Indiana’s Open Data Hub Allows Public to Address State’s Challenges

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where additional mental health treatment capacity is a critical need. The team was asked where they would locate a new healthcare facility if they could only pick one place, and they had an immediate answer: Northeast Indiana.

“That’s the kind of thing that could be leveraged sooner rather than later. It’s amazing that a small group of students spending a handful of hours analyzing data was able to create a spark that gets people excited to solve a really big problem,” Shah says.

The idea of hosting a data challenge came about when the Family and Social Services Administration realized it was sitting on a load of claims data and asked the MPH for help unlocking it. “That’s the beauty of it—we were able to communicate with providers while creating the data challenge in parallel to bring people to the table. We give them the data and let them come up with solutions.”

All 150 data challenge participants were volunteers, he adds. There were a few small prizes offered, but Shah says none of the participants were there for the prizes. “They’re doing it because they’re excited about data and driving outcomes,” he says.

As part of the challenge, the MPH created Indiana’s first open data hub. All of the state’s available datasets are housed there in an open-source format, where they can be downloaded into visualization tools. There’s also an online form where members of the public can request datasets from the MPH.

Indiana’s open data initiative is innovative enough that Shah says other states have been “making lots and lots of inquiries” into how they can start similar programs. “That’s what I love about this job—there’s such a willingness to share best practices,” he says.

Shah says future MPH data challenges will likely revolve around education, workforce training needs, and the opioid crisis, which has hit Indiana particularly hard. There’s also a financial disclosure project underway with the state’s auditor general; early next year, the MPH plans to start rolling out that data separated by state department.

It’s clear, with his passion for data, collaboration, and transparency, that Shah is the right man for such a huge undertaking.

“Making data open allows us to fulfill the mission of being transparent, but I think about outcomes,” he says. “If we can release datasets and get them into the hands of really smart people—you don’t know where the next game-changing solution will come from. That’s a powerful thing, and it doesn’t break any budgets.”

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