“We the People: Using Tech to Solve Big Challenges” – USDS

Read if…you’re interested to know how the US government are seconding in the best and brightest in tech to try and solve real-world problems.


Megan Smith 

Megan is the CTO for the United States and heads up a Whitehouse based team who focus on solving issues for the government through technology and digital solutions. This session served as an opportunity for members of her team to discuss a few of the projects the United States Digital Service have been working on recently.

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Hayley Van Dyke 

The USDS invites the best minds across the tech space to carry out a (voluntary) course of service to consult on major issues and projects affecting the country. They strive to apply insights from digital commerce to government process in order to disrupt, innovate and improve.

The need for the USDS initiative was highlighted by failings in the previous endeavours to modernise processes for government – immigration applications being a prime example:

It takes 6 months for an immigration application to be processed. The application itself is a paper document which will pass through 6 separate processing centres during the course of the application. The government were aware that bringing this online would significantly streamline the process, accordingly they briefed the project out – $1.2billion and 6 years later they still didn’t have anything to show for it.

The USDS assembled a 6 man team to look into the problem – 3 months down the line they launched a completely online green card replacement portal.

Another initiative carried out by this team was the development of the ‘college scorecard’ which serves to show the value of a college education by highlighting the comparative differences in earnings down the line.

Over the course of 1 year the USDS has grown to 140 people – from one of the US government’s smallest offices to one of the biggest.

Clarence Wardell 

One of the projects the USDS were tasked with related to an initiative to build public confidence in the police within communities of colour – using technology.

To this end, they developed the Police Data Initiative which facilitates open sharing of the data behind policing (arrests etc). With support from data technologists, www.publicsafetydataportal.org  was launched to drive trust through transparency.


Aden Van Noppen 

In early March 2016 the USDS launched ‘The Opportunity Project’ www.opportunity.census.gov – which uses open data to show access to opportunity across the USA.

The project draws from 200,000 different data sets from data.gov and serves to inform people of education, housing and work opportunities in a specific area alongside other insight such as pollution stats.

Essentially the aim is to empower people to understand where they could move to in the country to access the opportunities most relevant for them whilst also flagging gaps in infrastructure and transit links for local leaders.

The platform will consistently evolve as it has been overlaid with ‘Streetwyze’ which facilitates collective feedback from residents which serves as a counterpart, sense-check and addition to the governmental data insight.

As part of this project, the USDS built 12 tools in 6 weeks – and have now brought onboard 30 companies to support in the development of an ever expanding toolkit.

All with the ultimate aim of ‘unleashing the power of open data to make sure that a zipcode doesn’t define someone’s destiny’.



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