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A whole lot of valuable information is trapped in the antiquated databases and inaccessible filing systems of local governments across the country. Now, the Obama administration is hoping to unlock that treasure chest with the launch of The Opportunity Project, a new open data project spearheaded by the White House.

The goal of The Opportunity Project is to make local and federal datasets easily sortable and available online, so developers can combine them to build new civic tech tools to improve the relationship between cities and their citizens. The site, which launched today, features data on everything from crime to after school programs to government job listings in nine major cities, including New York and San Francisco.

Chief US Data Scientist DJ Patil, who leads open data efforts at the White House, says President Obama is the one who initiated the idea. Throughout his tenure in office, Obama has worked to modernize the federal government, investing in technology that can streamline bureaucratic government processes without requiring Congressional approval. Later this week, at South by Southwest, the President will deliver a speech about the importance of technology in government.

But while sophisticated data modeling is becoming routine at a federal level, Patil says, “the president has really been focused on the idea of how do you get the force of data to benefit everyday Americans? We should think of technology as neither radical nor revolutionary, unless it impacts every single person.”

But in many cases, local governments don’t have the resources to invest in data science. With The Opportunity Project, the White House is hoping to inspire developers to build tools that will make it easier for decision makers to access the information they need.

Civic Tech

The new platform showcases a dozen tools that have already been built using these datasets, from an app that helps families find housing near good public schools to the so-called National Equity Atlas, which uses data to showcase levels of inequity across the country.

The site also includes examples of everyday people who stand to benefit from the types of tools these datasets could yield, sucah as, for instance, a female survivor of domestic abuse looking to relocate. Today, there that woman might need to find shelter from one resource, childcare from another, and job training from another in order to get back on her feet. But a tool that unifies information on these resources in cities across the country could simplify that already difficult process.

Of course, these aren’t the types of issues that the tech world’s most prominent companies typically invest in. Instead, Patil anticipates that most of these tools will be built by volunteers or a new generation of small business owners who are working on civic tech.

“We’ve shifted into a model where people are really empowered to take control of their communities,” he says. “Fostering that community, where people can come together around hackathons and other things, is extremely powerful.”

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The White House Wants You To Build Tech Tools With Its Data