How officials are trying to make open data gains last

As the Obama administration comes to a close, the White House is seeking to highlight progress it's made to open and use data over the past eight years — while pushing those inside and outside government to continue the momentum.

One way it's are doing that is through their first White House Open Data Innovation Summit set for Sept. 28, which will be co-hosted by the Office of Management and Budget, the Small Business Administration and the Data Foundation.

The White House event, which is part of of the Data Foundation’s larger annual summit, will “give us the opportunity to look back on all of the transformations that were initiated by the Obama administration,” said Data Foundation interim President Hudson Hollister in an interview with FedScoop.

“This administration has done a lot of work,” Hollister said. “It is certainly not perfect. For instance, the White House resisted the Data Act when it was in Congress, and we are always reminded of that. But there is certainly a need to make this progress stick.”

At a community-focused event leading up to the summit, Kristen Honey, policy adviser in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said Monday “one of the things we’re trying to do towards the end of the administration is really solicit commitment, both from inside of government but also outside of government.”

Past efforts to use open data — or future plans — may make their way into a White House fact sheet on open data efforts across the U.S. to be produced in tandem with the summit. 

On Monday, Honey urged people using open federal data to submit information about their work for entry into the fact sheet.

“I would encourage everyone to think about not only what open data can do for them, but what they might be willing to commit and do to make open data last,” Honey said to FedScoop after the chat. “Not just in the next administration but long term: how we fundamentally do government differently.”

Monday’s event, “Making Open Data Stick” tried to chart the open data movement’s path forward, both for inside and outside government. 

“One of the biggest things we’ve noticed ... it becomes particularly more important towards the end of an administration, is that the momentum lives outside of the federal agencies,” Honey said. “We can help, we can lift, but a lot of the great work being done is spun off and outside.”

Beyond contributing to the fact sheet, Honey also gave advice to open data advocates long term for helping bring about changes. She said open data advocates are most effective when they spend time identifying a specific problem to solve and creating a well-defined path forward for the White House to help.

“The way OSTP and the White House works best is when you make a specific ask,” Honey said. 

She said sometimes people are working quickly and cannot digest white papers or longer analysis, and “they forget they want to help and they want to do the right thing.”

A clear path forward ensures “doing the right thing is so much easier,” she said.

“I think that that is something that only you guys can know,” she said. “Because you’re in the trenches, you’re connected with your communities.”

On the government side, federal employees can participate in events like the upcoming summit to give them tools to explain the importance of opening up data, Hollister said. And these tools will be particularly important when new political appointees come in to run agencies.

“The people who are doing the real work inside the agencies, most of whom are not political appointees, most of whom are career, most of whom will stay, they will get the ammunition they need to win future internal arguments about what the government should be doing,” Hollister said.

At Monday's event, Hollister said they are expecting nearly 900 people, dozens of agencies and scores of companies to attend. 

The summit, Hollister said, will give people from different interest areas the opportunity to see what is happening in other sectors.

“We’re going to see the real work that’s being done,” Hollister said.  “We’re going to see demonstrations of how open data is easier to republish, easier to analyze, and easier to automate.”