Open Government Initiative Blog

  • U.S.-U.K. Digital Government Partnership

    Today, we are building on a long history of innovation and collaboration on digital technologies with the United Kingdom.  The President and Prime Minister Cameron just announced a commitment to strengthen and expand the ongoing digital partnership between our two countries.  Both countries have made real progress in working to improve how our governments use digital services to better serve citizens and businesses, and to build a stronger digital economy.  We will expand our already existing collaborations in these areas as well as continue to support open data and open government initiatives for our own countries as well as for all countries.

    U.S.-U.K. innovation and collaboration on digital technology dates back to WWII, when both countries were in need of extraordinary amounts of mathematical computation capacity.  Teams from both countries did the seminal work that created modern digital computing.  Breakthrough work included the United Kingdom’s Bletchley Park code breakers, the ENIAC ballistics calculation advances in the United States, and many other groundbreaking programs in both countries. 

    The U.S. and U.K. have also been ongoing innovators of open government and open data; from very early releases and collaborations on weather and mapping data to full data portals now hosted at the United Kingdom’s, and in the United States, which host hundreds of thousands of government data sets released to the public.  And for decades, United States and United Kingdom innovators have been at the forefront of including children in learning computer coding – from early work at Dartmouth to MIT Media Lab’s Seymour Papert’s seminal work on Logo in the 1970s and 80s, to the UK’s BBC Micro from Acorn, a computer designed with an emphasis on education created during those same early years.

    Each of us, personally, has our own digital history with the United Kingdom:

    “This shared digital history is personally powerful to me because of my own connection to it: as a young student in England during the 1950's, my father fell in love with these new digital gizmos, learning to "program" them by changing out transistors and watching what would happen next.  He followed this passion to MIT and a graduate degree in electrical engineering ("computer science" hadn't been invented yet). The magic of those machines never left him - he went to work for IBM and then started a technology company headquartered in New York and London that he still runs today.”Office of Management and Budget Director, Shaun Donovan

    “I learned about the deep U.S.-U.K. digital history through many years of joining the Silicon Valley Comes to the U.K. events held in London each November.  This is an annual program to bring together the two country’s tech /entrepreneurship communities --- it was during a session at 10 Downing where I first learned of the U.K.’s Lady Ada Lovelace, who is often referred to as the world’s first programmer.  This started my personal work to uncover the lost history of technical women and minorities.  At another session, Dr. Sue Black first told me about Bletchley Park– the subject of the new film The Imitation Game’ celebrating the work of WWII code breaking heroes including Alan Turing, Joan Clarke, and others.  Our chance meeting kicked off collaboration to help secure that museum’s future and further teamwork with and others on coding skills for youth and adults in both countries.”U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith

    The next stage of the U.S.-U.K. partnership will focus on three core efforts:

    • First, transforming how government delivers digital services to better meet the needs of citizens.
    • Second, continuing to lead on global open government efforts through the Open Government Partnership, which enhances government transparency and public access to government data.
    • And finally, increasing our nation’s technological capabilities by training the next generation of digital experts and expanding the reach of high quality Internet access.

    Both countries have already stepped up their efforts in this area, learning from each other’s best practices. In 2011, the United Kingdom created the Government Digital Service (GDS), a centralized group of digital experts who have vastly improved citizen experiences when using government digital services.  This team has worked to make public services digital by default, simpler, less costly, and faster to use. 

    In the United States, we recently launched the U.S. Digital Service, a small group of highly skilled tech experts who are working with agencies to improve their citizen-facing digital services and hire their own embedded team of highly skilled digital service leaders.  In addition, GSA, the home of, and many other Federal websites, has built its own digital service team named 18F which is working with more than a dozen agencies to help them deliver on their missions digitally in a design-centric, agile, open, and data-driven way.

    Together, our two countries can continue to be leaders in all of these arenas.  We look forward to further collaboration, which now also includes sharing code through the best-practice of open source.  Next up, Mikey Dickerson, and members of his U.S. Digital Service team, alongside other innovators across the U.S. government, will head to the United Kingdom in coming months to continue the teamwork with the U.K. GDS.  Meanwhile, it has been a pleasure to host the United Kingdom leadership and some of the digital team here in the United States this week.

    Shaun Donovan is the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

    Megan Smith is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.




    Advancing our Nations’ Digital Services and Building Strong Digital Economies


    Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron committed to continuing the decades-long collaboration between our two nations on advancing digital technologies.  This collaboration has already allowed our countries to make significant strides in upgrading government’s technology infrastructure and capacity to deliver services in order to build stronger digital economies.

