Five innovation projects win governmentwide 'bake-off'

Tuesday - 5/29/2012, 5:29am EDT

Todd Park, federal chief technology officer

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Under the Presidential Innovations Fellows Program, the goal is to bring a start-up mentality to five projects. But what the program is not about is having private sector experts tell the government how to complete the projects and then do it for them.

"It's actually to take amazing innovators from the outside and marry them up with amazing innovators on the inside, a mash-up of citizen innovators and government innovators, to actually in a team get stuff done that is incredibly beneficial for the American people in a rapid time frame," said Todd Park, the federal chief technology officer in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio.

Federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park (Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)

Park and federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel announced the fellows program along with the Digital Management Strategy on Wednesday, May 23.

Under the fellows program, the White House wants to bring in 15 private sector experts, who know data, coding and programming, to work on five specific projects over a six-to-12 month timeframe.

Agencies chose the five projects

Park said agencies chose the five projects for the innovation fellows program, and each have distinct deliverables by January.

"All five ideas were actually not sourced from the outside, but sourced from our own agencies. We actually said, 'Who wants to do one of these projects? Who has a need to do this mash-up of our best innovators with folks with complementary life experiences and expertise?'" Park said. "So these five projects won the bake-off. We actually had a cage match where the agencies brought their project and presented to each other and voted. These are the ones that won the voting. And they specifically said we commit to making these a priority. These are the things that are mission critical for us. We actually have existing funds to make them happen. We want to make them happen in the best possible way. We will put our best innovators on them and we have specific needs for complimentary expertise to mash up with our best people to in a team get this done."

The five projects are:

  • MyGov
  • Open Data Initiatives
  • Blue Button
  • RFP EZ
  • The 20 percent Campaign

Park said with the Open Data initiative, they will launch new efforts around education, safety, energy, non-profit sectors and expanding the current health initiative.

"With each of the new data initiatives, we are convening — we've already have convened an event like this for both the safety and the energy initiatives — an ideation summit where we bring together data owners and innovators from inside the government with innovators from outside the government to actually look at the data that is being made available or could be made available and dream up the amazing things that could be done with the data," he said. "At the end of that session, we are publishing all those ideas what you could actually build with that data for the American public to see. Then we are challenging folks to in 90 days come to a datapalooza and actually show us the prototypes of those ideas and working products."

Park said in 2010 the Department of Health and Human Services did an ideation summit for health data.

"People did amazing things," he said. "At those datapaloozas, two things happened: other innovators see what people have done and get inspired and do more, and data owners inside the government understand in living color the value proposition of making your data machine readable and available because then folks will build services like these on top of these. That encourages more data liberation in machine readable form, which encourages more innovation, which begets more data liberation, which begets more innovation and it becomes a cycle."

MyGov follows U.K. model

Park said he wants to get one of those cycles complete in the next 90 days and then go from there over the next three months.

For MyGov, which aims to consolidate and improve citizen interaction with federal websites, Park said they want to follow in the footsteps of the AlphaGov project by the United Kingdom. In the U.K., a team put out in 90 days an alpha prototype that covered a bunch of needs to obtain concrete feedback on what worked and what didn't.

"We want to get an alpha prototype out there that isn't one ring to rule them all, but actually is a prototype that could actually put flesh on the bones of the idea and teach us a lot about where to go next," he said.

Under RFPEZ, the goal is to create a beta of a process and platform, including a set of test agencies, to figure out how to make it easier for the government to buy innovative technologies from small firms.

Blue Button is expanding the work the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs already have done around electronic health records.

"This is actually scaling it further and that includes the development of an open source patient portal to blue buttonize their data," he said.

The 20 percent campaign is about converting cash payments to mobile in foreign countries receiving monetary aid.

Park said the team will bring together a coalition of agencies and non-government organizations to figure out how to overcome the challenges of mobile payments.

Park said he knows none of these projects will be complete or even be production ready in six months. But if they can get a solid start with private sector help, the short-term effort would make a sufficient dent in the ongoing challenges.

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