov Oktoberfest because we are celebrating Local Gov innovation and creativity and local governments. So you can sign up at elgl.org for the sessions of your choice for Local Gov Oktoberfest. Again, for our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove, or on Twitter at GovLove podcast. And a reminder that if you have a story idea for GovLove, we want to hear it. Today’s episode came from a recommendation from Jason and so we made it happen. So if you have a story that you want to hear about on GovLove, let us know. You can email us at [email protected] or just send us a message on Twitter. Thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.


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