Opening Up Data to Spur Innovation & Economic Growth

During his July 3rd visit to local tech incubator 1776, President Obama met with RideScout, a start-up that uses open data from the Department of Transportation and local governments to power their smartphone app providing real-time transit updates for consumers, giving users information about local transportation options. Last month, during a tour of TechShop in Pittsburgh, the President talked about the importance of opening up government data to spur economic growth:

“[T]he federal government possesses incredible amounts of data.  And one of the things that we’ve been doing a lot with the high-tech community is thinking about, with proper restrictions to protect privacy and so forth, are there ways for us to generate some of this big data that then ends up being the platform by which we can come up with applications on a smartphone.”

Yesterday, the Department of Commerce released a report analyzing the economic value of government data, and how that data potentially guides trillions of dollars of investments each year. For example, the annual value of weather forecasts is $31.5 billion, an over six times return value from the $5.1 billion expended by the public and private sectors to produce the forecasts. Secretary Pritzker also announced that Commerce intends to hire a Chief Data Officer to organize and market its data resources to the American public and business community.

The President’s Open Data Initiatives aren’t just about opening up and improving government data – they are also focused on engaging with innovators, entrepreneurs, and the general public on the innovative use of the data in products and services to improve everyday lives and grow the economy. To engage existing and prospective users of open government data, showcase their progress, and get constructive feedback, the Administration has been holding a number of data-related events this year, including:

  • An Education Datapalooza to promote innovation in improving college access, affordability, and completion;
  • A Safety Dataplooza to highlight innovators who are empowering Americans to make smarter, safer choices;
  • The launch of the Climate Data Initiative, featuring strong public and private sector commitments to give communities across America the information and tools they need to plan for current and future climate impacts;
  • An Energy Datapalooza to showcase how data and technology are advancing the clean energy economy;
  • The fifth annual Health Datapalooza to display health data in action;
  • A “Jobs Jam” with the Vice President and Secretary Perez to brainstorm technology and to design ideas that help Americans find jobs; and 
  • A We The People Hackathon to beta test the Write API for the White House online petitions platform, whichallows people to sign White House petitions using new technologies and on sites other than, making it even easier to petition the White House.

In the spirit of openness, and as a primer for Federal agencies, local governments, non-profits, and others that may be interested in hosting their own open data events, we have put together an open data engagement starter guide with some tips for hosting hackathons, data jams, and datapaloozas. The guide is published on the White House’s Project Open Data, and we encourage you to participate in open data events and suggest improvements to make our guide better. 


Nick Sinai is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer

Erie Meyer is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer


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