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Fueling American Entrepreneurship With Open Data

For decades, entrepreneurs have used government data from Global Positioning Systems, weather monitoring stations, and other sources to power their products and services.

For decades, entrepreneurs have used government data from Global Positioning Systems, weather monitoring stations, and other sources to power their products and services. This synergy between freely available Federal data and entrepreneurial innovation has benefited both the American economy and American citizens.

This summer, the Obama Administration took a big step to strengthen this synergy by kicking off the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which pairs top innovators from inside and outside government for intensive, six-month stints to help solve major challenges. Among other activities, the Program is advancing a number of Open Data Initiatives to liberate unprecedented volumes of government data related to energy, education, international development, public safety, and other key areas. The goal of these efforts is to connect the next generation of entrepreneurs and service providers to freely available government data, while rigorously protecting privacy.

Open Data Initiatives and projects already under way include:

The Energy Data Initiative

During the past few months, hundreds of new datasets—and software tools that facilitate access to those datasets, including application programming interfaces, or APIs—have been added to online communities like Energy.Data.Gov and  Dozens of entrepreneurial companies, like First Fuel, Simple Energy, and WattzOn, are already using some of these resources to develop useful tools for consumers, including customized approaches to saving energy and reducing electric bills. Upcoming challenge announcements will call for developers to use this growing array of public datasets to create new products that lower energy costs, improve energy efficiency, and protect the environment. Energy-related data resources already available include:

  • Green Button: An industry-led initiative to provide utility bill and energy consumption data in a standard, machine-readable format.
  • Energy Star: A joint Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)/Department of Energy (DOE) program that helps businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.
  • U.S. Energy Information Administration: A source of energy statistics from the Federal Government.
  • Electricity Rates: A freely available technology that collects utility rate tariff information from across the Nation into one central place.
  • Fuel Economy: A resource that helps users calculate the costs associated with vehicle operation.

The Safety Data Initiative

Over the last four months, the Safety Data Initiative has grown into one of the largest multi-agency data efforts across the Federal Government, with 850 data sets ranging from worker safety tips to consumer product recalls. Among the new safety data resources recently made available are tools that provide real-time information during natural disasters and tips for improving preparedness and emergency response. The latest safety data are available at and can serve as resources in the following challenges:

  • Tie One on For Safety: A challenge from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) that asks for compelling infographics derived from drunk driving data. Winning infographics will be used this fall in MADD’s national media campaign to educate the public on drunk driving;
  • Drought Code Sprint: A call from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use data to help farmers, ranchers, and others gain “one-click” access to information on drought conditions and Federal drought relief;
  • Body Armor Challenge: A challenge from the National Institute of Justice that seeks ways to predict performance changes over time for bullet-resistant vests worn by law enforcement officers;
  • Workplace Safety Challenge: A call from the Department of Labor to use data to educate young workers on safety and health risks in real-life work situations. 

The Education Data Initiative

The Education Data Initiative is working to expand and publicize the availability of open educational data. Soon, for example, developers will be able to give students access to their own educational data—such as test scores and class grades—through the newly developed “MyData Download.” Education data can be found at and app developers may want to check out the following links:

  • MyData Download: If you have an app that stores data such as scores, grades, or usage history, you can make those data easily accessible for your users through the MyData Download.
  • Open Badges: If your app has levels or certifications, you can provide your users with an Open Badge to signify their accomplishments. 
  • The Learning Registry: If your app creates, consumes, lists, or rates learning content, you can share and benefit from the Learning Registry, a federated platform for data about learning content. 
  • IPEDS: For apps related to higher education, the database provides a wealth of college-related data from which to pull. 
  • MyData Import Options: If your app relates to student loans, get your app ready for upcoming MyData import options for student shopping sheets, Federal student loan data, and much more.

There are several other open data initiatives underway.

The U.S. Agency for International Development recently hosted a food security codeathon called “Hacking for Hunger” and is working with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to liberate even more data for international development applications.  The Treasury Department is working to make Federal finance data more easily and widely available. And an array of health-related datasets, challenge competitions, and ideas have been made available through the Health Data Initiative website, under leadership of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Notably, the Blue Button for America team of Presidential Innovation Fellows continues to work with government, private, and public partners to help all Americans easily and securely download their own health information. Most Medicare beneficiaries and Veteran’s can already find their own health data at Blue Button.

To learn more about these projects, or to get involved in Open Data, please visit the Open Data Initiatives homepage, which provides email contacts and information on how to follow us on Twitter.

Aman Bhandari is a Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at OSTP and Raphael Majma is a Presidential Innovation Fellow based at OSTP.