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Using Open Data in Creative Ways to Solve Problems

Posted by Joyce Hunter, Acting CIO, Deputy CIO for Policy and Planning in Technology
May 28, 2015

Want to make better use of forest, park and trail datasets? Try a hackathon. A hackthon is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. This popular forum for collaborative innovation has become an important method for developing modern solutions for government interactions.  This particular hackathon occurred on April 11-12 in Washington, D.C., and involved the USDA and the Department of Interior (DOI) for the myAmerica Developers Summit. The summit is an initiative supporting the National Travel and Tourism Strategy by improving access to information about federal lands and waters so it’s easier for people to discover and experience America’s natural and national treasures.

The objective of the myAmerica Developer Summit is to develop technological products, services and other resources that promote and protect America's public lands and waters. myAmerica reached out to federal agencies, private industry, academics, entrepreneurs, and others to develop trip-planning tools, enhance current online resources and cultivate methods for sharing data more easily; all in the name of improving access to America’s federal lands.  The Tourism Policy Council working group sponsored myAmerica and continues to support and help drive this effort.

This event brought together approximately 100 technologists, developers, outdoor enthusiasts, government, academia and industry to build products that enhance our appreciation, utilization and protection of our federal lands and waters. Hosting this hackathon is part of USDA and DOI’s commitment to providing open data and collaboration with the digital entrepreneurs of today.  This was a tremendous opportunity to expand the availability of open data and to demonstrate our willingness to work with private industry to innovate.

This data has been available to the public for over a decade, and now it is easier to access using publicly available data and Application Programming Interfaces, known as APIs.  APIs are how modern Internet software and apps talk to each other.  Offering an API also aligns with the Executive Order to make government data open and machine readable, as well as the U.S. Digital Services Playbook. 

Over the course of the weekend, government and others collaborated and found and demonstrated 11 innovative solutions using open data that will help make public lands more accessible for people to enjoy.  USDA looks forward to participating in more hackathons and would encourage sending in your suggestions on the types of data (i.e. food safety, food nutrition, local impacts of USDA grants, etc.) you feel would be beneficial to the American public.  Please contact us at

Category/Topic: Technology