Empowering All Americans Through Open Government

The air was abuzz with excitement as software developers and entrepreneurs converged to demonstrate dozens of new tools they had developed over the last 12 weeks from freely available data on health performance compiled by the DHHS.
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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of addressing the Personal Democracy Forum on President Obama's strategy to engage the American people in their government -- an effort that began on his first full day in office with the signing of the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. This Administration is committed to creating a culture in Washington that, over the long-term, will consider transparency, public participation, and collaboration as core values that define a government that works.

We celebrated our latest installment in this movement on Wednesday, when Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius launched the Community Health Data Initiative. The air was abuzz with excitement as software developers and entrepreneurs converged on the National Academies headquarters in Washington, DC, to demonstrate dozens of new tools they had developed over the last twelve weeks from freely available data on health performance compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. David Van Sickle, for example, demonstrated "Asthmapolis," a data platform to help patients and public health professionals track the geography of asthma attacks by attaching a real-time sensor to an inhaler that records the time and location of its use. Empowered by this information, patients may be able to avoid asthma hotspots and reduce costly hospital visits through prevention. Demonstrating similar entrepreneurial creativity, Sonoma County, California, demonstrated a community dashboard that benchmarks the health of different communities and profiles "promising practices" that have succeeded in improving health performance in such areas as combating obesity. Imagine every county official empowered with such tools to make a difference in the lives of everyday Americans.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Agencies and policy professionals are hard at work implementing the President's Open Government Initiative by making government information freely available online (transparency), issuing direct calls for public engagement (participation), and convening people from across the country to use that information to address and solve everyday problems in new ways (collaboration). Working together, there's no limit to what we can accomplish. Here are a few more examples:

Fostering Accountability

By posting all information about government spending on technology contracts in an easy-to-visualize format, US Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra is empowering citizens to hold their government accountable for how taxpayer dollars are spent. Launched in June 2009, the "IT Dashboard" has spurred greater oversight of IT spending at agencies like the VA, where Secretary Shinseki and CIO Roger Baker ordered the review of all 282 major IT projects, resulting in the stoppage or slowdown of approximately two-thirds of them and the ability to re-allocate $300 million dollars in this fiscal year to address higher priorities such as reducing the disability benefits backlog.

Helping Kids Makes Healthier Eating Choices

The US Department of Agriculture publishes a dataset about nutritional values of common foods. This enabled the First Lady to announce the "Apps for Healthy Kids" competition and challenge the "most creative, talented, and kid-savvy innovators" across the country to build games that use those data to inspire and empower kids to get active and eat healthy." Eight game jams have already taken place across the country to help kids and other developers craft and fine-tune their submissions for this contest, which is offering tens of thousands of dollars in prizes. Nearly two dozen games have already been submitted and many more are slated for completion before the deadline at the end of this month. Perhaps more important, nearly 17,000 people have signed up online to follow the results of the competition. That's nearly 17,000 people, their families and communities responding to a fresh incentive to focus on the national priority of reducing childhood obesity.

Unlocking Innovation and Economic Opportunity

To jumpstart the process of collaboration, NASA has contracted with Innocentive, an "expert networking" community of more than 200,000 professionals with scientific expertise to solve problems. In the online NASA "Innovation Pavilion," the agency is transparent about the problems it is trying to solve and communicates goals to the public through prize-backed challenges. Recently a retired telecom employee in rural New Hampshire won $30,000 by proposing a new, scientific approach to helping forecast solar activity - solving the problem faster than NASA could have by itself and with a novel approach the agency had not considered.

We are just at the beginning of learning how to take advantage of new Internet tools to coordinate this kind of successful collective action. But we are seeing more and more examples of open government applied to the hardest problems that we face. Together, we are creating government that is truly of, for, and by the people. We look forward to your active participation.

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