    As digital technologies reshape the global economy, countries will increasingly depend on the free flow of information and data, a high-quality digital infrastructure, and public servants with the skills to drive innovation and deliver critical services and benefits to citizens.  The United Kingdom and the United States have made a commitment over the last few years to increase the effectiveness of government digital service delivery, open up government data for public use, and increase public access to technology.  Today’s announcement builds on that partnership by:

    • Transforming Government Digital Service Delivery:  Our governments interact every day with citizens and businesses, delivering services aimed at improving lives and strengthening our economies.  Both governments have developed digital service teams who seek to transform the way the government interacts with citizens and businesses.  Through the partnership we are forging, these teams will continue to work together to share best practices and tackle shared challenges.
    • Advancing the Global Effort on Open Government: The United States and United Kingdom jointly founded the global Open Government Partnership, a group of 65 nations who are working to champion the values of open government and spread its benefits around the world.  We will jointly commit to build on the landmark agreement of G8 leaders to an Open Data Charter, promulgated under the UK G8 Presidency in 2013, and further promote these principles in other international forums.
    • Increasing our Nations’ Tech Capability and Promoting the 21st Century Citizen: The United States and United Kingdom are committed to expanding access to high quality internet for all of their citizens. We are also investing in training children and adults to code, a key skill which will allow them to understand the basics of programing which can help address real world problems.

    The rich partnership between our nations on digital technologies dates back to World War II, when both countries were in need of extraordinary amounts of computation capacity.  Together, teams from both countries did the ground-breaking work that created modern digital computing.  In the coming months, we will agree to a Memorandum of Understanding to solidify this exciting opportunity and strengthen and enhance our longstanding partnership to transform the way governments deliver for our citizens.


    Digital Service Delivery

    • The United Kingdom created the Government Digital Service (GDS), a centralized group of digital experts who have vastly improved citizen experiences when using government digital services. This team has worked to make public services digital by default, simpler, less costly, and faster to use.
    • Last year, the United States launched the U.S. Digital Service, in many ways modeled on the GDS. This group is comprised of some of the country’s best and brightest tech talent and has worked with agencies like the Veterans Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the digital experience that American citizens and businesses have with their government. In addition 18F, a new delivery unit within General Services Administration (GSA), is working with more than a dozen agencies to help them deliver on their missions in a design-centric, agile, open, and data-driven way.
    • The United Kingdom developed a comprehensive Digital Strategy which consists of 14 actions to fundamentally redesign digital services. These actions include building common technology platforms and making digital services the default for transactions with the government. This strategy, once fully implemented, will save taxpayers in the United Kingdom £2.7 billion per year. 
    • The United States launched a comprehensive data-driven review of agency Information Technology (IT) portfolios to identify and eliminate duplicative systems and rein in wasteful IT spending. This effort, PortfolioStat, has led to over $2.2 billion in savings over the past three years. In addition to the adoption of new technologies and approaches such as cloud computing and agile development, PortfolioStat has helped agencies save taxpayer dollars and deliver greater value in IT.

    Open Government/Open Data

    • The United States has shown its commitment to open government by implementing an Open Data Policy, ensuring that data released by the government is accessible and useful to all. The Administration has released 138,470 data sets to date, and more are released every day. The United States is continuing to support this effort and identify data sets that will benefit the health care, energy, education, employment, public safety, tourism and agriculture sectors.
    • The United Kingdom has created GOV.UK, a single location on the Internet for citizens to access all government information and services. This single site has replaced over 1,500 websites.
    • Together, the United States and United Kingdom launched the Open Government Partnership in 2011. This global effort has grown to include 65 countries committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.  The United States and United Kingdom are world leaders on opening government data and will continue to expand this work.

    Next Generation: Coding at School, Connectivity and Tech Entrepreneurship

    • Last month, millions of U.S. and British students participated in Computer Science Education Week events that included a coding hour hosted by each leader where President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron tried coding to set examples and to encourage youth to join “Hour of Code” efforts.  To date, more than 40 million people from both countries have participated in this program. 
    • These Computer Science Education Week events are held each year during the second week of December specifically timed to coincide with the birthdays of our two elite computer science pioneers: U.S Rear Admiral Grace Hopper on December 9 and the United Kingdom’s Lady Ada Lovelace on December 10.



  • Designing a Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit for the Federal Government

    In the 2013 Second Open Government National Action Plan, President Obama called on Federal agencies to harness the ingenuity of the public by accelerating and scaling the use of open innovation methods, such as citizen science and crowdsourcing, to help address a wide range of scientific and societal problems.

    Citizen science is a form of open collaboration in which members of the public participate in the scientific process, including identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, and solving problems. Crowdsourcing is a process in which individuals or organizations submit an open call for voluntary contributions from a large group of unknown individuals (“the crowd”) or, in some cases, a bounded group of trusted individuals or experts.

