Open Data Democratizes Innovation


Data is one of our most important national assets. It informs our policy and our national priorities. But as we have seen time and time again, the most effective way to govern is to engage with the public directly.

Thanks to the President’s Executive Order requiring that agencies make data open, we are democratizing access to data. The federal government’s open data site, Data.gov, provides access to nearly 200,000 datasets, making it easy to search, understand, and share government data.

Broadening access to data has already had extraordinary benefits. Open data has empowered citizens to track trends and make informed personal decisions. And increasingly, American citizens are using government data to drive action and solve problems in their communities.

It has also opened new possibilities for the government. With open and available datasets, federal agencies can solicit the public to help solve some of the nation’s most challenging problems. And during the past year, we have seen more and more crowd-sourced solutions to some of the most pressing mission-centric challenges.

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These are technological tools created by the people, for the people.

One way that federal agencies have asked citizens to innovate solutions is through crowdsourcing competitions, which are posted on Challenge.gov. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnered with Microsoft to challenge Americans to develop a more sustainable, competitive and healthy U.S. food system using open data about crop prices, climate patterns and trends in our food supply.

This innovation challenge spurred competitors to create more than 30 free apps and tools for farmers and policy makers. The grand prize winner released FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends, an interactive website that helps farmers to identify the best crops by browsing nearby crops, trends and prices.

Federal agencies also harness the creativity and technical ability of American citizens by hosting hackathons, or collaborative computer programming events. On Earth Day, the General Services Administration (GSA) invited the public to code solutions to environmental challenges.

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