Joy Bonaguro Leaves State, Reflects on Time as Chief Data Officer of California

Published On: June 5, 2023

After nearly three and a half years as Chief Data Officer (CDO) for the state of California, Joy Bonaguro has left her role, according to her post on Medium.

Following a nearly five-year stint as CDO for the city and county of San Francisco, Bonaguro spent two years with Corelight, Inc. before taking the position of CDO at the State of California in February 2020, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the beginning of my career I came to believe that the best way to affect change at scale in the public realm was to work on cross-cutting issues like data and technology,” Bonaguro wrote. “My career thesis was that if I improve these areas, I can improve all domains. My interest overlapped with what later became the civic tech movement.”

Bonaguro approaches her career as a bridge between data and technology, though she expressed in her post the critical shortcoming of shared services lies in their lack of funding due to the void of natural constituency, interest, and advocacy groups.

“Shared services in the public sector tend to be founded in compliance and legal requirements and are rarely focused on change. This includes IT, security, HR, and facilities management,” she wrote. “I think this poses a quandary to the field.”

How does Bonaguro go about solving, or pointing her peers in the direction of solving that quandary?

As she mentioned in her 2022 video “Put down your digital hammer,” Bonaguro offers that while the civic tech movement seeks to build or fix its way to a better government, real change can only follow policymaking.

“I’m worried that we continue to make marginal improvements to the implementation of existing and sometimes bad policy. Should we instead focus on advocating for better policies to then implement? Or even beyond that, policies that require little administrative overhead and implementation?”

Policy opens the door for better government, but the work gets done on the ground level, she says.

“Time and again, I see change agents obsess about support from electeds, appointees, and those in the highest positions of power . . . a great deal of change work can happen in the spaces where the civil service is excited and supportive and executives are supportive but not focused.”

Bonaguro posits that change comes about via relationships as much as does from upper-level support.

“I’ve found that funding and mandates can fail quite spectacularly without the right relationships in place or if the effort is led by someone who is not liked or respected . . . build your network and plan for a lot of coffees, lunches, and Zoom meetings. Cultivate skills to rapidly accelerate relationships using strategic disclosure and intimacy.”

Image: govops.ca.gov.

About the Author: Will Keys

Will Keys writes about technology issues for the GovReport. He is a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at will at govreport.org