Can you tell us the story of how Data.mil got started?
Aaron: I was fortunate to attend a panel discussion at the Harvard Kennedy School sponsored by former Deputy CTO, Nick Sinai. Listening to Marina Martin and Tim O’Reilly talk about the ideals and power behind open data, I realized many of the barriers to innovation I had encountered within the Department of Defense revolved around limited access to information. Finding and unlocking defense data became a valuable quest. Open data can empower DOD employees to research, understand, and solve their own problems. This became the motivation behind Data.mil. Around that same time, I landed a job just upstairs from the newly created Defense Digital Service (DDS) in the Pentagon.
Mary: I was introduced to Aaron and immediately realized he had a great idea on his hands. The DoD’s open data program needed a jump start. DDS had the expertise and resources to build Data.mil, but I wanted to do it lean. The goal was to get something out there, gather feedback, iterate, improve and ultimately expand. Too many good ideas get bogged down by bureaucratic constraints, real and imagined. With a narrow, targeted scope, I knew we could release a beta MVP within a three months, tops.
What differentiates this project from other open data efforts?
Aaron: From the start, we knew we needed to build more than just another data portal, which typically provide repositories and download links but incite no interest in the data. So the first step was to find military datasets with rich stories that could invite attention — not just post a link. We then needed to provide a place where data scientists, researchers, and visualization experts could start exploring and discussing the data, driving the kind of unexpected but powerful insights and new directions we’ve seen on other successful data initiatives.
How did you build data.mil and how did you invite collaboration?
Mary: DDS and the larger Department of Defense has done a great deal of outreach within the startup and venture capital community. We are always on the look-out for great new software and applications to pilot within the Department. We were lucky enough to partner with two awesome startups in the open data space. Data.