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What to Do with Big Data?

Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama launched the Open Government Initiative, an effort to increase transparency, participation, and collaboration in the federal government. The initiative introduced a number of websites and strategies to offer raw government data, including research grant information on data.gov. For energy gurus, data.gov/energy offers downloads of energy-related data such as energy use and consumption in the U.S.

Yet the mere provision of big data is not enough; a key component of making big data accessible is providing context and meaning to that data to enable the public to solve problems, identify patterns, and draw conclusions. This is where private sector innovation enters the equation. Many government agencies have been using data jams, datapaloozas, or hackathons to highlight the datasets available, while bringing together interdisciplinary groups of experts from both the private and public sectors to explore the data and brainstorm new creations.

Data Jams and Datapaloozas

Since 2011, federal agencies including the Department of Energy (DOE) have hosted data jams gathering subject-matter experts, technology experts, incubators and industry to leverage innovative ideas, proofs of concept, and road maps for the implementation of new solutions to national challenges with the help of government datasets. All data jams follow a common structure:

  1. Assemble innovators and entrepreneurs from the government, non-profits, educational institutions, and the private sector;
  2. Introduce open government datasets and relate them to national challenges;
  3. Form small groups to brainstorm products, services, and technological tools that could solve national challenges and be created within 90 days;
  4. Have participants vote on the most promising product ideas; and
  5. Encourage individual data jam participants to volunteer to create these new products within 90 days.

After—and even during—the events, the attendees will have formed ideas or roadmaps, or may already be on their way to implementing innovative creations.

One of DOE’s most well-known data initiatives, The Green Button Initiative, resulted from an energy data jam focused on: Why don’t consumers have access to their home energy usage data? The idea went public at the 2012 White House Energy Datapalooza and now, with the creation of an app, over 36 million customers are able to securely download their energy consumption data from nearly thirty-five utilities and electricity suppliers.

While many energy-related data jams and hackathons have produced consumption-related apps or technologies, there has been a gap in creating energy education content. Therefore, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory teamed up for the first Energy Education Data Jam to be held on March 27th.

Energy Education Data Jam

With America’s rapidly changing and expanding energy portfolio, energy literacy is a crucial pillar at DOE. To educate Americans about the interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning about energy, DOE collaborated with 13 federal agencies and expert groups to create the Energy Literacy Framework. This framework identifies the interdisciplinary principles and concepts for understanding energy.

The Energy Education Data Jam on March 27th 2014 will gather education experts, usability designers, developers, and energy experts to think about how to create energy education content through the energy literacy lens. The data jam aims to catalyze ideas and creations applicable to learners of any age—from preschool to adult learners. Data jam participants will:

  • Share currently available data and tools;
  • Create real resources to improve literacy;
  • Develop new ways to enhance the delivery of energy literacy materials; and
  • Help energy-education-focused organizations to bridge the energy literacy gap.

For example, how could you take a scenario-based tool like BITES and make an education-focused smart-phone app? Could you take the Energy Literacy Framework, a hard copy document and make it interactive? Join the data jam and share your ideas.Editor’s Note: For more information on DOE’s Data Jam, please see the event website. If you would like to join the data jam, RSVP through the online invitation or send an email to energyliteracy@ee.doe.gov.

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