Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Sunshine Week 2011 and Our Ongoing Commitment to Open Government

    This week is “Sunshine Week.”  Led by the American Society of News Editors and originally funded by the Knight Foundation, Sunshine Week is observed by media organizations around the country. It coincides with National Freedom of Information Day—March 16—selected to fall on James Madison’s birthday.  Journalists, good-government groups, transparency advocates, educators, and many others interested in government transparency host events throughout the week to promote open government and freedom of information. They do so to assess the extent to which government is truly open, and to encourage citizens to seek information from their government and participate in public affairs. 

    Sunshine Week provides an ideal time to recount the Administration’s many open government successes since last March.  And so each day this week, we will identify various ways in which agencies have made our government more open and, in turn, more democratic and more efficient. On Monday, the Department of Justice launched FOIA.gov, and we reviewed some of the substantial progress agencies across the government have made to disclose more and withhold less. We will recount, among other things, how greater transparency has saved government resources, and how technology and openness have been fused in ways that improve the everyday lives of our citizens.  We will also feature the enormous work many agencies have done over the past year to make government more open and foster public participation.  As the examples are too numerous to catalogue here, I encourage you to visit agencies’ own Open Government websites, which feature their recent successes.

    Open government is a commitment, though, not a task. Thus the Administration’s efforts to promote open government are, as they should be, still ongoing. Nor is greater transparency desirable in every case and circumstance. Our government also owes its citizens, among other things, protection of their personal privacy and business confidentiality, effective law enforcement, and a strong national defense.  That understood, the Administration’s commitment to open government, and the great progress it has made so far, are unmistakable.

    Steve Croley is Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy

  • SMArt Prize for Patients, Physicians, and Researchers

    This week a research team at Children’s Hospital of Boston and Harvard Medical School launched a prize to encourage innovative app developers to build new products and services that benefit patients and providers. The prize was created with funding from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT within the Department of Health and Human Services, and constitutes just the latest in a growing number of examples of the Federal government fostering R&D collaboration through open innovation.

    The SMArt Prize competition could speed innovation in any number of areas. Developers might build a medication manager, a health risk detector, a laboratory visualization tool, or an app that integrates, in real time, patient data with external data sources—such as publication data in PubMed, CDC statistics, environmental data, financial data available at http://www.data.gov/health. In doing so, SMArt promises to help patients, doctors, and others realize the full potential of information technology to help transform how we manage health and healthcare.

    The best app developed for the SMArt API by May 31 will win a $5,000 prize, as determined by an all-star panel of judges including:

    • Susannah Fox (Director of Health Research, Pew Internet & American Life Project)
    • Regina Herzlinger (Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School)
    • David C. Kibbe (Chair, ASTM International E31 Technical Committee on Healthcare Informatics; Principal, The Kibbe Group LLC; Senior Advisor, American Academy of Family Physicians)
    • Ben Shneiderman (Professor of Computer Science at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, University of Maryland, College Park)
    • Doug Solomon (Chief Technology Officer, IDEO)
    • Edward Tufte (Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Statistics, and Computer Science, Yale University)
    • Jim Walker (Chief Health Information Officer, Geisinger Health Systems)

    This endeavor is an example of why I share Bryan Roberts’ view that the stage is now set for dramatic jumps in healthcare innovation.  The evolving ecosystem of health IT will be further expanded by modular architectures, open APIs and the applications that can engage them.  This development will dramatically expand the market for health IT by offering applications that can meet any niche and any need - from individual consumers to small practices to large organizations—thereby  making the transformative power of health IT felt more fully and broadly. 

    We look forward to celebrating all those who compete! 

    Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

  • Social Security 101: It’s There For You!

    More than seventy-five years ago, Social Security began with a promise to protect all Americans from a life of poverty in old age.  Since then, the program’s protections have grown to cover other life events, like disability, the loss of a loved one, or severe financial hardship.  Many Americans may think Social Security is only about retirement, but it actually can benefit people well before they retire. 

