California is facing water challenges driven by climate change, population growth, and delayed investments in green and gray infrastructure. Many actors across local, state, federal, tribal, private, non-profit, and other sectors will need to work together to meet these challenges. Data is an important tool that can create common understanding, produce consistent monitoring, and support adaptive management. While California collects and maintains a great deal of water related data, many of these data sets fall short of their potential to meet California’s needs.
The passage of Assembly Bill 1755 (Dodd, 2016) opened the door for California to transform its water and ecosystem data and information infrastructure, enabling the next generation of water management. Since water data reside in many agencies and entities, and both public and private stakeholders can benefit from these data to inform and coordinate their actions, implementation of AB 1755 must, by nature, be highly collaborative to fulfill its highest potential.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is leading the effort, in collaboration with a variety of state partners (“the Partners") released a progress report in January 2018. The progress report, which included an initial draft Strategic Plan and Preliminary Protocols, describes a vision, principles, goals, strategies, and framework to guide implementation of the bill.
While the Partners are developing the strategy, Redstone Strategy Group ran a parallel process to explore governance and funding structures for the nascent Platform. This work built on the Platform vision articulated by the Partners, and aimed to answer the following questions:
- What are the governance needs associated with implementation of AB 1755?
- What organizational structure(s) would best meet these governance needs?
- How can governance promote a sustainable funding model for AB 1755?
To answer these questions, Redstone interviewed over thirty experts and stakeholders in California and across the country. While we had regular opportunities for input and feedback from the Partners, the report that follows is independent. It reflects the findings and judgments of the authors, and has not been endorsed by California state government. It is our aim, however, that these findings will contribute to the ongoing collaborative process that the state is leading to create the data infrastructure that will allow open and transparent exchange of water data to support decision-making.
This e-publication consists of brief summaries of how: (1) Water data is essential infrastructure, (2) A federated, use-case driven platform is needed, (3) A governance structure should build trust, and (4) Sustainable platform funding is achievable. Detailed accounts of these recommendations, organized first around platform governance and then around platform funding, can be found in a downloadable and printable version of the full report, here.
*Section cover photo via DWR
Data infrastructure is as essential as roads and bridges
Data is raw material for both economic growth and sustainable management of our environment. But unlike raw materials from the past century – oil, steel, minerals – data, particularly public data, becomes more valuable the more widely it is shared.
To realize this value, California must plan, create, and invest in public water data, just as it does in roads, sewer systems, and water treatment plants. These investments will ensure that California has adequate water to meet the competing demands of a growing economy, a growing population, and the environment – a challenge made more difficult by extreme weather in a warming climate.
The return on investment for increased access to public data is significant
Physical infrastructure creates great benefits for the economy; so too does data infrastructure. These benefits are diverse and generate positive returns for State government, citizens, and the environment. In fact, a study by the Open Data Institute found that the economic return on investment in increased access to public data averages 39X in the US.
The economic value of data varies across sectors. Geospatial and environmental data, which include hydrological, environmental quality, and land-use information, tends to generate the highest return and is core to water data infrastructure.
AB 1755 affirms the value of water data infrastructure for California’s future
In passing AB 1755, the state of California embraced the importance of water data infrastructure to a sustainable water future for the state. Indeed, the legislation and governor highlighted open and transparent water data infrastructure as vital to not only water management but also to the state’s interest in ongoing scientific discovery and innovation.
*Photo via DWR
California has adopted a powerful vision for the implementation of AB 1755 as a federated, use-case driven platform for AB 1755. This vision is built on two core ideas: (1) a federated system; that is (2) use-case driven (Figure 1, below).
What does this mean for water data governance?
Governance is the set of systems and processes to coordinate action and decision-making about the structure, content, use, and financing of the water data platform. Adopting a federated, use-case driven system, leads California to a governance structure that realizes the following principles:
- Governance is neutral, but prioritized
To realize its vision of creating an objective, transparent foundation to understand California’s water system, governance of the platform should be independent from any particular, private or special interest. At the same time, the data platform cannot prioritize all data and uses, so must transparently establish agreed shared priorities.
- Governance engages public and private stakeholders
Given the number of stakeholders involved in federated water data governance – including state agencies, Federal agencies, tribes, NGOs and academics, the private sector, and philanthropy – effective and efficient strategies to engage and respond to various stakeholder groups is vital.
- The Platform fosters accountability
Accountability facilitates collaboration and trust. It aligns interests of stakeholders behind shared goals and objectives. It builds confidence in outside funders and participants, and supports continuous improvement towards better meeting the needs of Platform users.
