How Better Access to Data is Improving Government Innovation

5 min readApr 20, 2022


  • Government innovation is being increasingly centered around data access, such as big and open linked data (BOLD).
  • The Federal Data Strategy (FDS) is helping government agencies break down silos and use similar methods of organizing data and building data-sharing infrastructure.
  • Government innovation and private innovation strategies can develop virtuous cycles where data and analyses from one drive ideas in the other. This creates more data and analysis tools.

Governments collect and manage enormous amounts of data. All of it is the property of taxpayers. As a result, enormous datasets are being better organized and carefully released to public and private entities, which are using the data to drive innovation. Here’s what you should know about government data and data science, and how they change how government innovation works.

The Federal Data Strategy and Government Innovation

In 2018, the Federal Data Strategy (FDS) was developed to comply with congressional mandates and shift how data-driven decision-making worked in government. While using the data generated by government activities was a common practice, it remained internal to each department. The FDS introduced standards, infrastructure, and best practices to break down those siloes.

It also broadened public access to data by putting it in more places, organizing it, and streamlining access, which sets the stage for broader use.

Cross-Department Collaboration

One example is how the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are working together. The VA has been working on data improvements for a while, including developing electronic health records and a cohort study involving voluntary genetic tests, lifestyle tracking, and defense data called the Million Veteran Program.

Since the arrival of the FDS, the VA has been working closely with the DoD to fill in important gaps and develop fuller pictures of every veteran. One common issue is that soldiers are often exposed to exotic chemicals that civilians aren’t — like chemical weapons, radioactive devices, and smoke. Through a shared architecture and approach, the two agencies can align documentation and give veterans the best care.

As agencies get on the same page and begin communicating, it’s expected more of these gaps will be filled in. These interlinked databases have even greater value to the public.

Government-Public Collaboration

The U.S. government has been working with citizens to get crucial data for a while. The most common example is the U.S. Census, a massive effort that starts with forms sent to every residential address. It ends with thousands of trained census takers going door to door and asking questions before reporting back.

All of this has led to, a Google-like search engine that allows citizens to ask questions in plain language and get results back drawing from the Census, the American Community Survey, and similar sources.

The Census is a good indication of where every government agency is headed. It also makes this information easier to access through private entities like search engines, but it is worth asking what citizens are supposed to do with all this data at their fingertips.

Understanding Big and Open Linked Data (BOLD)

For citizens and governments, the question is what results they’ll get from big and open linked data or BOLD. In BOLD datasets, citizens can draw inferences, compare the results of analyses on multiple sets, and come to testable conclusions.

You can see how BOLD works in the US is the National Weather Service: a broad range of data is presented through several formats, from web delivery to geospatial. Many sets are available, from historical data to current geophysical and oceanographic materials.

It also grows constantly, as the NWS reaches out to weather station owners, scientists, and anybody else who can passively collect data to add to its network. NWS data is used to track possible concerns around climate change, develop apps to track unusual and changing weather patterns, and improve forecasts.

The ultimate goal of BOLD systems is a more open and accountable government. By collecting feedback and providing tools to build independent models and test the outcomes of policy, BOLD can help governments account for all their citizens.

How Data-Driven Innovation Can Drive Government Innovation

Government innovation drives private innovation in a constant feedback loop. GPS is a good example. It’s difficult to imagine a technology more deeply enmeshed in our daily lives. It synchronizes clocks, tracks power systems, and is tied to many scientific investigations. However, it came about not through demand from the private sector, but out of decades of investment and research by the U.S. military.

Government data and data-driven innovation have the potential for similar feedback loops. As governments provide more data and organize that data in ways any citizen can access and use, those datasets will become much like GPS; so fundamental that they become invisible.

One small-scale example is a virtual power plant or VPP. This combines distributed energy resources to create a continual flow of power as needed, smoothing out peaks in demand and preventing outages. Part of the energy comes from networked devices that are shut off when they’re not needed. Supermarket freezers, for example, might coast on the cold they’ve already generated, only kicking in to maintain certain temperatures.

The algorithms VPPs need to operate at a larger scale will likely draw from government datasets and use government-designed standards. Similar approaches using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) systems to address traffic jams, change transit schedules for maximum efficiency, and use computer vision to check infrastructure for problems before they happen have been proposed. All will need an impartial, non-proprietary source of data to build on. Government innovators are ideally suited to make this happen.

Government innovation is a core driver of private innovation strategy and understanding how it works can help you form a better approach to creativity and innovation. To learn more, request a demo.

This article was originally published on the IdeaScale blog here.




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