Maryland will soon begin development of a powerful new system aimed at helping human services agencies tackle critical issues such as child welfare, poverty, unemployment and juvenile justice. Thanks to $195 million in federal funding and state resources, Maryland’s Total Human-services Information Network, or MD THINK, can become a reality. MD THINK has the potential to break down barriers and enable data sharing between state agencies, providing integrated access to programs administered by these agencies.
MD THINK will put the state at the forefront of a government movement to increasingly focus on evidence-based decisions and use data in new and better ways. Government, like the private sector, benefits when it is able to identify relevant data, ensure the quality and reliability of that data, and find ways to use that data to addresses its key business challenges. Government can gain insight and efficiency from better sharing of data and reusing of analytic capabilities.
Too often government IT systems “re-invent the wheel” and spend limited resources duplicating efforts that have already been successfully implemented elsewhere. For example, different systems managing eligibility verification or benefits payments will flag individuals who are known to be deceased. Why have multiple systems repeat the same logic when a comprehensive system can make a deceased verification service available to multiple systems? This is a simple example, but it comes down to having one version of the truth.
We need only look south for a good example of such a system. According to an article in Government Executive Magazine, the North Carolina Government Data Analytics Center mission is “to be the analytics hub for all state agencies and their more than 64,000 employees.” GDAC has led to the collection of more than $1 million in worker compensation fraud penalties and is the backbone for a comprehensive law enforcement and criminal justice system that puts offender data at the fingertips of more than 30,000 officers, judges, sheriffs, etc.
Other GDAC programs that are operational or in development include:
- A health information exchange providing access to clinical information to all Medicaid providers;
- A child welfare analytics project to protect North Carolina children;
- A juvenile justice initiative to reduce recidivism through early intervention;
- A budget transparency site to provide public visibility into where tax dollars are spent.
MD THINK could have those capabilities, and more.
Helping children and families
According to Gov. Larry Hogan’s funding announcement, “Phase one of MD THINK will focus on revolutionizing service delivery for the most vulnerable Marylanders, including children in foster care, disconnected youth, and families in need. For the first time, caseworkers will be provided tablet devices, enabling them to provide services in the field as opposed to having to return to a central location to input data, saving time and resources.”
Imagine trying to make the right decision for a child in protective custody if your information was limited only to what was reported to your department about a single incident. Without additional information about the child’s home environment, health and education, criminal background of adults in the child’s life, and prior referrals, a case worker would be challenged to take informed action.
A comprehensive data system can bring together the relevant data with appropriate privacy and access rules and present it in ways that support critical decisions. With so much at stake for children and families, it is Maryland’s time to harness data and analytics to enhance services, manage costs and improve lives. If done right, MD THINK is the type of bold, innovative project that can get us there in child services and beyond.
John Olszewski, Jr. is a former Maryland legislator who is now a government analytics consultant for SAS State and Local Government – Maryland.