Using Open Data to Protect the Food Supply: A Report on the Roundtable with USDA

On August 1, The GovLab and the USDA co-hosted an Open Data Roundtable, which brought together USDA data providers and two dozen representatives from the private sector and nonprofit organizations for an action-oriented dialogue on data issues and potential solutions. This was the second federal Roundtable convened by The GovLab in its mission to help make government more effective and connected to the public through technology.

ReportWe are delighted to share the findings form the Rountable, including recommendations for ways the U.S. Department of Agriculture can improve its data management, dissemination, and use. The report “Using Open Data to Protect the Food Supply”  was produced by Joel Gurin, Audrey Ariss, Katherine Garcia and Laura Manley.

This Roundtable focused on food resilience – the use of open data to help develop sustainable agriculture and farming, as well as manage the impact of climate change and food emergencies. Participants at the Roundtable addressed this issue from a broad range of perspectives and produced recommendations for a number of possible improvements to USDA data. These included such changes as:

  • Improving the quality and accessibility of key data sets, including data on soil quality, local food safety, and drought
  • Enabling farmers to access data about their farms more easily (the “Common Land Unit” data) and share that information voluntarily to create a new source of public data.
  • Working more closely with NASA and other data sources on climate issues that affect food supply
  • Appointing a data concierge or librarian
  • Developing A public-private partnership for data collection
  • Using cloud services for data management

Joyce Hunter, Deputy CIO, Policy and Planning, U.S. Department of Agriculture, recognized the Open Data Roundtable as one of the USDA’s open data accomplishments for 2014.

Following the Roundtable, the USDA has made several commitments to improve data and data management. These include:

  • Hiring the Department’s first Chief Data Officer, who will “explore and establish open data systems throughout all of USDA’s agencies and services.”
  • Developing outreach and training programs on open data for interns and young people, including an Open Data Summer Camp to launch in 2015.
  • Developing a disaster data clearinghouse portal to help farmers find assistance in the event of a natural disaster.

”Gatherings like the Open Data Roundtable are essential to building bridges with the private sector, gaining input and feedback, improving our data infrastructure, and developing a system that will outlast any single Administration,” wrote Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary of USDA in a foreword to the report. “Our goal is to unleash even more government data to help business leaders make the best possible decisions, while creating fertile ground for new business development, especially for new and beginning farmers. The best way to do that was to listen to suggestions from those already using our data – and to get the private sector’s guidance on where USDA can unlock the greatest value in our data sets. “

This whole effort has been designed to encourage further dialogue, participation, and collaboration between the Department’s data providers and its data users and stakeholders.

Report: “Using Open Data to Protect the Food Supply”

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