Digital Gov

Open data tools promote Census awareness

Shutterstock editorial image (by Gil C): State Census Bureau homepage. 

Tech groups showed off open data apps developed under the auspices of The Opportunity Project at a Nov. 29 event at Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, Md.

Census Acting Director Ron Jarmin said the bureau asked the teams to focus on two primary challenges: using digital tools to help solve social challenges and helping the public see the value in the Census and increase participation.

Since its inception in 2016, 10 agencies and more than 50 groups from companies, academia and nonprofits have participated in creating more than 40 digital tools as part of the Opportunity Project.

To help boost Census participation, a development team from Cisco used census data to create a mobile game, the My City Data Learning tool, aimed at teaching millennials about the value of Census data and participation. Additionally, Measure of America, a New York-based nonprofit, created a free mapping tool for visualizing census data to help promote awareness of the importance of census data and explaining how the decennial count affects individual citizens.

IBM developed an iOS application called PopCount to support logistics surrounding Census's efforts to enumerate the homeless population.

Other projects were aimed at easing citizens' access to federal data and helping them better use that data.

A team from MIT created a web-based AI tool called BayesDB, which allows users to search public data from Census, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI on demographics, criminal justice, public health and elections.

True Impact, a social services consulting company based in Massachusetts, demoed a platform that allows users to search the Department of Health and Human Services' grants.gov database to see which benefits they may qualify for.

Others sought to better manage federal grants, improve services to veterans and help eliminate veteran and youth homelessness.

The grant management software company eCivis created a grant tracking tool using data from several agencies to help state, local and tribal governments navigate the federal grant funding process.

PAIRIN, a Colorado-based software company, created its Pathways career tool using data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Labor, with the goal of connecting veterans with educational programs and employers. Get Vets Help, a mobile safety net program developed by the health IT company Care Partners Plus, uses data from Census and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help veterans at risk for suicide, homelessness and substance abuse schedule appointments with the Department of Veterans Affairs online.

Myspot, a tool developed by Excella Consulting, uses government datasets to help youth homelessness in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Census Chief Innovation Officer Kyla Fullenwider said these examples of private and cross-agency uses of open data "are critical for government to move into the 21st century."

Fullenwider, a 2016 Presidential Innovation Fellow, also announced that the bureau planned to launch a user-centered design certificate program beginning in January 2018. The first, month-long cohort will comprise 20 Census employees with the goal of bringing "the best practices from the private sector innovation and design world into the bureau, so we can start designing and innovating from the bottom up," she said.

"That's critical to move the bureau into the 21st century," she said.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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