How is the US government using social and digital media and data to bring value to the people? Too often criticized for bureaucratic sluggishness and cross-interest paralysis, the US government is doing some surprising things to innovate. Just look at the Health Data Initiative (HDI), a public-private initiative whose founding membership includes the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Todd Park, the infectious (in a good way) US Chief Technology Officer, recently kicked off the Health Datapalooza in Washington DC. It’s one manifestation of the HDI, “the public-private collaboration that encourages innovators to utilize health data to develop applications that raise awareness of health system performance and spark community action to improve health.” The Health Datapalooza is all about opening up data and hosting crowdsourcing efforts that inspire the best and brightest to make use of that data. The DC-based event has inspired other health data, “hackathon” crowdsourcing events across the country.
Check out the Cajun Code Fest held in Louisiana. It brought 300 coders together to wrestle with code sets from the government that included:
- SCHOOL NUTRITION DIETARY ASSESSMENT STUDY
- BEHAVIORAL RISK FACTOR SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM
- NATIONAL SURVEY OF CHILDREN'S HEALTH
- FOOD ENVIRONMENT ATLAS
Among other issues, they rallied their brainpower to crunch data towards useful solutions to childhood obesity. Check out their Web site and browse through the descriptions of the 37 datasets like those mentioned above. Even a layman (non-coder; non-data junkie) can start to imagine some of the possibilities if we could just bash some of this data together to extract insight and utility.
The Fanboy of Health Data
Todd Park is a force to be reckoned with. Just watch his introductory speech to the 2012 Health Datapalooza. A self-avowed “fanboy of health data,” his brightness and enthusiasm is just what is needed to inspire 1600 entrepreneurs to convene for two days and lay the foundation for innovation that uses government data in creative and useful ways.
His proof point for opening up data or as Thomas Goetz, Executive Editor of Wired Magazine, called it converting ‘latent data into powerful, actionable data’, is the opening of weather and subsequently GPS data. Those moves created $90b of “massive awesomeness.” That’s innovation creating jobs, better outcomes for farmers and others who rely on weather, and just a ton of entrepreneurship (think Weather Channel, think Google Maps).
“Awesome” is clearly Todd's favorite word. Hearing someone so effusive and passionate speak from a government pulpit is a breath of fresh air. He seems to have grabbed onto a behavior made popular in Silicon Valley in the private sector and figured out a way to elevate it to public-service-meets-the-next-wave-of-entrepreneurs. I hope other governments around the world pay attention to this model and try to apply it to solve the big thorny issues.
If you want to get a sense of some of the emerging solutions that were highlighted during the event, Read David Maris’ article at Forbes.com. He covers off on the winners and some of the interesting highlights. The value of the event goes far beyond those that won.
I am particularly fond of data visualization as part of a behavior strategy. David highlights the team from Indiana University who “entered a mobile app that provides images and information about the overall health of the population of each state. So calling up an image of Mississippi, pulls up an obesity-adjusted outline of a person with other health statistics, while the Colorado outline is noticeably thinner.”
Also, the winner, VaxNation from Baylor, Rice and University of Texas students is "an app designed to make it easier for people to keep up with their families’ immunizations"
One of CMO's top concerns in teh private sector is how to manage - make use of - the flood of data now avaialble to them. Perhaps there is a lesson in these open inititaives or the technology hackathons that came before them.