U.S. Chief Information Officer Todd Park talks about Health Datapalooza: A Model Of Innovation. The U.S. Census Bureau says Imagination at Work! Unleash Your Creativity With Our Census API.

Both deal with data. But which should it be: Innovation or creativity or both?

It’s question that deserves more than casual considering, and one I’m currently giving thought to for the upcoming Breaking Gov 38 Degrees Unleashing the Power of Government Data, Sept. 19, in Washington, DC.

It’s worth comparing the definitions. Wikipedia says:
  • Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different (Lat. innovare: “to change”) rather than doing the same thing better.
  • Creativity refers to the invention or origination of any new thing (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has value. “New” may refer to the individual creator or the society or domain within which novelty occurs. “Valuable”, similarly, may be defined in a variety of ways.
I glean from this that while innovation and creativity are similar, there is an important distinction: Innovation is about doing something different rather than doing the same thing better; creativity is about doing something that has or brings value.

So I am given to ask, was the Health Datapalooza and the new Census API (or all the new APIs for that matter) really different and valuable?

And my answer would be, it depends on your life’s experience. If I were new to all this emphasis on data, I would have to say yes to both. But because I have been at this data business for many years I would have to say no.

Yes, I enjoyed attending the Health Datapalooza and working with its data and the new Census API and Department of Commerce Apps Challenge. But, as I’ve noted before, FedStats.gov and FedStats.net have been around in the US for at least 15 and 135 years, respectively.

And one cannot talk about data innovation and creativity without mentioning Edward Rolf Tufte.

Tufte received a BS and MS in statistics from Stanford University and a PhD in political science from Yale and was hired by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, where he taught courses in political economy and data analysis while publishing three quantitatively inclined political science books.

In 1975, Princeton asked Tufte to teach a statistics course to a group of journalists who were visiting the school to study economics. He developed a set of readings and lectures on statistical graphics, which he further developed in joint seminars he subsequently taught with renowned statistician John Tukey, a pioneer in the field of information design.

These course materials became the foundation for his first book on information design, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Tufte self-published Visual Display in 1982 and the book quickly became a commercial success and secured his transition from political scientist to information expert.

On March 5, 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Tufte to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Recovery Independent Advisory Panel “to provide transparency in the use of Recovery-related funds.”

Tufte can teach all of us a thing or two about data innovation and creativity because he has become the expert and made a business of it and received the highest recognition. You can learn more about his thoughts on Recognizing excellence and <a data-cke-saved-href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/edward-tufte-on-identifying-the-relevant-data/2011/06/22/AGn0o2fH_video.html” href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/edward-tufte-on-identifying-the-relevant-data/2011/06/22/AGn0o2fH_video.html” target=”_blank” “=””>A sense of the relevant</a> in a series of Washington Post videos filmed last year.<br> <br> So the answer to my original question is that we should be rediscovering and paying homage to those like the Federal Statistical Community and Ed Tufte that have come before the current resurgence of interest in data innovation and creativity.</div>