    Citizen science and crowdsourcing are powerful tools that can help Federal agencies:

    • Advance and accelerate scientific research through group discovery and co-creation of knowledge. For instance, engaging the public in data collection can provide information at resolutions that would be difficult for Federal agencies to obtain due to time, geographic, or resource constraints.
    • Increase science literacy and provide students with skills needed to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Volunteers in citizen science or crowdsourcing projects gain hands-on experience doing real science, and take that learning outside of the classroom setting.
    • Improve delivery of government services with significantly lower resource investments.
    • Connect citizens to the missions of Federal agencies by promoting a spirit of open government and volunteerism.

    To enable effective and appropriate use of these new approaches, the Open Government National Action Plan specifically commits the Federal government to “convene an interagency group to develop an Open Innovation Toolkit for Federal agencies that will include best practices, training, policies, and guidance on authorities related to open innovation, including approaches such as incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science.”

    On November 21, 2014, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) kicked off development of the Toolkit with a human-centered design workshop. Human-centered design is a multi-stage process that requires product designers to engage with different stakeholders in creating, iteratively testing, and refining their product designs. The workshop was planned and executed in partnership with the Office of Personnel Management’s human-centered design practice known as “The Lab” and the Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (FCPCCS), a growing network of more than 100 employees from more than 20 Federal agencies.

  • Help Shape Public Participation

    Public participation — where citizens help shape and implement government programs — is a foundation of open, transparent, and engaging government services. From emergency management and regulatory development to science and education, better and more meaningful engagement with those who use public services can measurably improve government for everyone.

    A team across the government is now working side-by-side with civil society organizations to deliver the first U.S. Public Participation Playbook, dedicated to providing best practices for how agencies can better design public participation programs, and suggested performance metrics for evaluating their effectiveness.

    Developing a U.S. Public Participation Playbook has been an open government priority, and was included in both the first and second U.S. Open Government National Action Plans as part of the United States effort to increase public integrity in government programs. This resource reflects the commitment of the government and civic partners to measurably improve participation programs, and is designed using the same inclusive principles that it champions.

    More than 30 Federal leaders from across diverse missions in public service have collaborated on draft best practices, or “plays,” lead by the General Services Administration’s inter-agency SocialGov Community. The playbook is not limited to digital participation, and is designed to address needs from the full spectrum of public participation programs.

    The plays are structured to provide best practices, tangible examples, and suggested performance metrics for government activities that already exist or are under development. Some categories included in the plays include encouraging community development and outreach, empowering participants through public/private partnerships, using data to drive decisions, and designing for inclusiveness and accessibility.

    In developing this new resource, the team has been reaching out to more than a dozen civil society organizations and stakeholders, asking them to contribute as the Playbook is created. The team would like your input as well! Over the next month, contribute your ideas to the playbook using Madison, an easy-to-use, open source platform that allows for accountable review of each contribution. 

    Through this process, the team will work together to ensure that the Playbook reflects the best ideas and examples for agencies to use in developing and implementing their programs with public participation in mind. This resource will be a living document, and stakeholders from inside or outside of government should continually offer new insights — whether new plays, the latest case studies, or the most current performance metrics — to the playbook.

    We look forward to seeing the public participate in the creation and evolution of the Public Participation Playbook!

    Corinna Zarek is the Senior Advisor for Open Government for the U.S. CTO.

    Justin Herman is the SocialGov lead for the General Services Administration and is managing the U.S. Public Participation Playbook project.

  • Using Citizen Engagement to Solve National Problems

    The government is working together with the public to solve national problems, and achieving amazing things across the country. This year, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is introducing the first Open Government Awards to recognize efforts by 64 member-nations, including the United States, utilizing citizen participation to improve government policies and to better serve their nations.

    Government efforts are empowering Americans around the nation to contribute to public services in a variety of ways. Citizen researchers are enabling environmental scientists to track how trees adapt to climate change by monitoring when trees get their leaves in the spring, and when they change color in the fall. Citizen scientists have created platforms to collect and aggregate data on disease outbreaks and landslide tracking information, which provide warnings about diseases-spreading environments and landslide triggers. Web users are creating faster Internet services across the country by providing speed test data of their broadband performance. Citizen archivists” have increased the accessibility of American history by transcribing more than 132 million names from the original handwriting for the 1940 Census project.

    These efforts are just a sampling of how the U.S. Government is using incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science to advance national priorities, collaborating with civil societies including companies, universities, foundations, non-profits, and the public. From the beginning of his Administration, President Obama emphasized the importance of more inclusive and open government, directing Federal agencies to “find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans.”

  • OSTP’s Own Open Government Plan

    The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) today released its 2014 Open Government Plan. The OSTP plan highlights three flagship efforts as well as the team’s ongoing work to embed the open government principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration into its activities.

