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Open Government to Solve Problems: Meet Champions of the Open Innovation Movement

Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, highlights the stories of open innovators tapping into government data, allowing entrepreneurs to develop applications and create jobs to grow the economy.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Leigh Budlong is an accidental technologist. After years of experience struggling to make sense of the myriad of zoning rules associated with commercial real estate, often with real implications for entrepreneurs looking to start a new business, she decided to solve the problem by launching a new service. Her award-winning ZonabilitySF app is fueled by open government data, a valuable (public) resource at the center of a movement directed by the President on his first full day in office and replicated by dozens of Governors, Mayors, and even foreign leaders to make it more accessible.

Waldo Jaquith used his free time to facilitate a more open government. Despite long hours at his day job, Waldo found the time to launch Richmond Sunlight, a volunteer-run site that keeps track of the Virginia legislature, including manually uploading hundreds of hours of CSPAN-inspired video of floor speeches, tagging relevant information on bills and committee votes, and inviting the public to comment on any particular legislation. He solicits feedback, introduces new products and services, and encourages others to participate. In short, he embodies the spirit that drives the Internet economy – “rough consensus, running code.”

Dr. David Van Sickle is an entrepreneur inspired by public service. As a public health researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he explored the root cause problems of asthma, one of the most common chronic diseases accounting for a sizable portion of the nation’s healthcare bill. Like most leaders in his field, he wondered where and when attacks happen. To liberate such data, he founded Asthmapolis and designed a tool that captures exactly that information. After two successful trials demonstrated the power of such data in reducing the incidence of uncontrollable asthma, he is now expanding the model across 2,000 kids in North Carolina – testing the thesis that we can save lives, lower costs, and grow our economy by inventing innovative new products and services. 

Leigh, Waldo and David are part of a growing network of open innovators tapping into (or contributing to) government data that is both “human-friendly” (you can find what you need), and “computer-friendly” so that entrepreneurs can develop applications that both solve big problems and create jobs in an increasingly competitive economy. I’m confident this growing band of app-developing brothers and sisters will help us invent our way to a clean energy economy, achieve a “quantum leap” in learning outcomes, and strengthen America’s manufacturing sector. To support them, I’ve directed technology and innovation leaders across the federal government to learn from these best practices and scale what works.

This week, the Obama Administration is celebrating 18 such open innovators as part of our “Champions of Change” initiative where you can learn each of their stories and, hopefully, draw inspiration for your own business. When will we celebrate your story?

Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer of the United States.