In Trump’s campaign to open government data, you win if you use it

For decades the phrase “island nation” has been used to describe the Great Lakes region, after entire islands were drained to create shipping lanes around them. But our new president is putting Great Lakes…

In Trump's campaign to open government data, you win if you use it

For decades the phrase “island nation” has been used to describe the Great Lakes region, after entire islands were drained to create shipping lanes around them. But our new president is putting Great Lakes data online for everyone to see.

On his presidential retreat in Camp David today, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation that will launch a public-private information campaign focused on the shores of our four largest lakes, the Arland, St. Clair, Kalamazoo and Maumee. The initiative is called Lake Success, the first piece of a much larger data drive developed by the White House Office of American Innovation to open up federal data to enhance economic development and create new jobs.

“On the eighth floor of the White House, I’m directing our administration to make Great Lakes data widely available – fast, easy to use, and with access for everyone,” Trump said today, as he signed the Presidential Memorandum on the National Great Lakes Initiative, which was formed by the Office of American Innovation. “This initiative will raise the bar for government transparency and increase access to scientific data to create new jobs and spur economic growth across the Great Lakes region.”

The Data for Great Lakes Data Project was started by his office, along with longtime western Michigan philanthropist and renewable energy advocate Frank Wagner and his company, Wagner Consulting Group, earlier this year. The plan is to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey make available their publicly available data sets with certain restrictions, allowing outside developers to use the data to design innovative products, systems and services.

Obama-era was first to create open data initiative

Today is the first step in a campaign Trump hopes will open up other federal government data to the public so other regions can follow the Great Lakes lead. “Data for Great Lakes data will increase access to this critical asset, potentially enhancing our productivity by increasing our water storage capacity,” Trump said.

The initiative follows an earlier project from the Obama administration called the Data for All Initiative, and aims to give people, businesses and nonprofits access to government data related to pollution, energy consumption, climate change, transportation, and food. Both projects aim to lower the cost of producing and using government information and services, by establishing a broad data culture of openness in the public and private sectors.

The key to these initiatives is that they won’t benefit just one institution. The EPA and the USDA have to make data available through their normal channels for developers to access, while developers who work with these data needs to work in a way that guarantees their ability to bring out new innovations and create jobs in science, engineering and tech.

Of course, our offices and bodies of government are always creating new data sets and updating their information to be open to the public. However, we also recognize that almost all of these initiatives involve massive technical work, and sometimes that complexity gets in the way of fast adoption, and projects languish.

Open data seems like a no-brainer. It’s as simple as allowing people to see where local data sets go or the next frontiers for data scientists and entrepreneurs in this country.

Let’s open our data to the world Read more

Trump’s initiatives make sense, even if they don’t necessarily make data that is easy to access easy to understand. That’s why it’s important that people ask themselves: what is the perceived reason for having certain types of data sets released?

It’s unlikely that just by making it easier to get data, we’ll suddenly have a flood of useful new products and services coming out of government. But if people use data effectively, it will be one of the quickest ways to engage their minds with the issues of an often arcane federal data set and help them make things happen.

Leave a Comment