White House pushes for more progress on open data

Tuesday - 5/13/2014, 9:17am EDT

The White House released a U.S. Open Data Action Plan Friday, outlining 40-plus government data sets to be made public or expanded.

The plan's release comes exactly one year after President Barack Obama signed an executive order to make government data open and machine-readable.

The plan also builds on the international Open Data Charter, which laid out principles and a roadmap to releasing open data. Obama and other G7 leaders signed the charter in June 2013.

"These efforts have helped unlock troves of valuable data — that taxpayers have already paid for — and are making these resources more open and accessible to innovators and the public," Federal Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel and Chief Technology Officer Todd Park wrote in a blog post.

An emphasis on user needs, wants

In the plan released Friday, the White House calls for agencies to prioritize user needs and wants.

Agencies will ask for public feedback — through email or another online platform — to determine which data sets to release first.

"Even when government data assets are technically public and available online, there can still be barriers to using and understanding them," the plan stated.

To help break down those barriers, GSA will regularly conduct usability tests on Data.gov and release the research to other agencies.

Working with Presidential Innovation Fellows

The Round 3 Presidential Innovation Fellows, who are slated to begin this summer, will work on a number of projects that meet the goals of the action plan.

The fellows typically come to government from the private sector to work for 6 months to a year on innovative projects.

"One of the three categories of fellows for Round 3 ... is data innovation," said Jennifer Pahlka, deputy chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a March interview with Federal News Radio. "That is building off two years of successful outcomes with Open Data fellows, who work to make data available, and the MyData Initiatives, like the Green Button, Blue Button and Gold Button Initiative."

Round 3 fellows will work on eight data innovation projects across agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Census Bureau and IRS.

One fellow will enhance work on the Blue Button Initiative, which gives Americans easy access to their personal health data.

Digitized collections

The Smithsonian Institution will expand a project from a previous round of the fellows program.

"One of the things they were able to do was have an amazing hackathon using the release of some of the data from one of the really beautiful collections in the Smithsonian. And people came together and built beautiful apps with this data that allow you to see the collection in gorgeous digital format," Pahlka said.

By December 2014, the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will have digitized collections "publicly available at the highest available resolution for non-commercial, educational use," the plan stated.

VanRoekel and Park said the the digitized collections will be open to software developers who want to make applications and tools based on the images.

The Small Business Administration will revamp the Dynamic Small Business Search to improve accessibility and give more context about the small business contractors in the database.

As part of the OpenFEMA initiative, the Federal Emergency Management Agency releases disaster data to build tools for affected communities.

"We look forward to implementing the U.S. Open Data Action Plan, and to continuing to work with our partner countries in the G7 to take the open data movement global," VanRoekel and Park wrote.

RELATED STORIES:

Data innovation, crowdsourcing on the horizon for Innovation Fellows program

White House says agencies slowly meeting open data milestones

White House mandates open data, releases new tools