In the latest international Open Data Barometer New Zealand is ranked fourth in the world. The UK is number one and the U.S. number two. Bill English has asked what it would take for us to move up to the top of the rankings?

Today, I had the chance to ask this question of three advisors at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy responsible for open government and open data ? Corinna Zarek (open government), Mahlet N. Mespin (international science and technology) and Hyon Kim ( programme director in the General Services Administration).

Corinna Zarek and Hyon Kim

Corinna Zarek and Hyon Kim

From the Top

The US open government agenda is driven from the top as a presidential imperative in the United States. President Obama's commitment to open government was included in his first inaugural address, saying that government workers will "do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government." This was reinforced by two presidential memos issued on his first day in office calling for openness in the administration of the Freedom of Information Act and for higher transparency to strengthen democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.

What progress has been made?

  • An Open Government Directive was issued in 2009, followed by an "Open by Default" Open Data Executive Order in 2013.
  • The director website was launched on May 21, 2009 with just 47 datasets. It now lists over 130,000 datasets. Progress is publicly tracked on the Project Open Data dashboard, with agencies competing to be the most open.
  • Many "Data Jams", "Hackfests" and "Paloozas" have been held to bring together innovators in different sectors to use the data and highlight positive impacts of use.
  • An international community is building around open data. The first two Open Data Conferences hosted by the U.S had a few hundred attendees. Over 1300 are expected for this week's conference in Ottawa (where Keitha Booth will be representing New Zealand).
  • A programme named "MyData" is underway to give people access to their own personal data. This has created portals for access to health data, energy use data, tax transcripts and student data. The aim is to remove barriers for access to data by citizens, while also reducing workload on information management professionals who have to respond to requests under privacy legislation.
  • The U.S. recently appointed a Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil (previously at LinkedIn). He is one of three deputies to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, who reports directly to President Obama.


The challenges in the US are similar to those in New Zealand: resources, reach and impact. The US open data programme is running on tight resources (three staff run the programme). Agencies have not received additional funding to update their systems so that they are open by default, so progress is incremental as new systems are introduced. Impact measurement is challenging -- it's hard to know who is using open data and for what purpose. The big priorities currently are to make "open" normal practice for agencies, and to promote active, responsible use.

Serve your country

To raise capability, the US is currently in the middle of huge push called "Tech Hire". The United States Digital Service, created by the Obama Administration, is recruiting top tech talent from leading US firms to work in government using a pitch of "Serve Your Country".

Senior leaders spend their time on the road speaking publicly about the vision and the work need to get there. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith is speaking at the MIT Graduation ceremony in Boston this week, while Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil is opening the Open Data Conference.

The aim is to bring the dynamism of the U.S. tech sector into government to improve technology and enable better public services. The Obama administration is appealing to tech leaders and the "cool kids" by offering work that will provide meaning and make a difference to the country, as well as offering short term contracts and work from home possibilities. You can see the recruitment video on YouTube here:

Outside White House

This Monday was Memorial Day ? the US equivalent of Anzac Day. Locals commemorated the veterans with decorations on their houses as well as a giant flag on the National Cathedral. In late Spring DC is already hot and sticky ? perfect for the traditional Memorial Day smoky ribs on the barbecue.