But the U.S. Census Bureau, one of the major data generators of the federal government, has already been working for approximately three years to encourage the public, private industry and researchers to join in on sprints to solve major problems in the United States using government data.
The Opportunity Project, launched in 2016, hosted a demo day March 1 to showcase the new projects that had resulted from the past year’s sprints, including solutions to address the opioid crisis, natural disaster recovery and improving veteran employment.
“The Opportunity Project is an important example of how the Census Bureau, government agencies and outside groups are working together closely and productively to make data more accessible and useful,” said Steven Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau.
Problems like the opioid crisis have been a major focus of recent White House efforts at departments such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“When you bring forward challenges like what has been brought forward in the past several weeks with the Opportunity Project, like [addressing] the opioid crisis and other things here … when folks come together here in America they can really do amazing things,” said Kelvin Droegemeier, director of OSTP, at the event.
“Really liberating data is one of the focal points of the White House. How do we liberate data to bring it forward to folks who are very innovative … to solve some of the foremost problems? We at the White House are extremely proud of what you’ve done.”
According to Drew Zachary, director and co-founder of the Opportunity Project, the Census Bureau plans to work with other parts of the White House for 2019 sprints, such as tackling workforce issues with government data.
“We’re also collaborating with the Office of American Innovation, that’s leading the Job Kit project, and the idea is basically to engage developers in working with workforce-related APIs across government,” said Zachary.
For the 2019 projects, Census has kept the topic areas pretty vague — workforce and the 2020 census — to ensure that they get a broad range of innovative ideas, as was the case with their geospatial innovation cohort for 2018.
“That idea actually started at our last demo day in November 2017, when we knew we wanted to do a geospatial cohort, we didn’t have any specifics yet. We just brought together a really diverse group of experts from industry, from government,” said Zachary. “That’s what we really wanted to tee up this year with workforce.”
The 2020 census cohort will likely focus on how to engage the public and ensure high response rates when the forms go out next year.
“It’s kind of becoming more important than ever to reach people about the importance of responding to the 2020 census, because they’re going to get it soon,” said Zachary.
"And so the idea there is that you interact with so many digital platforms — whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or anything like that — on a daily basis, and so what brings together the Opportunity Project model … and using technology to engage people in responding to the census, or really providing them with information that encourages people to respond to the census, we want to meet people where they are.”
The 2019 Opportunity Project will also feature two new ways to engage in data innovation: a portal for suggesting new problems that can be solved with government data and a prize competition.
Both features will be made available in the next few months.