A motley group of 16 “open data geeks,” several of humble beginnings, accepted surprise invitations to the White House for national recognition at the Champions of Change event on June 10. The gathering aimed to demonstrate the diverse potential of Web apps utilizing data sets made available by federal, state and local agencies.
Developers who made the cut boasted apps that enabled users to find and organize pick-up games at public facilities, guided citizens through zoning ordinances, flagged parents to child-friendly locations, along with numerous other data-based services.
The event held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building featured top names in federal government IT, including national CTO Aneesh Chopra and national CIO Vivek Kundra. Chopra used the activity as a platform to promote the Obama administration’s ongoing push to make government data sets increasingly available and more usable through Data.gov.
Before three of the developers gave their stories to a small auditorium of federal officials, Michael Strautmanis, deputy assistant to the president and senior adviser for strategic engagement, voiced his commitment to keeping the work of open data developers on Obama’s radar.
“I am leading, through our outreach operations, a broad-based effort to highlight these Champions of Change — to highlight you and to make sure the people who work with me every day see what you’re doing, know what you’re doing, learn from you and hear from you,” Strautmanis said.
The three developer testimonials were followed by a panel discussion with industry experts and prepared remarks from Kundra. He detailed several features of the recently announced next iteration of Data.gov, including more machine-readable data, a tool for creating exportable data visualizations, a single-click mechanism for agencies to publish data more easily and a long list of other upgrades.
After the formal ceremony, White House staff whisked all 16 “Champions” up one floor to a meeting. The developers found themselves surrounded by historic art and furniture as they sat down to trade ideas with Chopra and other officials.
Developer Aaron Royston of Sportaneous, the pick-up game app, said he was struck by the caliber of the officials in attendance.
“They seemed genuinely interested in how we would collaborate with government to execute our plans,” Royston remarked.
Developer Michael Riedyk of YouTown, a tool giving governments a prepackaged suite of apps for their open data, made a similar observation.
“I found all of the people we met today — Vivek, Aneesh and all of these other officials — were very accessible,” Riedyk said. “They want to work with us, and they’re actually performing what they preach.”
Champions of Change is a recurring White House program highlighting ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things in various aspects of American life. Nomination of the developers was a collaboration between Government Technology magazine and its partner, the Center for Digital Government.
The August issue of Government Technology will take a closer look at how the developers might work with the administration, as well as release exclusive photos and video.
Below is a complete list of the developers:
Jill Seman created MomMaps, an app helping parents find child-friendly locations in several cities nationwide.
These two developers created Sportaneous, an app enabling users to find and organize pick-up games at nearby public facilities.
Riedyk created YouTown, a product that offers governments a suite of prepackaged apps for their open data. With YouTown, governments don’t have to bother with contests or in-house development.
O’Neil created Citypayments, a website aiming to make it easy to search vendors, contracts and payments posted by Chicago agencies.
Leeds is developing a platform for building “community-curated” directory apps called the ReDirectory. It aims to assist those providing services for low-income communities with an up-to-date referral resource.
Budlong created Zonability, an app guiding citizens through the complicated zoning ordinances in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Emory and Ferris have been collaborating with the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) to create an open source trip planner that combines multiple modes of transportation. TriMet expects the app to be serious competition for expensive proprietary apps.
Jaquith created Richmond Sunlight, a free Web-based app for tracking legislation in the Virginia General Assembly that provides video sessions, voting records of legislators, and an application programming interface for integration into other websites.
Farooqui is president of SymSoft Solutions, a small Web development and integration firm that created California Cage Fight, a Web tool for visualizing side-by-side comparisons of municipalities based on open data.
As a federal open data contest entry, these three developers redesigned the Federal Register in a way that made the loads of documents easier to consume. Federal officials were so impressed they collaborated with the developers to officially redesign FederalRegister.gov.
David Van Sickle is the co-founder and CEO of Asthmapolis, a Madison, Wis.,-based company developing tools that enable asthma patients to track how often they use their medication. Van Sickle hopes public health agencies can use data collected by the tools to improve human health.
White-Sullivan created Localocracy, a Web community designed to generate discussions of local issues.
Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.