Open data is ‘default’ at USAID

Using a computer to access data. Photo by: Ariel da Silva Parreira

The Obama administration is opening up vast troves of previously inaccessible federal data to fuel the economy.

At the U.S. Agency for International Development, the policy means looking at “open as the default,” the agency’s open data advisor Katherine Gage told Devex.

“This (policy) can really bring USAID into the conversation and really catalyze us to start looking open as the default for our data and start working with the rest of the development community to see how that can be scaled up,” Gage said.

In a new executive order, President Obama requires U.S. government agencies to open machine-readable data to innovators, entrepreneurs and the public.

“Starting today, we’re making even more government data available online, which will help launch even more new startups,” the president said in a statement on Thursday.

As part of the government’s earlier open data initiative, USAID recently created a website, www.usaid.gov/developer, as a repository of its new deep-level data sets and central location of its application program interface or APIs.

The site contains the first three of the 19 Feed the Future data sets, a tracker of food market prices and three APIs on U.S. overseas loans and grants, as well as U.S. credit claims and loan transactions.

Another website, www.foreignassistance.gov, also contains basic data on U.S. aid assistance by country, sector, initiative and agency.

With the new executive order, USAID is expected to create new data sets and improve accessibility and machine-readability of existing ones, according to Gage.

“We’re working very hard to identify data sets within the building that can be made open,” Gage said. “Clearly this is always looking for with an eye towards security and privacy concerns.”

How deep the level of data USAID is willing to publish as required by the new executive order depends on what “the community might want and might be able to use the most,” Gage said.

“We are interested in learning on what the community might be able to help us identify, what they might need,” she added.

USAID meanwhile has yet to clarify whether it is inclined to create a mother database of all its contracts and grants, and is also looking into possible release of the data sets that used to come up with USAID Forward high-impact evaluation reports.

“We’re working on increased transparency on all those fronts, but I think it’s going to come in stages,” Gage concluded.

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About the author

  • Alliage profile

    John Alliage Morales

    As a staff writer, John Alliage Morales covers the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community - from Capitol Hill to Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom to the downtown headquarters of USAID, the World Bank and Millennium Challenge Corp. Prior to joining Devex, Alliage worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.