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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.

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

Spotlight: Citizens innovate technology for food resilience in a changing climate

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.

Spotlight: Tech savvy Americans hack new tools for earth day

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. Within one high-energy day, teams of citizens developed three working prototypes that transformed ideas into reality.

The winning team developed an ultraviolet (UV) radiation widget for weather apps. By integrating open data from the Environmental Protection Agency into existing mobile apps, beach-goers are alerted when they are exposed to high amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a major risk factor for most skin cancers.

During another hackathon, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) invited the public to shine a light on crime and violence in Latin America. This challenge attracted more than 100 people to create eight new projects. These projects provide insights by connecting open data in a novel way and using software that continuously updates results in real time through APIs, or Application Program Interfaces.

The winning project externalized perceptions of crime and violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras through powerful data visualizations. Another project mapped trends of crime and violence across the region using tweets that mention key words. Imagine how these analyses can advance policing and prevent injustices.

Here’s how you can get involved!

We both agree that data science is a team sport. Thank you to everyone who has shared their talents and ideas through innovation challenges and hackathons. Your help has been invaluable as we continue combining government expertise with private-sector technological capabilities.

As we have learned, America is home to many technologically creative innovators. Now, we are calling for citizens to get even more involved.

On June 4, we invite you to participate in the National Day of Civic Hacking. Code for America, Secondmuse, and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will provide support to developers, government employees, designers, journalists, data scientists, and citizens for events across the country. Share your ideas for National Day of Civic Hacking using #hackforchange and sign up for an event near you.

There are millions of stories to tell about America. Citizens engaging with public data will allow us to tell those stories and make a real difference in people’s lives.