Dr. John P. Holdren

Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Minister Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh from the India Ministry of Science, Technology and Earth Sciences, led the second U.S.-India Joint Commission Meeting on Science and Technology Cooperation on Monday in Washington, D.C.

“I am happy to report that the bilateral relations have increased measurably in the areas of maritime, agriculture and bio diversity, basic and applied sciences, advance telecommunications, energy and commercialisation of new technologies,” Holdren (pictured above at the World Science Festival last month) said at the State Department’s George Marshall Center.

Deshmukh added: “We look forward to the recommendations of the group on basic and applied sciences, health and medical sciences; and atmospheric sciences.”

The principal accomplishments announced were:

  • Establishment of the Monsoon Desk at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Presentation by the Endowment Board of certificates to three grant winners from the first round, Sorin Grama and Sam White, Co-founders of Promethean Power Systems (US) and Rustom Irani, Manageing Director, Icelings (India)
  • Announcement by Chris Vein, White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer, of the Third Country Open Government Platform Partnerships (OGPL), and brief demonstration by Marion Royal (US GSA) and Samir Mitra (India PM Advisor’s Office)
The Open Government Platform (OGPL) is a bilateral effort to promote transparency and greater citizen engagement by making government data, documents, tools and processes publicly available.

The idea is that making this information available on an open-source platform in machine-readable format will allow developers, analysts, the media, and academics an opportunity to develop new applications and insights, which will ultimately give citizens more information to facilitate better decisions.

I have expressed reservations about this in a previous story (Data.gov Goes To India – But It Still Needs More Work) because in essence: technology and data people speak a different language, to me it is not about what one does to the data (technology), but what one does with the data (science, statistics, and visualizations).

Here is the situation: Data.gov was not built on open source software, but needed to be if anyone else was going to use it – especially poor third world countries that cannot afford their own developers or commercial software. But Data.gov needed a first rate team of developers that could convert old, complex software code into simplier, new simplier to use open source code. Enter the Government of India’s National Informatics Centre that produced an open source version of Data.gov that was made available on the third anniversary of Data.gov (May 2012). The open source product, called the Open Government Platform (OGPL), can be downloaded and evaluated by any national Government or state or local entity as a path toward making their data open and transparent. Today Samir Mitra (India PM Advisor’s Office) announced that Riwanda will be the first third world country to use the OGPL.

Now this OGPL is based on Drupal, an open source platform, already used by Data.gov.uk (see my Data.gov.uk – What’s Not to Like), and many others, including the new HealthData.gov launched by US Federal CTO Todd Park at his Health Datapalooza last week.

So where does this all leave us? We have Todd Park, the federal CTO, already using Drupal for his new HealthData.gov and announcing a series of developer challenges over the next year to build it out. We have Chris Vein, the Deputy Federal CTO, announcing that India has developed an open source version of Data.gov based on Drupal that Data.gov will upgrade to and Riwanda will use. So now we are converging on a platform that does the first of three things that we need: Data Catalog, Actual Data, and Data Results.

To illustrate my point, I took the challenge that Todd Park gave me at last week’s Health Datapalooza and made the new HealthData.gov do all three things in one portal where one sees the Data Catalog, the Actual Data, and the Data Results. This implements the 7 challenges that Todd Park announced to further develop HealthData.gov over the next year and my recommendations at the recent Data.gov Developer Community meeting. It is also an example of Building a Digital Government by Example.

So, I say enough with putting old wine (Data.gov) in new bottles (Open Source Drupal), and on to the real needs of citizens everywhere, namely to go from Data Catalog, to Actual Data, to Data Results, so they can use it to make informed decisions.