Open Government

with Aneesh Chopra

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Innovative State

What governments need to become innovative

Aneesh Chopra

Assistant to the President and Chief Technology Officer, Author, Entrepreneur

Lessons Learned

An innovative state is characterized by handshakes and handoffs.

Both sides of the aisle can agree on using technology for progress.

It is not enough to open the data; you have to call on developers.


Lesson: Open Government with Aneesh Choprah

Step #5 Innovative State: What governments need to become innovative

To me, an innovative state is characterized by two conditions: handshakes and handoffs. Now what does that mean? That means that increasingly, even in a very ideologically polarized country or community, that there are opportunities to shake hands around technological advancement. Both sides of the aisle in this case have agreed that we should be opening up more data. We should be tapping into problem solvers through challenges; we should lower barriers to entry to invite more competition through standards activity. And we should staff government up where appropriate with these startup like principles. These areas have already achieved handshakes; Congress, levels of state governments, local governments have already adopted policies to say we're going to do this things, so an innovative that the state is characterized by this bipartisanship in many cases. While it's important that we have these bipartisan commitments on handshakes to enable a more innovative state, it is not sufficient to realize its full potential. We need handoffs to the collection of entrepreneurial innovators from the public, private, academic, nonprofit sectors to take information to put to it use, to build that last mile service. Often the hard is not so much getting the government to open itself up; the hard part is go building an ecosystem of developers to first, even know that resources are available for development; and second, to encourage them or inspire them to put that information into use. That handoff is the missing link that is often why we haven't seen the full potential realized as we should over the last several decades with all the advancements in technology. So my view is if you combine the handshakes with the handoffs, you're going to have the recipe for a more innovative state. I've definitely seen it work well in the Department of Health and Human Services. We began our journey in opening up government looking back historically on the weather service. It turns out that our country has spent billions of dollars in building up the sensor network and the infrastructure to collect data that would inform weather. A decision going back decades decided to make that information freely available for third parties to do whatever they want. So while there is, there's lots of weather.coms, an alternative to print or television to expand or improve the access points to that weather data. Health and Human Services said why can't we become the weather data for the nation's healthcare system? And my successor Todd Park led the effort to the effort to say it's not enough to open up the data; we need to go call upon developers in every corner of the country. He often would say, if there are two developers gathering talking about healthcare or any other subject for that matter, he'd show up to make the pitch as to why they should build. McKinsey looked back and said over 200 new products and services have their origins in newly available open government data, and in part, because my successor had worked so hard accessible and available. I think HHS having won our Exemplar Award from the White House for best use of open data is really a very case study and not only bringing about new flourishing ecosystem on new healthcare products and services, but they're actually having a material impact in the lives of American people. A brief story about an emergency room doctor in met. Senator Michael Bennet, sent a letter to my office and said, "I've got a guy in my state that would like to visit with you," and you often take those calls. That's something you do all the time, but I wasn't sure what to expect. Emergency room doctor, Peter Hudson, came into my offices and told me his story. He felt that too many Americans were using the emergency room inappropriately; that they should be getting there care in cheaper better settings for them. So he and a colleague decided let's just take action on our own, let's build an iPhone app, and let's convince folks who access our service to basically determine whether they're good enough to get seen in an outpatient safer setting. Well, he was successful and got some early traction and came to say what else could I do to make this thing even better? He found out that we have a database of the low-cost clinics all across the country: the federally qualified health centers. He decided to incorporate that database, so after you've decided I don't need to go to the emergency room, he could populate, "Here are some low-cost alternatives right near where you live." Because phones today have a GPS chip, they can tell you where you are. In the first year he rolled this feature out, he delivered 100,000 referrals to federally qualified health centers. He didn't cost the taxpayers a single nickel. He simply consumed open government data and made it available to people and relevant to people where they lived and that kind of ingenuity and entrepreneurial thinking was so successful in helping their lives that he was able to sell his own company to undisclosed amount but a significant amount to Aetna who saw the value in his asset.

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