We propose that AB 1755 aims can best be met through an independent Water Data Consortium that is coordinated with the state governing group (figure 2, below). The Consortium would be an independent, not-for profit entity that sits alongside state government. The state governing group would coordinate agency and program activities in support of AB 1755 implementation. The Consortium would manage the other governance functions associated with AB 1755 implementation -- management of the Steering Committee, the Technical Working Group(s), the Use-case Working Groups, and administrative staff.
This structure would maintain the state of California’s authority and responsibility over its data, but facilitate active external participation in Platform governance. As a non-State, and non-regulatory entity to govern the Platform, the Consortium will also help foster trust among data providers who could share data while retaining a level of control.
We propose that the California state government would have significant representation in the Consortium to ensure tight collaboration and smooth translation of consortium recommendations into implementation.
AB 1755 assembles, transforms and organizes an essential element of California’s water infrastructure – its data. While the costs of data infrastructure are but a fraction of physical infrastructure, it does require stable, ongoing funding from the state and others to be successful.
As we think about the mix of funding to water data infrastructure, the physical infrastructure of roads offers a useful analogy. The national highway system provides essential interconnections across the country. State highways connect to that system, and local governments pave the last miles to connect towns and cities to the State and the country. Private entities who own and manage roads do so under regulation to ensure that they mesh with this system and are managed for public good. Just as the costs of roads are shared among local, state, and federal governments and private entities, data infrastructure costs must be shared as well.
The following principles guide a funding structure for AB 1755
- A portfolio approach promotes long-term sustainability of funding. Under a portfolio approach, the State would deliberately structure funding for AB 1755 implementation to draw on multiple sources, and reduce dependency on any one. Funding sources could include a range of State-based funding mechanisms, as well as private and philanthropic funding.
- The State remains a majority stakeholder in governance and in funding. This ensures that the Platform is supportive of state priorities, and that Consortium decisions and recommendations can be effectively implemented by the state. For the California state government to retain this role in Platform governance, however, it must commit to providing meaningful, ongoing financial support to it as well.
- Clear accountability for outcomes encourages participation of non-state partners. Participation is in the form of engagement in the governance, data production and use, and development of the Platform, as well as funding support for the Platform. Timelines to achieve outcomes (i.e., “early wins”) will be an important part of accountability as it will build the confidence of funders and participants that their investments will result in a stronger connection between data and decision-making.
Funding for implementation of AB 1755 can be divided into (1) transition costs to establish the Platform, transform data, interface with and learn from data providers and users, and train staff and other data providers in the new protocols and standards, and (2) the funding required to maintain and evolve the system, once established.
To realize the promise of AB 1755, California will need to maintain sufficient ongoing funding for data collection, publication, and analytics.
California state government, alongside local entities, invest significant funding in the collection and maintenance of data used in water decision-making through state agency budgets. Some of these data sets and standards can be transitioned easily into open data formats while others require substantial staff time to transform and align the data and to create the metadata necessary to inform data users. For AB 1755 to be successful, it is imperative that California maintain this core funding and make modest ongoing increases in coming years to fund the one-time costs of transformation and accelerate the pace of quality control and publication. Under the proposed governance structure, agencies and programs would retain authority and responsibility for setting and managing their data budgets.
AB 1755 introduces costs above and beyond these standing budgets. These costs could be shared between the state of California and external funding, through the Consortium (see table 2 for an overview of the streams of funding to support AB 1755, and coordination of these funding sources under the proposed governance structure). For example, during the transition there will be a need for investment in:
- Inter-departmental needs assessments to identify what data sets are available, and where there may be duplications in data collection that could be streamlined;
- Development of priority use-cases
- Data transformation and curation costs to prepare existing data for open publication on the new Platform;
- Standards and protocol development to enable interoperability on the Platform;
- Support for increased coordination among state entities and with the external stakeholders, including efforts to develop publication notes, and support wider federation of the platform
Once up and running, the Consortium will help support Platform costs above and beyond data collection and maintenance. These costs would include the administration of the Consortium, meeting coordination for the governance groups, and possibly a technical team that could support the state as well as local data providers as they transition to and implement the new system.
Table 2: Management of funding streams to implement AB 1755
Redstone Strategy Group is a leading advisor to private foundations and non-profits worldwide. We help clients identify their highest-return investments, track and learn from results, and continually improve their efforts to solve urgent social problems. Our approach combines substantial experience across all sectors of philanthropy with .deep appreciation of our clients’ knowledge and expertise. This allows us to collaborate effectively with clients as they improve their ability to achieve social good and learn from their results.
The Water Foundation is a nonprofit strategic philanthropy working to fundamentally transform how we manage water in the West. We help funders identify and act on opportunities to better manage water and engage in thoughtful, strategic grantmaking to our nonprofit partners to drive change. We complement these activities with creative coalition building and thoughtful engagement with high-level decision makers.