White House Issues Executive Order on Open Data

Content From: Miguel Gomez, Director, AIDS.gov, and Senior Communications Advisor, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: May 24, 20134 min read


opendatavideoThis week marks the one-year anniversary of the Digital Government Strategy, and we want to take a moment to reflect on a recent White House Executive Order about open data. This Executive Order and accompanying Open Data Policy requires that, going forward, all data generated by the federal government be made available in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable (read about it in this blog post). Executive orders are official actions through which the President of the United States manages the operations of the federal government. This Executive Order has implications for all of us.

What does “open data” mean?

Open data are complete, accessible, machine-readable, and freely available to anyone, to the extent possible without compromising individuals’ personally identifiable information and right to privacy.

It is important to note that “data” refers not only to tabular data, which is typically numerical, but also to web content (i.e. text). The move to make both numerical and text data more open has many important benefits; for example, it makes it possible to create a web page that automatically pulls together content related to a given topic or issue, such as HIV treatment or prevention.

Why is an open data policy important?

An open data policy allows individuals, businesses, nonprofit groups, and other entities to use--for free--currently existing federal data that might cost them millions of dollars to collect on their own, and then to analyze and repurpose that data for other needs. For example, decades ago, the federal government made both weather data and the Global Positioning System (GPS) freely available to anyone. Since then, American entrepreneurs and innovators have used these resources to create navigation systems, weather newscasts, location-based apps, precision farming tools, and much more.

Who needs to be involved in open data efforts?

For open data efforts to be successful, all those responsible for the domains of content, communications, and technology must be involved. With their full participation and buy-in, the move toward open data can be one of the most powerful examples of collaboration in our work.

How does an open data policy support our national response to HIV/AIDS?

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes that, in order to be effective, HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care efforts must be data-driven. The Strategy calls for increased coordination of HIV programs across the federal government, as well as the development of improved mechanisms to monitor and report on progress, including streamlining and improving data collection efforts. By improving how we collect and share data between agencies and with the public, we can more effectively target our efforts and resources to where they will have the greatest impact in reducing new HIV infections, improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related disparities. In addition, by making data more open, accessible, and available to HIV/AIDS service providers, program planners, policymakers, and others, we can enhance their ability to repurpose that information as needed to reduce HIV transmission and better support people living with HIV/AIDS in their communities.

How does HIV.gov use open data?

At HIV.gov, we use open data (service provider names, phone numbers, locations, etc.) to populate our HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Services Locator. With this Locator, users can enter their ZIP codes and be linked to nearby HIV testing sites, housing providers, health centers, and other HIV/AIDS service providers. The Locator is an “application programming interface” (API), meaning that it uses open data that are available for others to access and repurpose to generate their own products. Government leaders like Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel have referred to APIs as the “secret sauce” behind the next wave of technical innovation.

Others have already used this data to build their own clinic location finders. For example, recently, a national organization dedicated to providing and promoting comprehensive sexual health education to young people incorporated open data on HIV testing centers and family planning clinics to provide a customized map of services to visitors. By doing so, the organization was able to use HIV.gov’s open data to meet the needs of its target audiences.

Anyone is welcome to access and use this data to develop websites, apps, and databases to connect people to HIV prevention and treatment services. We are excited to make this important resource available to you and excited to see what you do with it!

More information

Editor’s Note: In the future, HIV.gov will provide updates on an effort led by the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP) to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a centralized, secure data reporting tool for HHS grantees providing HIV services, an undertaking consistent with the White House’s Open Data Policy and the HHS Open Data Plan. To gather ideas about this project, OHAIDP issued a Request for Information (RFI) on May 2, 2102, and work on the tool has been underway since September. Read about it in this blog post.