Harnessing the Power of Open Data

I was honored to share the stage last night with Walter Isaacson, Tom Friedman and Aneesh Chopra. The occasion was the Aspen Institute’s event “Harnessing the Power of Open Data to Fuel American Innovation”, which was part of Intel and Aspen’s ongoing Innovation Economy conversation.

Intel has been working with the Aspen Institute for the past five years to bring thought leaders together to explore the impact of technology and innovation on our economy. This work has shown that innovation can be the tide that lifts all boats by fueling new areas of economic and social progress.

Walter Isaacson introduced Tom Friedman and Aneesh Chopra and noted the increasing importance of the use of data for our economy and the need to focus on the resulting privacy issues. Aneesh Chopra powerfully called for public private partnerships to innovate uses of private sector and government data. He noted the value that can come from combining the convening power of the government with the ingenuity of the private sector. Tom Friedman and Aneesh both spoke to the international aspects of opening up government data, and Aneesh pointed toward the progress made in global collaboration through the Open Government Partnership.

At the event, I shared my reflections on the value from combining information held by the private sector with data opened up by government. I offered an example to illustrate this value. In September’s edition of Health Affairs, researchers at Duke University and the University of Michigan published a paper laying out the benefits from combining patient health care records with publicly available government data.

Their paper describes the creation of a Geographic Health Information System, which integrates patient data from the Duke healthcare system with data opened up by Durham County, such as age of housing, zoning codes, environmental exposure, public transportation routes, recreational facilities, and crime.

The resulting data set provides a robust picture of the patient’s overall context. This greater context is now being used to pursue the three goals of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim to:
1. improve the experience of care,
2. improve the health of populations, and
3. reduce per capita costs of healthcare.

One early application of this Geographic healthcare data set has been an effort to address childhood exposure to lead. By overlaying county tax assessor data, blood lead screening data from clinic visits, and census data, clinicians were able to better understand which children were at risk. The health department credited the model for contributing to a 600 percent increase in its capture rate of elevated blood levels in children.

This is just one example of the power of opening up government data to innovators. As we move towards having a large percentage of individuals interacting with technology on a continuous basis, we will create new opportunities for powerful data sets of the contexts of individuals’ lives.

There are challenges, including the structuring of the data, regulatory barriers to providing data access, and the need for robust privacy and security protections. The good news is our history of innovation indicates we can solve large challenges when presented with significant opportunities. Rethinking our implementation of the Fair Information Practice Principles is one important step we can take towards overcoming these challenges.

Having Walter Isaacson, the greatest chronicler of problem solving and innovation, speaking at the event was inspiring. That inspiration now needs to drive us towards a privacy model that allows us to unlock the value of this data.

Aspen2 Aspen4 Aspen5

One Response to Harnessing the Power of Open Data

  1. James Elam says:

    Good article.

    My personal experience with government data has been generally good, though it can be hard to find. But once you do fine it, it is fairly complete, documented, and maintained. What it does always lack is a feedback mechanism for improvement and a cadence for releases. Thus, whatever you get a first flush is what you will always get, until someone changes it under you without warning. And this makes it hard to depend on.

    -Cliff