It was once said that “Numbers have life; they're not just symbols on paper.” The Connecticut Data Collaborative is working diligently to breathe life into the state’s data — to advance effective planning and decision-making through the use of open and accessible data.

The results thus far have been encouraging, showcasing the many ways that data can (and should) inform state policy-making and decision-making in the public and private sector. Now, the efforts are intensifying, changing the public data landscape in Connecticut.

The CT Data Collaborative (CTData) is a public-private partnership, established to serve residents, nonprofits, policymakers, and funders in using and sharing data to drive policy, program, and service improvements. CT Data provides public access to thousands of quality-of-life indicators in Connecticut using open source visualization software on ctdata.org, and develops value-added products for raw data sets that integrate and thoughtfully present information in a meaningful and accessible manner.

Some of the projects have made headlines, others have quietly provided opportunities for data to move from a collection of numbers to information that can effectively inform policy decisions. Recent projects include development of a portal for the Secretary of the State that liberated business formation data and enables the public to search business data and see trends, an interactive portal to view aggregated traffic stop data by police department as part of the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, and a tool enabling policymakers to run scenarios for a more equitable approach to reducing municipal aid grants based on research developed by the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

CT Data takes a lead role as a convener and facilitator in bringing key data entities together to advance a common agenda around data development, access, standards, and use; advocates for the value of open data to drive planning, policy, and decision-making; and provides a data portal for the public to access data and learn about work going on across the state. A recent conference was well-attended by individuals from state and local governments, nonprofits, and the private sector; another eagerly anticipated gathering will be held on Dec. 9. In addition, a quarterly series of CT Data Forums are now under way, with the first sessions focused on the data around migration in Connecticut, separating what’s true from what’s not.

The common denominator is an interest in making better use of the data available, and creating new data sets that are easily accessible and user-friendly. That is precisely what CT Data is all about — promoting and facilitating open and accessible data to support the public good.

As a public-private partnership, CT Data is well-positioned to increase communication between the producers and users of data, serving as a data intermediary between these two groups Working closely with the State’s Chief Data Officer to identify high-priority data sets for users, with the user community to identify public data needs, and with organizations to help them better use data.

Data are often collected for service delivery purposes and not necessarily to inform policy, so although we are inundated with data, it is not always as useful as it might be. As an organization outside of the government, we can help formalize that relationship and inform better decision making in the collection and use of data. Additionally — and importantly — CT Data assists data users with obtaining, displaying, interpreting, and using data and helps to address state and community policy issues by convening stakeholders, including data providers and data users, to collect data, analyze it, and publish the results. Along the way, CT Data both promotes and models the use of data standards for privacy, interoperability, data definitions, and quality.

We are about to launch a statewide initiative in partnership with the State’s Chief Data Officer called the CT Data Academy. The goal is to increase data literacy, build data capacity, and enable nonprofits, state and local government, community groups, and organizations to more effectively use data to understand, measure, advocate, and impact lives.

The work of CT Data provides an important service to the citizens of Connecticut by ensuring open access to information that can be displayed in compelling formats with powerful visualization tools, improving the likelihood that the data will be utilized. Data, as we are increasingly realizing, is so much more than numbers.