White House plans to lift communities with open data

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The Obama administration Monday unveiled a new open data portal that melds tools from various federal and local government agencies to help communities find ways to improve their residents’ lives.

The Opportunity Project is “grounded in the president’s background as a community organizer,” said Aden van Noppen, a special adviser within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, adding it was a form of “participatory development” based on the principle that “people are experts on their own lives.”

The project, which is hosted by the Census Bureau at opportunity.census.gov, combines data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Agriculture, and other agencies to give communities information on jobs, housing, transportation, schools and other neighborhood amenities.

It was unveiled Monday afternoon at a White House event, where van Noppen and other officials spoke.

The project is “a new way the federal government is collaborating with private sector, local government, nonprofits and others to ensure access to opportunity and to fair housing across the country,” said Census Bureau Director John Thompson.

In his address, Thompson highlighted CitySDK, an open source tool that gives any software developer access to Census Bureau data. CitySDK is “a tool we’re very proud of at Census,” he said.

In addition, eight cities — Baltimore; Detroit; Kansas City, Mo.; New Orleans; New York City; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C. — have collaborated with a number of private companies to create tools that combine crime, transportation and schooling data, and measure it against cost of living in various neighborhoods.

Officials are also using the White House announcement event as a call to action for communities to build upon the tools released Monday. All of the data sets and services have been posted on open source code management platform GitHub.

Coding schools, like General Assembly and the Flatiron School, have also devoted future curricula to data used in the project, including sessions to be held during the upcoming National Day of Civic Hacking in June.

The announcement comes days before President Barack Obama is slated to speak at the 2016 South By Southwest Interactive conference. He’ll be the first president to speak at the event, one of the largest tech gatjer in the country held annually in Austin, Texas.

“One of the things that makes America so strong is our spirit of innovation … the way we’ve always shaped the future through our ideas and discoveries,” Obama said in his weekly address, explaining why he would attend.

“That’s truer than ever today, with the constant stream of new apps and tools and data that are still changing the way we live — from getting a ride to paying our bills to developing smarter ways to combat climate change,” he continued.

“While I’m there, I’m going to ask everyone for ideas and technologies that can help update our government and our democracy to be as modern and dynamic as America itself.”

Federal Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith told the audience of civic enthusiasts, tech entrepreneurs and nonprofit activists that they were part of “a groundswell throughout the country” to use open data to meet civic needs and goals. 

Contact the reporter on this story via email at greg.otto@fedscoop.com, or follow him on Twitter at @gregotto. His OTR and PGP info can be found here. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on

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data analytics, Government IT News, open data, SXSWi, Tech, White House
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