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One Year Later - USDA in the Brave New World of Open Data

Posted by Joyce Hunter, Deputy CIO, Policy and Planning, U.S. Department of Agriculture in Conservation Technology
Feb 04, 2015

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since USDA embarked on its push to make its data available to you.  As you know, open data is free, public data that can be used to: launch commercial and nonprofit ventures; conduct research; make data-driven decisions; and help solve complex problems. It is our hope that USDA data fosters innovation, economic growth and improves American lives. While USDA continues to collect and make available USDA datasets to the public, we also are engaging stakeholders so that we can use that feedback to improve future data submissions.

One year later, USDA has published over 800 data sets on and  Considering the vast mission of the Department, we are proud of this accomplishment, specifically:

Safety Data Palooza – USDA co-hosted the second annual Safety Data Palooza with the Department of Transportation.  This event featured the work of innovators in the private, nonprofit and academic sectors who use freely available government data to build products, services and apps that advance public safety in creative ways. Four hundred attendees had the opportunity to discuss how technology and open data are addressing top public safety issues across the nation.

Open Data Executive Seminars – USDA IT professionals were connected to lead policy makers via keynote speakers and panel discussions to drive strategy. These sessions were held once a month and the three briefings on Open/Big Data had an average of 150 participants each time.

Open Data 500 Roundtable – On August 1, 2014, the non-profit Governance Lab at New York University (GovLab) and USDA co-hosted an Open Data Roundtable in Washington, DC.  This Roundtable was coordinated with the Climate Data Initiative, which was launched by the Obama Administration in March 2014 to promote the use of data to fight climate change.  Among other issues, the Climate Data Initiative has addressed the climate risk to the food supply and the ways in which data could help food producers and distributors increase “food resilience.”  The August Roundtable focused on food resilience, climate and agriculture.  The USDA Roundtable approached food resilience from two perspectives: 1) government data can help experts both in and outside of government plan for long-term adaptation to climate change and risk management; and 2) data is needed to plan for disaster preparedness in case of acute food emergencies.  The USDA and the Climate Data Initiative are now working on data-driven solutions to help farms operate sustainably in the face of climate change, ensure citizens’ access to high quality food, promote disaster preparedness and responsiveness, and increase the United States’ food resilience overall. GovLab just published the final report.

This year, we will not be any less ambitious with our open data goals.  In 2015, we plan to:

1)      Document and institutionalize the USDA data publishing and prioritization process;

2)      Develop inter-agency partnerships to drive value for citizens — from innovation and entrepreneurial startups to cost savings, to building public trust and creating transparency. We understand the need to consolidate data so it can be used for multiple purposes to help our clients achieve their goals. Combine data sets that could lead to interesting, rich and meaningful analysis of programs, operations and outcomes that have not yet been conceived;

3)      Improve the quality of USDA data sets;

4)      Work with AgGateway on standards and definitions – so “corn” or Common Land Unit (CLU) has the same definition for the data producer and the data users;

5)      And lastly, identify who is using USDA data and how it is being used.  This will help us to serve you better.

Category/Topic: Conservation Technology