Three Trends on Fostering Innovation through Open Government

Last Sunday, economist Dick Thaler wrote an article in the New York Times highlighting the many ways innovators are using government data to create platforms, applications, and other useful tools that touch the lives of our friends and neighbors. As we celebrate Sunshine Week, we thought we’d reflect on the intersection of our open government initiative and the President’s Strategy for American Innovation.

We are focused on three trends that are fostering government innovation: 

  1. The Rise of a New Information Intermediary Industry: The release of government data has contributed to a new category of products and services designed to make information more relevant and useful to a variety of audiences. Reflecting the market potential, venture capitalists have backed firms like Socrata and Infochimps that repurpose open data sets for developers and others to quickly and easily put them to good use. Think of this industry as competing to provide the “last-mile” of information service to help consumers, companies, and stakeholders keenly interested in effective, efficient government.
  2. The Incorporation of Data in New Products and Services: An emerging trend aligned with the President’s strategy to “out-innovate” our economic competitors is the incorporation of open data into new products and services. We’ve previously written about Brightscope, which has now grown into a multi-million-dollar information business supporting over 30 employees. This past weekend, at the Startup America session at SXSW, noted early-stage investor Vinod Khosla shared the story of his participation in a $42 million investment in Weatherbill, an insurance company helping farmers to adapt to climate change, powered by real-time information freely available through the National Weather Service.
  3. The Extension of Government Platforms: Agencies are increasingly inviting third party developers to extend the value of government websites or to solve specific problems through platforms like Challenge.gov, which as of March 2011 showcased 75 prizes, including the SMART Apps for Health. The Commerce Department, in collaboration with the FCC, recently launched The National Broadband Map to shine light on coverage gaps, including developer tools to extend the value of the platform. An early adopter - the Department of Education - published a “mashup” incorporating school data so communities are empowered to ensure that their children are equipped for the jobs of the future.

These trends reflect great promise for open government as a catalyst for productivity growth. But they also point to a new phenomenon - the rise of citizen developers. At a recent “Transportation Camp” in New York City, concerned citizens met with government transportation leaders to discuss transportation issues at the Federal and local level.  We learned an alarming statistic: almost 3 out of 4 parents improperly install their child safety seat.   Others at the Camp were concerned too, so much so that one member of the audience created a mobile app that now allows parents to find the nearest inspection stationwhere professionals can install their child seatsecurely, improving access to an existing government website.

President Obama is committed to ensuring that the 21st century does not leave the Federal government behind.  We’re  using technology to save money, create a more participatory government, and to make a real different in the lives of all Americans, from informing your family about recalls to finding new and fun ways to get the whole family to eat healthy and stay active.  Stay tuned for more.

Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

Chris Vein is the Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation

Your Federal Tax Receipt