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April 4, 2016

New Platform Visualizes Open U.S. Data

George Leopold

(Kirill Wright/Shutterstock)

Federal agencies are sitting on tons of data, particularly in areas like healthcare, employment, weather and education. A new initiative called Data USA seeks to unleash this trove via a free and open platform that collects, analyzes and visualizes government data to help policy makers and executives better understand critical issues.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab teamed with management consultant Deloitte and data platform builder Datawheel to create the data visualization engine. The partners said Monday (April 4) the platform aggregates and visualizes publicly available date from such government agencies as the departments of Commerce, Education and Labor.

Users can browse and filter U.S. data and create visualizations designed to spot patterns related to local, regional and national topics related to employment, education and health policies. The data filter frames government information by location, industry, occupation and other categories.

In one example, the developers said business executives could use the Data USA to view regional data to help determine which locations provided the best mix of skilled workforce and affordable real estate. Meanwhile, public health experts could use the platform to probe disease patterns across the United States.

“The U.S. government offers almost 200,000 datasets for public use, often out of reach for the average citizen,” César Hidalgo, professor at the MIT Media Lab and director of its Macro Connections Group, noted in a statement unveiling the platform. “Data USA transforms these datasets into stories, pioneering a new breed of user-friendly government data sites that we urgently need.”

The platform’s open-source code can be scaled so new datasets may be added. Meanwhile, developers can build new applications on the platform using an API while integrating new data for custom use cases.

Coinciding with the launch of Data USA, the developers published studies based on open government data focusing on income inequality, including an examination of states with the largest income gaps. It also published a survey of national CEOs by race, gender, industry, location and average earnings. Another study published this week based on the Data USA analyses focuses on job growth and earning potential.

Another analysis based on Data USA visualizations ranks U.S. compute science programs according to the number of degrees awarded. The University of Southern California (USC) ranked first in the analysis followed by MIT and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Meanwhile, USC, MIT and Stanford University had the highest median out-of-state tuitions.

The Data USA initiative reflects ongoing efforts to promote the use of untapped government information for big data. The growing economic impact of open data is being probe by public and private groups seeking to unlock the value of mountains of data generated by government agencies. A 2014 survey dubbed the Open Data 500 found that the data and technology, financial and investment along with the business and legal services sectors are so far making the greatest use of federal data paid for by taxpayers.

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