Census Project Matches Your Agency's Data with Civic Innovators

lassedesignen/Shutterstock.com

Through The Opportunity Project, the bureau is connecting data-laden federal agencies with private-sector innovators who can use that data to solve real problems.

Federal agencies have lots of data which, if used right, could often be of great benefit to the citizens those agencies were created to serve. But figuring out exactly how to put that data to good use is no small task.

For agencies with limited resources (read: all agencies), it can be difficult to find the time, expertise and budget to start new data programs. But the government’s biggest data collector, the Census Bureau, has a way to help.

The bureau is preparing to accept submissions for the latest cohort in The Opportunity Project, or TOP, a free program that looks to connect federal agencies with lots of open data to private sector partners that can help them develop applications to solve real-world problems.

The program launched in March 2016 and since has had two a year, ranging in size from five projects to a dozen. Over the last three years, TOP worked on 27 projects across 13 federal agencies, creating some 75 digital tools, according to TOP Director Drew Zachary, who also serves as co-director of the Census Open Innovation Labs. The 2018 cohort is expected to launch 25 new apps in February 2019, she added.

“We talk about three goals of The Opportunity Project … people, data and collaboration. The people goal is really the ultimate point: actually solve problems for the public,” Zachary told Nextgov in an interview. “Whether that’s helping people to find housing near their schools or find jobs or understand where their tax dollars are going by connecting federal spending and performance data—anything like that. We want to solve a problem for people.”

That is the key aspect of the program, Zachary said: Projects must target a public need and the resulting apps must be designed for public use. The project is not meant to help agencies work on internal data projects that do not directly touch the citizen.

“We aren’t really set up to solve problems for federal agencies. We focus on solving problems and creating data products that are used by members of the public,” Zachary explained. When an agency comes to the table with a great dataset or difficult problem, TOP managers work to get them in touch with tech companies, universities and non-profits that can help.

“We try to always start from a felt need,” she said. “A real need that people and communities are facing so that we’re not just creating things for the sake of creating digital tools that don’t really have a user base. We start from that real problem—the real human problem—then we bring the data to the table.”

Zachary offered as an example a 2018 sprint to assist in fighting the opioid crisis.

“That really started from the problem,” she said. “It started with industry interest in saying, ‘We know this is a really big problem and we have developers and engineers who really want to contribute, is that something we could do through The Opportunity Project?’ And, the answer was yes.”

“It creates an opportunity for us to say, ‘What data sets do we currently have that are open that really could be put to work to solve that problem?’”

While many projects start with the problem, some begin with the data. The Census Bureau itself has troves of data—the collection of which is its main mission. For example, several teams have used figures from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics, or LEHD (pronounced “load”), data set to build apps that help people find affordable housing near good jobs—or vice versa.

“When we get it to developers through The Opportunity Project, they just come up with ideas—and this is really the heart of the process—that we never would have on our own,” Zachary said.

She noted the return on investment built into this setup, as all agencies need to offer is their data and their time.

Beyond saving money on contracting dollars, the TOP framework has other inherent benefits, as well.

“Companies can only build what you tell them to build in a contract,” Zachary pointed out. “So, you’re not really getting the creativity of the tech industry. What our process allows agencies to do is say, ‘Here’s the problem, you tell us what you think the solution should be and then you build that.’”

For companies, the program gives them an opportunity to work directly with federal agencies—without having to go through the arduous contracting process—and they get to keep all the intellectual property they develop during the process.

And there’s one more hidden benefit for agencies, as well: a greater inclination toward innovating using open data.

“We see a learning curve over and over again, where an agency will at first be skeptical but then will see what the process is. As soon as they see the outcomes, they really turn around,” Zachary said. “And then they’re not just interested in The Opportunity Project but get interested in open innovation in general.”

Prospective projects for the next cohort will be pitching TOP officials during the next demo day, scheduled for Feb. 7. Once those pitches are in for review, Zachary expects the next set of sprints to begin in April or May.

NEXT STORY: Government Data Detectives

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.