    Now the Social Security Administration is teaming up with President Obama’s Open Government initiative to help educate Americans about these important benefits. Open Government—built on the principles of transparency and public participation—has been a hallmark of this Administration and continues to engage Americans in a dialogue about their government and what it does on their behalf.  To this end, the Social Security Administration will host a webinar, Social Security 101: What’s In It For Me?  on March 10th at 3pm EST/Noon PST.  Viewers will gain a better understanding of how Social Security provides support through both unexpected and predictable life events. Participants will connect through an interactive, online medium and get answers to questions like, “What’s that FICA tax that comes out of my paycheck?” and “Why do I need to start planningnow for my financial future?”

    The webinar will be geared especially towards college students and young workers—many of whom may not realize what Social Security has to offer—but it will also be an opportunity for people of all ages to learn more about one of this country’s most important programs.

    Watch, learn something new, and join the conversation.  RSVP and view the webinar here.

    Frank Baitman is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the Social Security Administration

    Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

  • Air Force Launches Open Innovation Pavilion

    In partnership with the Wright Brothers Institute, the U.S. Air Force Research Lab this week launched a new Open Innovation Pavilion on InnoCentive, an online innovation marketplace where more than a quarter million of the world’s brightest minds solve tough problems for cash awards.

    The newly launched Pavilion already features more than $100,000 in prizes for novel solutions to four tough challenges facing the U.S. Air Force:

    • The Design and Simulation of an Accurate Shooter-Locator competition challenges innovators to develop a method to detect small arms fire within a fraction of a second and accurately pinpoint its source;
    • The Humanitarian Air Drop challenge seeks novel ways to drop humanitarian supplies into populated areas without danger of falling debris to the people below;
    • The Vehicle Stopper challenge seeks a viable, sustainable, and affordable means of stopping an uncooperative fleeing vehicle without permanent damage to the vehicle or harm to any of its passengers; and
    • The Remote Human Demographic Characterization challenge seeks a system that can determine the approximate age and gender of small groups of people at a distance.

    The Air Force Open Innovation Pavilion is just the latest milestone in the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase the use of prizes and challenges to spur innovation and solve tough problems.  In March 2010, the Office of Management and Budget issued a formal policy framework to guide agency leadership in using prizes to advance their core mission.  In September 2010, the Administration launched Challenge.gov, a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs and citizen solvers can find public-sector prizes. And in January, the President signed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, providing all agencies with broad authority to conduct prize competitions. As a result, in the first six months alone, Challenge.gov has featured more than 70 challenges from more than 25 agencies across the Executive Branch.

    For example, in 2010 NASA piloted a series of science and technical challenges core to its mission in the NASA Innovation Pavilion.  One of the challenges sought a forecasting algorithm to protect America’s astronauts from radiation exposure in space.  Over 500 problem solvers from 53 countries answered NASA’s call.  Expecting no solutions for this long intractable problem, NASA received a solution that exceeded their requirements from a retired radio-frequency engineer in rural New Hampshire.  The winner had never before responded to a government request for proposals, let alone worked with NASA. Yet his winning approach forecast solar proton events with 85 percent accuracy, a result NASA dubbed “outstanding.”

    Who will be the next unexpected solver? To share your expertise and compete for cash prizes visit www.Challenge.gov.

    Robynn Sturm is Advisor for Open Innovation to the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • ExpertNet: Two More Weeks to Weigh In

    On December 8, the White House Open Government Initiative and General Services Administration with the support of OMB requested your input in helping us design a next generation public engagement platform where public officials pose questions to citizens and obtain useful and informed contributions for consideration and action. 

    Because the online consultation has been so informative, we are extending the comment period by two weeks until January 23, 2011 and encourage you to participate and to invite others. Keep in mind you can follow additions and changes to the consultation by going to expertnet.wikispaces.com and clicking on Notify Me.

    In the next two weeks, we hope that you will continue to inform our thinking by helping us clarify proposed processes, provide additional information on similar platforms, or propose new ways of accomplishing the goal for each step.  Together we will work towards creating a next generation citizen engagement platform that enables participatory government in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

    Even during the busy holiday season, the feedback that we’ve seen has been plentiful and helpful.  We hope that an extra two weeks will give everyone who wants the opportunity to give feedback the opportunity to do so. 