    OSTP advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The work of the office includes policy efforts encompassing science, environment, energy, national security, technology, and innovation. This plan builds off of the 2010 and 2012 Open Government Plans, updating progress on past initiatives and adding new subject areas based on 2014 guidance.

    Agencies began releasing biennial Open Government Plans in 2010, with direction from the 2009 Open Government Directive. These plans serve as a roadmap for agency openness efforts, explaining existing practices and announcing new endeavors to be completed over the coming two years. Agencies build these plans in consultation with civil society stakeholders and the general public. Open government is a vital component of the President’s Management Agenda and our overall effort to ensure the government is expanding economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.

    OSTP’s 2014 flagship efforts include:

    • Access to Scientific Collections: OSTP is leading agencies in developing policies that will improve the management of and access to scientific collections that agencies own or support. Scientific collections are assemblies of physical objects that are valuable for research and education—including drilling cores from the ocean floor and glaciers, seeds, space rocks, cells, mineral samples, fossils, and more. Agency policies will help make scientific collections and information about scientific collections more transparent and accessible in the coming years.
    • We the Geeks: We the Geeks Google+ Hangouts feature informal conversations with experts to highlight the future of science, technology, and innovation in the United States. Participants can join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks and asking questions of the presenters throughout the hangout.
    • “All Hands on Deck” on STEM Education: OSTP is helping lead President Obama’s commitment to an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to providing students with skills they need to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In support of this goal, OSTP is bringing together government, industry, non-profits, philanthropy, and others to expand STEM education engagement and awareness through events like the annual White House Science Fair and the upcoming White House Maker Faire.

    OSTP looks forward to implementing the 2014 Open Government Plan over the coming two years to continue building on its strong tradition of transparency, participation, and collaboration—with and for the American people.

    Nick Sinai is the U.S. Deputy CTO and Corinna Zarek is the Senior Advisor for Open Government.

  • White House Hosts Open Data Licensing Jam

    If you’ve ever checked the weather forecast or used a digital map, you’re likely among the millions of people who have benefited from U.S. Open Government data.

    President Obama has made public access and use of U.S. data a priority from the start of his Administration. Open government data allows innovators and entrepreneurs to use government data to build tools and apps to improve our lives — such as having up-to-the-minute weather access. Open data improves accuracy of government information and allows it to be presented in more user-friendly ways.

    U.S. Government works have long belonged to the American public. The Printing Law of 1895 prohibited copyright in government publications. The Bromley Principles, distributed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 1991 set forth “full and open sharing” of global data as “a fundamental objective.”

    Taking open data to the next level, President Obama signed an executive order in May 2013 that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information.  More than one-hundred-thousand government datasets (and growing!) are now posted to the government’s data repository,, supporting businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers.

    Another important step in realizing the promise of open data is making sure that the public knows when it can use this data, with little restriction. Because data maintained by the U.S. Government may sometimes be contributed by a nongovernmental individual or entity, questions arise as to whether the data is truly public. On May 19, the White House OSTP and American University co-hosted the first ever White House Open Data Licensing Jam. Lawyers, policy experts, and developers from agencies, the business sector, and civil society came together to discuss open data licensing issues including terms of service, open licenses, and other policies necessary to build the public’s confidence and ability to use open government data. Government “data” can include not only statistical information, but a wide range of Federal works including educational material and open source software.

    At the Jam, we heard about how the Department of Labor is using an innovative policy approach that requires grantees to apply open licenses to the educational materials they produce for powering employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations including digital training modules, instructional games, 3-D simulations, and professional development materials. Grantees make these materials open and reusable to community colleges under the terms of the $2B Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program

    We also heard about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shares all of its public source code openly, and the benefits the agency has realized, including attracting great technical talent. The Department of Defense shared its Open Source Policy Memorandum that explains how contracting officers should evaluate open source opportunities in the procurement process.

    More examples of what agencies have been doing to address open data licensing questions are now posted to Project Open Data, an online, public repository hosted on GitHub to foster collaboration and promote the continual improvement of the Open Data Policy.

    Following discussion with the community both on Project Open Data and at the Jam, today the White House submitted the first-ever “pull request” proposing improvements to a U.S. government policy document. The pull request—which is a transparent way of submitting changes to an open source project—seeks to clarify use of open licenses. We hope you’ll share your thoughts and help us improve the policy, which you can do right on the pull request site.

    In the coming weeks, policy experts, civil society organizations, and government professionals from the Jam will continue collaborating to address a variety of questions about open licensing. We hope you will join the conversation, including at Project Open Data, and through this dialogue, help advance U.S. Open Government data.

    Colleen V. Chien is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Intellectual Property and Innovation, OSTP

    Corinna Zarek is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Open Government, OSTP

    Haley Van Dyck is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Information Officer, OMB