A Q&A with 2012 Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge Judge Aneesh Chopra
I recently had a chance to speak with 2012 Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge judge Aneesh Chopra to discuss the role of open innovation in this year’s Innovation Challenge.
Aneesh Chopra was formerly the nation’s first United States Chief Technology Officer, appointed by President Obama. As an Assistant to the President, he designed the National Wireless Initiative and executed an “open innovation” strategy across the agencies built on private sector collaboration – opening data to transform health, energy and education markets, convening tech leaders to develop consensus standards, and sponsoring prizes, challenges, and competitions to tap into entrepreneurial problem solvers.
Aneesh had interesting thoughts to share about how open innovation is producing meaningful new ideas to improve healthcare in the US.
Q: We’re thrilled to see other organizations embracing open innovation challenges, as companies turn to the innovator community for new ideas. How is the private sector using open data as a catalyst for innovation? What advantage does this have in fostering new solutions?
A: Actually, the inspiration for much of our open innovation policy derived from some of the leading private firms already implementing it as part of their core business – from P&G’s “Connect and Develop” strategy, which aims to deliver on a bold vision of sourcing 50% of its new products from ideas generated outside of the organization; to Amazon’s “Just Do It” internal awards program where Jeff Bezos famously delivers old Nike shoes to employees who have pursued an innovative idea regardless of whether it had been approved by upper management; or Facebook’s developer platform that has created 10x more Facebook software developer jobs than are currently employed by Facebook itself.
The Obama Administration’s decision to open up government data, initiate challenges and prizes to solve problems, and to serve as an “impatient convener” to further reduce barriers to entry fully complements the private sector’s existing focus on growth through collaboration. Over the past three years, I’ve observed private firms bringing brand new products to market, powered by open data; I’ve seen firms acquire startups that have demonstrated the capacity to build open-data fueled products; and I’ve seen firms investing in their own people by supporting them as they worked on open innovation projects that benefit the greater public without an immediate payback. The advantages of collaborating on open data are clear – it makes firms more competitive.
Q: What internal and external challenges exist when leveraging open data to drive discovery and the development of innovative new ideas? What conditions and structures best support this approach?
A: Internally, the biggest challenge is management focus – and that is why the President’s decision to initiate open government on his first full day in office was so critical. It prioritized for agency leaders the value of opening up data to the public – in computer-friendly form. As leaders began to see the benefits in advancing mission objectives by fostering more innovative uses of public data, they began outpacing each other in the pace and quality of further open data efforts.
A second challenge, of course, is ensuring we protect the privacy and security of the American people. We’ve established very strong procedures to ensure data we publish does not put personal information at risk.
Externally, the biggest challenge is fostering its use. This is the real magic of Todd Park’s leadership with the Health Data Initiative – its emphasis was initially on encouraging the use of open data in the development of new products and services. Three years later, there is now a line at the party that wraps around the block a few times of innovators eager to present their solutions before an impassioned audience.
We found the President’s leadership on this issue to be the most important factor in supporting the effort. Congress’ unanimous decision to allow agencies the authority to conduct challenges, prizes and competitions was a close second as it codified the approach so it would survive this Administration.
Q: In your role as the nation’s first CTO, you were a champion for open innovation. What are some of the most exciting new processes and solutions you’ve seen emerge as a result of collaboration between the public and private sectors?
A: The most exciting outcome for me, personally, was observing the shift in culture towards openness on the part of the government agencies and on embracing data as a policy tool on the part of the private sector. Together, these shifts are accelerating some of the most exciting developments in the public sector:
- The formation of “lean startups” comprised of public and private entrepreneurs focused on delivering tangible results in 90 days;
- The trend toward public/private jointly-sponsored challenges and prizes that have resulted in a clearer path to commercialization for innovators who might have previously seen their award-winning app sit unused by those who might benefit;
- The voluntary public/private collaboration – through standards – to lower entry barriers and increase the value of interoperable systems in areas of critical importance – health, energy and education.
Our “Open Innovator’s Toolkit” summarizes 20 specific new processes and solutions that have emerged from the “bottom up” as agencies have implemented the President’s strategy.
I want to thank Aneesh for participating in our 2012 Innovation Challenge and for sharing his perspective on open data and all the innovation that can come from it. And, if you weren’t able to tune-in last night as the semi-finalists demonstrated their concepts, visit the 2012 Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge website for more information.