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What is Open Data?

The movement to utilize open data to improve decision-making has the potential to revolutionize our ability to create social impact. Open data has applications across numerous sectors such as health, transportation, public safety, education, foreign aid, and international development. The rapid increase in available data is helping leaders, organizations, and citizens become more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.

Dr. Raj Shah, Administrator for the US Agency for International Development, and Todd Park, US Chief Technology Officer, has described open data as “a remarkable new tool… to help end extreme poverty and ensure dignity and opportunity for people around the world.”

A series of open data initiatives (e.g., Mapping For Results,, the Open Aid Partnership, the International Aid Transparency Initiative, AidData) have demonstrated the value of generating and providing open access to high-resolution, sub-national aid and development data. These efforts are bringing greater efficiency, accountability, and transparency, to programs and policies that are designed to improve society at large.

In partnership with AidData and the College of William and Mary, this category challenges students to develop a plan that leverages publicly available datasets to innovate solutions and address important social challenges. Projects may focus on several areas, including but not limited to mapping visualizations, transparency and accountability feedback loops, crowd-sourcing tools, monitoring and evaluation applications and spatial analysis. Strong consideration will be given to projects that can demonstrate broad impact, sustainability, and scalability to different countries or underserved areas.

Examples of proposals that would fit into this category include:

  • A mapping platform visualizing a country’s foreign aid projects for better coordination among donors
  • A crowd-sourcing platform that facilitates citizen feedback on development projects
  • A geospatial analysis tool to determine where to build service facilities and transportation infrastructure
  • An application allowing users to determine the location, distance, and capacity of their local hospitals
  • A website enabling citizens to report corruption and improve government transparency
  • A mapping tool using crowd-sourcing technology to distribute rescue and relief during disasters
  • A visualization tool enabling users to map government investments and layer them with other geospatial variables (poverty, maternal health, literacy, etc.) to inform resource allocation decisions
  • A disaster management platform of crowd-sourced information regarding the status of transportation systems and roads being down

Category Specific Rules

The Open Data category is open to all matriculated undergraduate and graduate students. At least one member of the team must be a matriculated student at a university participating in USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network:

  • UC Berkeley
  • College of William and Mary
  • Duke University
  • Makerere University (Uganda)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michigan State University
  • Texas A&M University


    Multidisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged. For additional information about general contest rules, timing, and how to apply, please refer to the Contest Application Requirements.


    The Open Data category is sponsored by AidData and the College of William & Mary in collaboration with UC Berkeley.  Award administration will be provided by UC Berkeley and funding will be provided by the AidData Center for Development Policy and UC Berkeley.

    Past Winners

    “Open Data” is a new category. Big Ideas is looking forward to future participants!


    United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
    Since 1961, USAID has been the principal U.S. agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms. The Blum Center links world-class faculty, inspiring new curriculum, and innovative technologies, services and business models to create real-world solutions for developing economies.

    Higher Educations Solutions Network
    USAID has created a constellation of seven Development Labs that harness the intellectual power of great American and international academic institutions and that catalyze the development and application of new science, technology, and engineering approaches and tools to solve some of the world’s most challenging development problems.

    AidData is an initiative that aims to (a) increase the impact of development assistance by making aid information more transparent and accessible to a wide range of stakeholders, and (b) improve the quality of research on aid allocation and aid effectiveness.

    Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley
    The Blum Center links world-class faculty, inspiring new curriculum, and innovative technologies, services and business models to create real-world solutions for developing economies.

    College of William & Mary
    The College of William & Mary in Virginia is a public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia, United States.

    In-Kind Sponsors

    The Data and Democracy Initiative
    Founded in 2011, the Data and Democracy Initiative brings creativity and innovation from computer science, electrical engineering, and social media to bear on issues of democracy building and civic participation.