    Since we launched the wiki four weeks ago, hundreds of users from over 70 countries have visited the site, engaging in an interesting dialogue on how to improve ExpertNet.  So far, over 500 messages have been posted to the discussion forums. In addition, people have begun to edit our draft description of ExpertNet directly. For example, wiki edits have included “drkarger” adding a reference section at the end of each editable page for the community to contribute resource examples that relate to that process step. Here’s an example of references contributed for the final step in the process.  “TimHuegerich” added links to clarify and provide examples of lesser known topics on the Background and Principles wiki page, among other edits, and “kfogel” updated the government feedback section suggesting that a final step be added to close the loop. 

    There’s even a wiki page where you can suggest an alternative name to ExpertNet.  More than a dozen names have been contributed, including AmericaKnows.gov, SynergyNet, OpenGovWiki, CitizensNet, WiththePeople, and UnitedNet.  One commenter even suggested using an online poll to decide which name the public likes the best.  In the spirit of true collaboration, one commenter even set up a forum to allow the public to discuss their favorite name. 

    We hope to foster innovation by asking for feedback on the ExpertNet design concept in a new way and hope you will continue to share your best thinking about the future of citizen engagement through January 23, 2011. If you prefer not to access the wiki, you can email your comments to us at expertnet@ostp.gov.

    David McClure is Associate Administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the U.S. General Services Administration

  • ExpertNet Wiki: An Update

    Earlier this month, the White House Open Government Initiative and General Services Administration requested your input in helping us to design an effective public engagement tool that will make it simple for public officials to pose questions that you can share your expertise in ways that are timely, relevant and informative for policymaking.  Here's a detailed description (what technologists call a "use case") of the online process in hopes of getting specific suggestions in response:

    First, public officials use ExpertNet to pose questions to the public about any topic we're working on -- from creating new jobs to preventing homelessness among Veterans or developing next-gen transportation systems. A simple, online "wizard" will help them make their questions clear. There's an active discussion on the ExpertNet wiki about how to design constraints into questions to improve the quality of responses. One user, GovLoop, writes  "it is really hard to write great questions. In survey research, a lot of time and effort is spent on the question formation." Another user, AngieChock, points to the Delphi Approach of posing questions to encourage an interchange of views. Check out "Defining the Topic and Asking Questions" for more.  

    Second, we want to make sure that the questions reach people with the greatest expertise or enthusiasm for a topic.  We imagine distributing questions to professional, online communities; user MDickey1 suggests simply using RSS feeds. Mixtmedia, another wiki user, also adds that better distribution of news about public participation opportunities will attract citizens serving their democracy, entrepreneurs wishing to impress government and others with their marketable know how. Check out Distributing Questions to Professional Networks for more about whether to enable people to rate and rank one another's submissions - in the way we now rate movies or books. Check out Facilitating Structured Responses for more.

    Finally, we know that no system will work unless public officials participate actively and explain how the agency uses public's ideas. For example, David Stern1 offers a detailed design  for a feedback template. Check out "Synthesizing Public Input and Returning Feedback" for more.

    What We Want to Hear More Of

    Submissions that have been helpful include those that offer suggestions or solutions to queries or offer a new way of thinking about an aspect of the platform.  We are eager to hear about specific examples of tools that will achieve goals outlined here (or something different and why that's preferable).  We'd like specific examples of people using such practices, what works well, and what doesn't.  We want prototypes, wireframes, and designs.  Our goal is to implement a new system for citizen participation as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

    Expertise Understood Broadly

    We chose "ExpertNet" as the working title (we have a page where you can suggest an alternative) because we believe that everyone has expertise, experience and enthusiasm which, if shared in manageable ways, will help us make smarter decisions together.  We aren't just looking for participation from people with the highest professional qualifications. We want to make sure that everyone who is interested and has something relevant and useful to share has an opportunity to participate. This is a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" and we have the technology to collaborate on solving the major issues that confront us.

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer

    Shelley Metzenbaum is Associate Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for Performance and Personnel Management