This research examines data exchange between city departments and external stakeholders; particularly, why city departments have different capacity to access data from departments in the same city, other public agencies, private and nonprofit organizations. Data access is of theoretical interest because it provides the opportunity to investigate how public organizations and public managers deal with a portfolio of relationships in a loosely structured context characterized by dynamics of power and influence. Moreover, enhancing data access is important for public managers to increase the amount and diversity of information available to design, implement, and support public services and policies.
Drawing from institutionalism, resource dependence theory, and collaboration scholarship, I developed a set of hypotheses that emphasize two dimensions of data access in local governments. First, a vertical dimension which includes institutions, the social environment - particularly power relationships - and coordination mechanisms implemented by managers. This dimension shows how exogenous - not controlled by public managers - and endogenous - controlled by public managers - factors contribute to a public organization’s ability to access resources. Second, a horizontal dimension which considers the characteristics of the actors involved in data exchange and emphasizes the institutional and social context of intra-organizational, intra-sectoral and cross-sectoral data access.
Hypotheses are tested using survey data from a 2016 nationally representative sample of 500 US cities with populations between 25,000 and 250,000. By focusing on small- and medium-sized cities, I contribute to a literature that typically focuses on data sharing in US large cities and federal agencies. Results show that the influence of government agencies and the influence of civil society have opposite effect on data access, whereas government influence limits data access while influence from civil society increases capacity to access data. The effectiveness of coordination mechanisms varies according to the stakeholder type. Public managers rely on informal networks to exchange data with other departments in the city and other governmental agencies while they leverage lateral coordination mechanisms - informal but unplanned - to coordinate data access from nongovernmental organizations. I conclude by discussing the implications for practice and future research.