Big Data

How the White House 'Opportunity Project' wants to use open data to improve communities

The White House recently announced The Opportunity Project, using open data to help people find jobs, transportation, housing, and more in their communities.

opendata.jpg
President Obama with Ryan Panchadsaram, Corinna Zarek, and Tony Scott.
Image: Whitehouse.gov

On Monday, the White House Office of the Press Secretary announced the launch of "The Opportunity Project," a new effort leveraging open data to better the "economic mobility" for American citizens.

The goal of The Opportunity Project is to make Federal and local data easier to understand and digest, so that it can be used to help fix problems in local communities. Using this data will help citizens determine access to opportunity in specific neighborhoods and break down inequity.

According to the White House press release: "This data can now be used by technologists, community groups, and local governments in order to help families find affordable housing, help businesses identify services they need, and help policymakers see inequities in their communities and make investments to expand fair housing and increase economic mobility."

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In conjunction with the announcement, 12 tools and projects were released that make use of the Opportunity Project data. These tools tackle issues like a city's walkability, finding affordable housing in an area, or simply exploring a city with data.

According to the press release, eight cities are participating to start:

  1. Baltimore, Maryland
  2. Detroit, Michigan
  3. Kansas City, Missouri
  4. New Orleans, Louisiana
  5. New York, New York
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  7. San Francisco, California
  8. Washington, D.C.

Private sector companies like Redfin, Zillow, GreatSchools, PolicyLink, and Streetwyze have all contributed to the project, as well as 30+ non-profits, local government organizations, coding camps, and academic institutions.

However, this is only the first stage of The Opportunity Project. The Administration is issuing an official call to action to encourage more people to use the Opportunity Project data to develop projects of their own. Using the CitySDK, and accessing the available data stores, developers can build their own tools. Interested developers can find more information about contributing a build here.

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Opportunity Project data will also be used to improve existing tools. The True Colors Fund, which helps homeless LGBT youth will be incorporating the data into its app, and the National Association of Counties (NACo) will add the data to its County Explorer tool.

Additionally, other commitments have been made from private sector companies and to include additional city data. Many training programs such as coding camps and hackathons have also signed on to use data from the project.

The announcement precedes the President's visit to the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, where he and the First Lady will both deliver keynote addresses.

With this launch, the White House is showing off its use of new platforms like Slack, and the open source code behind The Opportunity Project. However, TechRepublic contributor Alex Howard said that the most important part of this open data release that people should pay attention to is its re-use.

"It's unlikely that many people are going to find their way to this new subdomain of the census.gov website, or download the data themselves, but millions of Americans who already use services like Zillow and Redfin will benefit, along with tools from Azavea. If the social impact of this open data narrows the opportunity gap between more and less informed consumers in the years to come, you'll know it mattered."

Alex Howard provides more detail on the larger implications of open data projects like The Opportunity Project.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. The White House announced The Opportunity Project, which gives developers access to Federal and state data to build tools to help citizens better access the amenities of their communities. The goal is to narrow the gap of economic opportunity between neighborhoods.
  2. Interested developers can access the CitySDK and access data from Federal agencies as well as certain states that are participating.
  3. Most citizens might not seek out the data themselves, but they could benefit from using apps created by some of the companies who are involved in the project, like Zillow and Redfin.

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About

Conner Forrest is Enterprise Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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