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Census Bureau Innovation Program Uses Federal Public Data to Solve Problems

Haley Ashcom Miller

From helping children in Puerto Rico to supporting island communities’ transition to renewable energy, The Opportunity Project (TOP) is taking on new challenges in upcoming innovation “sprints.”

TOP, a program led by the U.S. Census Bureau, has selected six new problem statements that use federal open data to tackle pressing national challenges.

Sprints are rapid work sessions that strive to complete specific tasks, including finding solutions to problems from poverty and digital inequity to climate change.

Sprints are rapid work sessions that strive to complete specific tasks, including finding solutions to problems from poverty and digital inequity to climate change.

The new challenges and the organizations leading them include:

  • Supporting Island Communities’ Transition to Renewable Energy (National Renewable Energy Laboratory).
  • Enhancing Children’s Resilience to Adversity in Puerto Rico (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud).
  • Transforming Local Addressing Systems in Puerto Rico (U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
  • Developing Community-Informed National-Level Indicators of Well-Being (U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the think tank New America).
  • Building Community and Individual Climate Resilience (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
  • Helping Communities Access Infrastructure Grant Funding (White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and U.S. Department of Commerce).

Full problem statements for each topic are available on the TOP's Sprints page.

What Is TOP?

TOP brings together technologists, government and community groups to rapidly prototype digital products using federal open data.

To date, more than 1,500 people, 30 federal agencies and hundreds of organizations have participated in TOP, leading to 175 new open data tools including apps, websites, mapping tools, data visualizations, games and more.

With seven years of successful Census Bureau-led TOP sprints, the team continues to emphasize the importance of human-centered design and cross-sector collaboration to put data-driven tools into the public’s hands.

This spring TOP hosted an open call for problem statements for federal agencies, local government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to submit potential problem statements. Six were selected for a summer 2022 sprint and a few more are being considered for a fall 2022 sprint.

An informational webinar on May 26 explained the process and ways to get involved.

How a TOP “Sprint” Works

Each year, the TOP team convenes leaders from federal agencies, local governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to propose problem statements, which represent challenges facing the communities they serve.

Five to 10 of these problem statements are selected and the agencies and groups that proposed them collaborate with the TOP team to facilitate sprints, which bring together a diverse set of stakeholders.

TOP is actively recruiting for the tech team, user advocate, product advisor, and data steward roles for the 14-week sprint process.

Have passion for data, problem solving, collaborating for good or all of the above? Reach out to discover how you can support one of the TOP 2022 sprints. Role descriptions are available on the COIL website.

During the 14-week sprint process, technologists build viable products that address their respective problem statement. The goal is to include three key elements: input from end-users; federal open data; and a sustainable product strategy to benefit communities.

Haley Ashcom Miller is lead communications strategist for the Census Open Innovation Labs.

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