Solving problems with data

Marketing companies and retailers know an enormous amount about you. It is no exaggeration to say if you are married, they may have more information than your spouse about what you like and dislike.

That allows people who want to sell you something to target their offerings directly to you.

Now, Ohio officials want to try the same approach to solve some of the problems facing Buckeye State residents and businesses.

In the private sector, companies collect and exchange information based on what you buy, where you travel, what websites you visit and other behaviors.

State and federal governments have a vast amount of information about us, too. It ranges from what we report on tax returns to where our children go to school and how well they do in certain subjects. Educators have used that category of data for years to spot strengths and weaknesses in individual schools, teachers and curricula.

Information stored in Columbus and regional government centers can be used for much more, state officials have come to realize.

The Associated Press put the possibilities this way: “Could missed appointments for government-funded children’s eyeglasses help explain lagging third-grade reading scores in some areas? Has the guardian of an at-risk child begun living with a new partner, increasing the chance of abuse? Are quicker recovery times for government-covered procedures at some hospitals something that should be replicated elsewhere?”

Yes, the state government already has access to information that could be used to address those questions and many more.

But collecting it in one place and using it in a coordinated fashion has not been done very well. State officials plan to change that in a program that could be the most comprehensive in the nation.

It would be understandable if, after reading the above, you began muttering something about Big Brother watching you. State officials pledge that people’s names will be severed from information to be analyzed, to avoid invasions of privacy.

That absolutely needs to be done. Ohioans should not have to worry that their state government knows too much about them.

Remember, however, the private sector already has more information about us than some people believe is appropriate. That is an issue which lawmakers at the state and federal levels may want to consider.

Ohio’s plan offers wonderful, enormous possibilities to find answers to serious challenges such as those in education and health care. Good for state officials for realizing and doing something about that.