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The Opportunity Project Leads Local and Federal Efforts to Create Digital Solutions to Real-Life Problems Quickly

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How can communities tackle the climate crisis? What can consumer protection groups do to help low-income renters and small landlords? How can the federal government assure equity in COVID-19 spending?

The U.S. Census Bureau’s The Opportunity Project (TOP)​ is leading efforts to solve these and other national challenges by ​bringing technologists, governments, and communities together to quickly create digital products using federal open data.

This fall, New York City is set to sponsor a sprint focused on increasing multilingual communities’ access to content on government websites. This will be TOP’s first ever city-sponsored challenge.

To date, more than 1,500 individuals, 30 federal agencies and hundreds of organizations have participated in TOP, leading to 135 new open data tools including apps, websites, mapping tools, data visualizations, games and more.

After five years of successful Census Bureau-led TOP sprints, the team is now scaling this model to put federal agency and local-government partners in the driver's seat.

Thanks to the TOPx toolkit for federal agencies and the Product Development toolkits, any organization or individual can use TOP’s model to develop data-driven technology and amplify community voices in response to some of the country’s most pressing challenges.

And federal agencies are now able to replicate and scale it to challenge the public and industry to co-create data-driven digital solutions to issues we face as a nation.

This year, TOP’s theme is “The World Post COVID: Society, Economy and Environment.”

Putting Open Data in the Hands of Technologists, Communities

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in partnership with the Census Bureau, facilitated a TOPx technology development sprint to generate innovative solutions to an urgent problem: How to transmit COVID-19 test results to health officials and key stakeholders quickly and safely.

This collaboration resulted in 12 public-facing digital tools to help securely, efficiently and accurately transmit COVID diagnostics data.

This fall, the TOP team will continue this model and encourage federal agencies to “do it yourself.” Sprint leaders will focus on solving the following problems:

  • Preventing Crisis for Low-Income Renters and Small Landlords (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).
  • Improving Minority Businesses Access to Capital (Minority Business Development Agency, U.S. Department of Commerce, City of Coral Gables, Fla.).
  • Tackling the Climate Crisis through Climate-Smart Communities (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
  • Analyzing Housing + Migration Trends Post-COVID 19 (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
  • Analyzing Equity in Federal COVID-19 Spending (U.S. Department of the Treasury).
  • Increasing Accessibility of Content for Multilingual Communities (New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer).

TOP is widely referenced as a model for how the government can seed cross-sector collaboration around open data, and has been included in policies like the Federal Data Strategy, the President’s Management Agenda, performance.gov, Department of Commerce’s Strategic Plan, the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Report, and many others.

In 2019, The Opportunity Project Act of 2019 was introduced in support of the program.

Local Government, Tech and Community Engagement

For the second time this year, the TOP model will be applied at the city level

The Centre for Public Impact and the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation partnered on the first-ever local adaptation of TOP’s open-sourced Toolkit.

The inaugural TOPCities program brought together community leaders, government problem solvers and volunteer technologists from San Jose, Calif., and St. Paul, Minn., to leverage open data to deal with pandemic-related housing challenges.

This cross-sector program used the TOP model to turbocharge innovation within local municipalities and community organizations.

This fall, New York City is set to sponsor a sprint focused on increasing multilingual communities’ access to content on government websites. This will be TOP’s first ever city-sponsored challenge.

How TOP Works

By matching federal agencies with industry talent, cities and communities, TOP creates an environment for participants to learn to develop technology quickly using the concept of iterating and prototyping — not knowing exactly what they’re going to build when they start.

That approach encourages diverse ideas.

Through this process, sprint participants wrangle federal data, navigate policy contexts and address the needs of a community.

To learn more about TOP sprint roles or to get involved, contact the Census Open Innovation Labs. Sign up for emails to stay in the loop and get updates about The Opportunity Project opportunities in 2021.

The Opportunity Project also recently announced the Open Data for Good Grand Challenge which allows TOP sprint participants to apply for $100,000+ in prizes.


Haley Ashcom Miller is lead communications strategist for the Census Open Innovation Labs.


Page Last Revised - April 12, 2022
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