White House unveils open data tools to empower communities

The Obama administration unveiled 29 new digital tools Thursday​ developed with federal open data under its Opportunity Project launched in March.

The Obama administration unveiled 29 new digital tools Thursday developed with federal open data under its Opportunity Project launched in March.

The tools, some of which were developed by big names like Fitbit and LinkedIn, use data from a range of agencies, such as the departments of Transportation and Labor, and the Office of the Surgeon General. In conjunction with a demo day of the new tools, the administration also announced a slew of new commitments expanding the Opportunity Project and revealed the Commerce Department will officially take the lead on the project going forward.

“The Opportunity Project is really about working together to create more just and equitable communities around the country, and to do that using open data and collaboration,” Aden Van Noppen, a senior policy adviser to the U.S. CTO, said at the demo day.

So far 40 tools have been created through the project, Van Noppen said, noting “that’s a lot of impact that we are having on communities.”


“You all have stepped up — you’ve stepped up to solve hard problems, using 21st century tools to do it, using collaboration to do it,” Van Noppen said to the crowd at the demo day.

Drew Zachary, a presidential management fellow, said to create these tools, cohorts of technologists, community members, students and subject matter experts went through an eight-week sprint.

“We’re about empowering people with information for them to make more informed decisions and for us to be able to help people access resources that are needed to thrive,” Van Noppen said. “Whether that’s affordable housing, transportation [or] jobs.”

As an example, Fitbit created a tool to help policymakers “understand the relationship between average activity and widespread health challenges in every state,” according to the White House fact sheet on the initiative.

The tool uses a combination of anonymous data from more than 10 million Fitbit users and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on diabetes, heart disease and obesity, according to the fact sheet.


Likewise, using the Transportation Department’s traffic accident and fatality data, made a tool that “provides dynamic location-based visualizations of hazardous traffic corridors for citizens and community decision-makers.”

Samantha Ehlinger

Written by Samantha Ehlinger

Samantha Ehlinger is a technology reporter for FedScoop. Her work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and several McClatchy papers, including Miami Herald and The State. She was a part of a McClatchy investigative team for the “Irradiated” project on nuclear worker conditions, which won a McClatchy President’s Award. She is a graduate of Texas Christian University. Contact Samantha via email at, or follow her on Twitter at @samehlinger. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here:

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