On June 10th, I was in Washington DC to take part in great event – a White House Champions of Change event – focused on open innovation. Each week, the White House features a group of Americans who embody the President’s commitment to ‘Innovate, Educate, and Build’.
Sixteen citizen software developers met with White House officials at a “Champions of Change” event designed to showcase the potential of Web apps utilizing data sets made available by federal, state and local agencies.
The developers boasted apps that enable users to find and organize pick-up games at public facilities and that guide citizens through zoning ordinances and direct parents to child-friendly locations, along with numerous app and services. More and videos of each innovator are available at GovTech.com’s website.
At the event, I spoke about open data platforms like Mom Maps and how they give citizens powerful ways to interact with government. Citizens and developers can add value to government data by presenting the data in compelling ways. Giving citizens access to information that they care about results in not only preserving and maintaining the data, but also it making it better. Open data comes alive when citizens contribute to it, either by adding more detail or by making it more timely. Better data leads to more vested interest in the data, which ultimately leads to better care of government resources.
Other presenters at the event included Leigh Budlong of Zonability who is bringing new meaning to real estate zoning and Conor White-Sullivan of Localocracy who blends local democracy with social media with an app that acts as open town meeting where users can get specific information on local initiatives.
The event was described well by Daniel O’Neil of Citipayments – one of the Champions of Change – who has been an advocate for open data for many years and continues to post great ideas on how open data can be used. Eric Reis, of The Lean Startup, also wrote about the event and echoed the excitement that many of us felt about how the White House has embraced open data: “Data.gov was as a minimum viable product… In two years, it has grown from just 47 datasets to over 390,000. The process they used to build it is distinctly different from the old paradigm of slow-moving bureaucrats in league with even-slower-moving contractors.”
At the end of the event, awards were given to the government employees most instrumental in making Open Data a reality: Todd Park of Health and Human Services for making health data more readily accessible, Steve Young of the US Environmental Protection Agency for his work on RadNet, and John Ohad of the Dept of Defence as the leader of Apps award – over 116 apps – which have been downloaded over 75,000 times! It was incredibly encouraging to see the amount of energy and thoughtfulness being put into making our government more open and transparent.
The Challenge: After the event I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with US CTO Aneesh Chopra and Jeremy Weinstein of the National Security Counsel, who suggested that apps like Mom Maps could help parents in transparency-challenged countries to call upon their governments for more information on public facilities. Mr. Chopra asked if Mom Maps users could recommend and help endorse Open Data efforts internationally. These recommendations could then be routed to the Obama administration, which could send them to appropriate officials overseas.
For all Mom Maps users interested in international support – especially those overseas – please send a comment via the White House website letting them know that you want to see more Open Data worldwide. Feel free to use this text:
Dear Aneesh Chopra and Jeremy Weinstein,
Please advocate for Open Data for public places in <your country of choice> so that apps like Mom Maps can make use of it.
Thanks, A citizen for global open data
What’s next for Mom Maps and Open Data?
- Work to improve APIs that access Open Data from leaders like DataSF and Socrata, who build data sets and APIs for municipalities like San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle.
- Work closely with new municipalities to provide broader support for apps across the country.
- Engage international communities on the importance of Open Data and how developers can use the data to improve and foster civic engagement!
I have since had time to reflect on the event and all the things I learned from the participants. It was an incredible experience, not only to speak and be honored as an innovator, but also to see the incredible energy and enthusiasm for innovation in our government and among fellow developers. Aneesh Chopra, the US CTO, is leading the charge with enthusiasm and an understanding that combining government resources with entrepreneurs is a potent mix. My favorite quote came from Vivek Kundra the US Chief Information Officer: “Think big. Start small. Scale fast.”