Do-gooder developers are the new superstars of the programming world. Young coders with an urge to help the planet are donating developer time and entering grassroots coding contests in an effort to lend their chops for greater good.
Uncle Sam wants in on the innovation action, too. Recently the U.S. government, via the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), launched a contest to cater to these do-gooders, and I chatted with the EPA team to hear about what’s behind their app plan. It’s all about using a wealth of data and low-cost computing to protect people’s health and the environment.
Q. What is the end goal for the EPA’s app contest?
A. The goal of EPA’s Apps for the Environment Challenge is to encourage software developers to use EPA data to make applications that help people understand environmental information. We believe the more people understand the data, the more it will help guide decisions and ultimately help protect people’s health and the environment.
Q. How did the EPA come up with the project?
A. The project came out of a meeting with Malcolm Jackson, the EPA’s chief information officer, and Aneesh Chopra, the chief technology officer of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy. They agreed that it would be beneficial for EPA to encourage developers to use our data. EPA is building our engagement model on the success that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has had in engaging developers.
Q. What types of data sets are available for the apps?
A. EPA offers data on a wide variety of environmental topics such as air monitoring in metropolitan areas (AIRNow), toxic releases from facilities (Toxics Release Inventory), Superfund, drinking water (Safe Drinking Water Information System), environmentally safe products (Design for the Environment) and environmental enforcement (Enforcement & Compliance History Online). The data are available through several means: the data sets page of the EPA’s Developer Resource Page, Data.gov and EPA’s Data Finder. For the Apps for the Environment Challenge, developers may use relevant data from other sources besides EPA.
Q. Has there been a lot of attention and submissions to the contest? How is it going so far?
A. This is our first challenge of this type, and the response has been really positive. The White House posted a blog about the challenge, and various parties have tweeted about it to almost 3 million people. We started a listserv, the EPA App Developer Community, and over 900 people subscribed to it in the first five weeks. Interested developers have been asking us about the challenge and our data, and in response, we’re holding weekly Data Discovery Webinars to inform and educate developers about specific data (see www.epa.gov/
Video explanation here: