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Federal Agencies Adopt Open Data Model to Spur Innovation, Entrepreneurship

November 14, 2013

This week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a wide-ranging roundup of new and ongoing efforts to leverage availability of large, accessible data sets to spur innovation. While many of these efforts were focused on supporting research on the potential of big data, several agency efforts are using the model of open data app competitions to fuel private-sector business creation. One of these efforts, the Department of Energy's American Energy Data Challenge, is capitalizing on successful experiments in big data competitions done at the regional and state level.

The OSTP report, released in conjunction with a "Data to Knowledge to Action" event this week details the investments made in large data set efforts since the White House kicked off its $200 million big data initiative last year. These include ongoing research projects at the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DOE, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Institutes of Health.

While most of the original investments supported in-house or publicly supported research, a majority of the new announcements from OSTP are based on public-private partnerships, cooperative efforts between federal agencies, state governments and municipalities, and private-sector innovations. The roundup of newer efforts includes a collaboration between George Washington University and several D.C.-based organizations to further genomic sequencing initiatives and a New York Mayor's Office project to cross-reference permitting information. Though the shift away from federally driven may simply indicate lack of continued federal willingness to pursue big data efforts, especially in light of the continuing sequester funding levels, it may also be a reflection of where innovation is happening in the field of data analysis. Many of the highlighted efforts focus on putting navigable data in the hands of consumers and collecting input from individual users, a space where private app developers may excel over public agencies. Read the OSTP release...

Several of the newer projects have adopted a model used by cities and states around the country, staging competitions recognizing private app developers who find useful ways to take advantage of data sets collected by government agencies and put browsable data in hands of citizens. This model has been employed by local governments in San Francisco, Portland (see the January 16, 2013 issue), Seattle (see the October 10, 2012 issue) and Washington, D.C.. These competitions leverage the flexibility and consumer focus of private app developers, attract attention to the availability of potentially valuable data sets and help launch new companies.

The DOE American Energy Data Challenge seeks to introduce the public to DOE's open data resources and spur the creation of new tools to access them. The challenge will be a four-part prize competition, with the initial round of submissions due by the end of November. The first contest will award applicants for identifying the DOE open data sets with the greatest potential to benefits U.S. consumers and businesses. Winners will be announced in late December. Future rounds will recognize software applications that make use of that data, suggestions on how to improve the navigation of energy data and ideas on how to restructure the country's energy system based on that information. Read the American Energy Data Challenge announcement...

white house, federal agency, federal labs, entrepreneurship, policy recommendations