OMB Data Guru: If Your Manager Doesn’t Get Open Data, Take Them To A Hackathon

Iryna Bezianova/

White House tech teams are going to more public tech events not only to network but also to demonstrate the value of open data projects.

Hackathons and data jams are creeping into the White House’s general technology strategy, an Office of Management and Budget analyst shared this week.

Kristen Honey, a senior policy analyst within OMB’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, said exposing government managers to technology-themed meetups—including data jams in which people gather to analyze specific data sets—can help them understand the value of certain technology projects.

“It’s really hard to have a conversation with people who have never experienced these types of events,” Honey said Tuesday, speaking at an event hosted by the transparency-focused advocacy group, the Data Foundation.

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At OMB, she tries to bring managers to hackathons and data jams so they can witness participants' enthusiasm. "When you see people rolling up their sleeves, dedicating their nights and weekends for a problem they care about,” she said, “that passion, it counts for something.”

It's difficult to scale that sort of awareness-building, she said. But the pipeline of federal data-themed events, such as Health Datapalooza, Education Datapalooza, or even private sector or academic conferences, are opportunities for tech talent to collaborate, “no matter what your title is, or how high or low are you are in the bureaucracy.”

Sometimes federal tech projects are stymied by unenthusiastic program managers, but “if you can figure out where the jams are, and invite them into … this different context,” Honey said. “A lot of interesting ideas come out of it.”

For instance, Code for America, a nonprofit that matches tech professionals with government projects, recently hosted a National Day of Civic Hacking in various locations across the country. That event surfaced discussions about using data to analyze Lyme disease, Honey noted, among other topics important to both private industry and to government groups.

“That made a big impression on … leadership from agencies and they’d never been to this kind of thing,” she added.