Open Data, at its heart, is about opening doors – doors to sharing vital information, doors to stimulating innovation, doors to making progress and improving lives. Recently, I learned that there are even more possibilities behind yet another door, one that for too long has stood barely ajar at the intersection of academic research and Open Data. That began to change at an exciting symposium that Stewards of Change Institute and the California Health and Human Services Agency held at Stanford University just a few weeks ago.
The symposium, held in collaboration with the Stanford School of Medicine’s Center for Population Health Sciences,was one of three recent regional events in California leading up to the third annual statewide HHS Open DataFest, which will take place in Sacramento on March 14 and 15. More about that in a moment.
What’s worth saying first is that the intersection of academic research and Open Data is a nascent and truly promising area of investigation. Despite some initial uncertainty about its value, both our Stanford colleagues – who are steeped in research but not Open Data – and the 165 participants – many immersed in Open Data but not academic research – quickly came to agree that this exhilarating exploration could take us to very productive new places. A quick example: Researchers could gather data that comes from outside their usual silos to learn more about the context in which a public health problem arises, and then use this knowledge to discern root causes and viable solutions. Conversely, current users of Open Data can quickly identify trends in particular jurisdictions that otherwise might take research epidemiologists years to identify, and focus attention on critical public health issues that require in-depth research that can only be provided with protected, confidential information.
This much is already certain: In private and governmental organizations with a commitment to utilizing Open Data, it’s already making a difference. For instance, the Open Data Portal created by the California Health and Human Services Agency is the one project that touches all of the agency’s 30,000 employees, HSSA Undersecretary Michael Wilkening told attendees at the Stanford symposium. That means they can get better information with which to make and implement decisions, and Wilkening says this ability is growing. And that’s before we meld this powerful new tool called Open Data with academic research that could accelerate its adoption and, as information-sharing increasingly becomes the norm, will enhance its value.
The expanding ability to share data within organizations and across systems is at the root of interoperability – which is something both the State of California and the Stewards of Change Institute care deeply about. So the interrelationship of these topics will be among the many varied presentations and stimulating discussions at our statewide event March 14 and 15 in Sacramento. We’ll also be reprising elements of one particularly successful session at Stanford – one that taught us a lot and that energized everyone in the room; that is, the intersection of academic research and Open Data. This conversation will continue and grow in Sacramento, where Dr. Mark Cullen, Director of the Center for Population Health at Stanford Medical, will serve as the moderator on the subject.
That’s just one highlight of our upcoming event. For more information about it, including a listing of our accomplished speakers, interactive sessions and other presentations, go to www.stewardsofchange.com (and keep your eyes on that site, because the sessions from ODF III will be taped and stored there). And to view sessions from last year’s Open DataFest, visit the Stewards’ YouTube channel.