Freely available data from the US Government is an important national resource, serving as fuel for entrepreneurship, innovation, scientific discovery, and other public benefits. In the 1970s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made weather data widely available. In the 1980s, the Federal Government opened up access to data from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, which were previously for military use only. These two decisions created a big positive effect in the lives of everyday Americans—just ask anyone who has recently viewed a weather report or obtained driving directions on a mobile phone. What’s more, these decisions generated an infrastructure of public data that anyone in the world could tap into, for free, and use to generate new ideas and build new businesses.
Our goal, as Presidential Innovation Fellows working with open data, has been to find, unlock, and promote the next wave of government data—the next GPS—that innovators can use to kickstart entrepreneurship, fuel new tools and apps, and create jobs.
When we joined the government last August, we were assigned to six different agencies, but we came up with three common goals. First, we sought to release government data in open formats that are easy to understand and easy for innovators to use. Second, we encouraged Federal agencies to treat open data as a core deliverable and as a default, not just as a nice thing to do after data have already been collected and analyzed. Third, we worked to highlight and stimulate new uses of these liberated data by private-sector companies, entrepreneurs, and non-profits.
Following in the footsteps of last June’s 1,600-innovator-strong Health Datapalooza, we brought hundreds of leading developers, entrepreneurs, and agency officials into open data events at the White House and elsewhere, including:
- The Energy Datapalooza
- The Education Datapalooza
- The Global Development Data Jam
- The Finance Data Convening and Working Session
These events focused on opening up new government data sets, launching new prizes and challenges to spur innovative use of data, showcasing entrepreneurs who are developing new apps and services fueled by open data, and brainstorming new uses. Here are just a few examples of growing start-ups that use open government data:
- iTriage is a startup that has utilized downloadable information from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the location and characteristics of health care providers to fuel a mobile application that has helped 8 million people find the best local doctors and hospitals that meet their needs—literally saving lives. Founded by an emergency room doctor, iTriage has hired 90 people.
- OPower leverages government data on energy usage, weather, and the energy efficiency of appliances to help customers get personalized advice on how to save on their energy bills. Employing over 200 people, OPower has helped residential customers save more than 1.4 terawatt hours of energy (enough to power all of the homes in a small city for a year) and over $165 million on their energy bills.
- BillGuard leverages the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new credit card complaint database to help find deceptive, erroneous, and fraudulent charges on users’ credit card and debit card bills. BillGuard’s free software alerts consumers whenever a charge on their bill has been reported by others as fraudulent and then assists them in getting their money back. The company has hired 21 people so far.
It’s been an incredible six months. In addition to putting together the datapaloozas and data jams, we worked with the Department of Education to help over 9 million learners gain access to their own academic transcripts with the click of a button. We encouraged the Department of Energy to create an application programing interface (API) for key data instead of designing a custom interface, and in the process saved taxpayers nearly $1 million and gave researchers more efficient access to high-value data. We created and launched the Millennium Challenge Corporation Open Data Catalog to help the Global Development community. We helped Treasury compile and publish a directory of over 50 high-value data sets that software developers can use to help consumers understand and manage their finances. And much more.
We also worked to reimagine the Data.gov experience to make it easier to find incredibly useful data and understand what you could do with it. Alpha.data.gov is one current experiment to shift the perception of how responsive a government platform can be for users, and we think it’s a bold first step. Stay tuned for additional progress! We look forward to the Federal Government adding more high-value information to Data.gov and to continuing our experiments to improve your ability to access and use open government data.
Finally, we want to thank all of you—the users and beneficiaries of open government data!—as well as all our partners within and outside of government. We’re confident the Open Data Initiatives will continue to build an ever-improving, ever more accessible infrastructure of public data that generates economic growth and positively impacts the lives of everyday Americans.
Marina Martin, Ian Kalin, Nat Manning, Dmitry Kachaev, Nicholas Bramble, and Raphael Majma are Presidential Innovation Fellows