Data Inventory Guide

This guide is designed to help cities understand what a data inventory is and how to inventory data. It begins by explaining the basic concepts and value of a data inventory. Then, it features insights from city employees who have gone through the inventory process. Finally, it provides links to city resources, guides, and templates of actual data inventories.

What Is a Data Inventory?

A data inventory is a fully described record of the data assets maintained by a city. The inventory records basic information about a data asset including its name, contents, update frequency, use license, owner/maintainer, privacy considerations, data source, and other relevant details. The details about a dataset are known as metadata.

Because cities may have thousands of datasets across multiple servers, databases, and computers, it’s helpful to narrow down which datasets should be included in the inventory overall and how to plan for inventory updates in the future. The datasets worth inventorying are those which are considered assets to employees, departments, executive leadership, and the general public. Data assets can range from individual datasets that are connected to forms that people fill out, to integrated databases that track a city’s operations in any given field (building permits, public safety responses, etc.)

Why Conduct an Inventory?

The first step to treating your city’s data as an asset is to create a comprehensive data inventory with consistent metadata. Knowing what data your city collects leads to efficiency, and increases accountability. It also eases citywide reporting, decision making, and performance optimization.

Managing a data inventory reduces risk and uncertainty by creating a checklist for security and compliance requirements and improves a city’s ability to designate accountability for the quality of the data collected and created. Just as it is important for cities to know what data they have, it’s equally important to know what data a city does not have. With a complete picture, cities can begin to collect and use city data to better align mission goals, increase consistency and confidence in decision making, and build performance intelligence.

Managing a data inventory is crucial to better information sharing and integration and a sustainable comprehensive open data program. Providing a public data inventory will make city employees’ jobs easier when they need information from another department - they will know what exists and how to find it. The same benefits apply to the public regarding its search for city information. Having a complete inventory is also important when determining which datasets to release publicly. It’s not feasible to release all of a city’s public datasets at once, so decisionmakers need a prioritization strategy. The data inventory can be used to prioritize the release of data according to strategic priorities, public interest, etc.

How to Conduct an Inventory

The data inventory process is carried out in the following steps:

Insights from Data Inventorying Efforts

GovEx has helped a variety of city governments work through the inventorying process. When creating this resource, we reached out to many of those city champions and some seasoned veterans to surface best practices, learn about opportunities for improvement, and dive deeper into what worked well. The following is a list of takeaways from those conversations:

Resources from Local Government Data Inventory Efforts

When it comes to inventorying, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. A lot of cities have gone through the inventory process and publicly share their resources. The following list includes data inventory guides, templates, publishing plans, presentations, publicly released inventories, and workflow diagrams for completing inventories from cities across the United States. There are many ways to structure and scope a data inventory; the first step is deciding what works best for your city.

Step 1: Establish an Oversight Authority

Step 2: Determine the Data Inventory Scope and Plan