USDA Innovation Challenge
Many government agencies have used data challenges to spark innovation. They release key datasets in an accessible and usable form, invite the public to use the data for a particular public purpose, and award and publicize the best solutions. In 2015, Microsoft and the USDA partnered to use a data challenge for a major national goal: Improving food resilience, the ability of the American food supply to withstand climate change. For this challenge, the USDA released more than 100 years of crop and climate data through Microsoft Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing platform. The release included data on the farm economy, production, and the health of crops around the country. To make the data accessible and usable, Microsoft designed an entire portal where multiple datasets could be found together and queried in common languages.
The challenge, which awarded $63,000 in cash and prizes, was created in support of the President’s Climate Data Initiative. It simultaneously helped develop new approaches to food resilience, demonstrated a model for public-private collaboration around data, and showed how combining cloud computing resources with government data can have a positive impact. The winning solutions included apps to show farmers what is being grown in nearby farms to help them evaluate their own planting strategy; a dashboard to help farmers visualize production, economic, livestock, and commodity data; a tool to analyze the resources needed to meet specific agricultural goals; and a tool to visualize crowdsourced pricing data from around the world. The winners came from all over the country, including California, Tennessee, Washington state, Nebraska, and Brooklyn, New York - a demonstration of the nationwide talent that can be tapped to solve public problems with data.