Introducing Project Open Data

Technology evolves rapidly, and it can be challenging for policy and its implementation to evolve at the same pace.  Last week, President Obama launched the Administration’s new Open Data Policy and Executive Orderaimed at ensuring that data released by the government will be as accessible and useful as possible.  To make sure this tech-focused policy can keep up with the speed of innovation, we created Project Open Data.

Project Open Data is an online, public repository intended to foster collaboration and promote the continual improvement of the Open Data Policy. We wanted to foster a culture change in government where we embrace collaboration and where anyone can help us make open data work better. The project is published on GitHub, an open source platform that allows communities of developers to collaboratively share and enhance code.  The resources and plug-and-play tools in Project Open Data can help accelerate the adoption of open data practices.  For example, one tool instantly converts spreadsheets and databases into APIs for easier consumption by developers.  The idea is that anyone, from Federal agencies to state and local governments to private citizens, can freely use and adapt these open source tools—and that’s exactly what’s happening.

Within the first 24 hours after Project Open Data was published, more than two dozen contributions (or “pull requests” in GitHub speak) were submitted by the public. The submissions included everything from fixing broken links, to providing policy suggestions, to contributing new code and tools. One pull request even included new code that translates geographic data from locked formats into open data that is freely available for use by anyone.

These steps may seem small, but they represent a big shift. Behind these actions is recognition of the simple fact that, as a community, we can do more together than we can alone. Project Open Data leverages the ingenuity of innovators everywhere as partners to help the country realize the full benefit of open data.

We are excited to test this new model of policy refinement and implementation. We invite you to add your own contributions to Project Open Data, and hope you will participate in helping to transform our government for the 21st century.

Here’s how Project Open Data works:

  • Contributing:  Project Open Data is a collaborative, open source project.  Both Federal employees and members of the public are strongly encouraged to improve the project by contributing.  Fortunately, contributing is very easy. Simply click the “Improve this content” button at the top of every page, make your edit, and hit “submit.” Your changes will appear once they are approved. Additional instructions can be found here.
  • Owners: Project Open Data is managed by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). As the Federal CIO and CTO, we both plan to be actively involved in this exciting project and are looking forward to merging many more “pull requests” along the way. Members of our teams will also be involved in maintaining the project.
  • Approving changes:  In GitHub speak, Project Open Data is actually a collection of different little-p “projects” housed in individual repositories, or “repos.” Each individual project repo will be managed as an open source project – i.e., users can make pull requests (suggest changes).  A repo manager will adjudicate the pull requests (accept, modify, or reject) in a public log on a standard release cycle. Changes to relevant policy areas will be reviewed and approved by relevant policy officials.  We will document and carry out these conversations within Project Open Data through issues and comments.
  • Timing: White House owners will have regular “stand ups” to review the pull requests and ensure suggestions are addressed in a reasonable time frame.  Changes that are relatively minor (e.g., typos, minor edits) should be approved fairly quickly, while more substantial changes may take longer to review and approve with necessary White House stakeholders.

Todd Park is the US Chief Technology Officer

Steven VanRoekel is the US Chief Information Officer.

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