Open Data Rockstar: Waldo Jaquith

August 6, 2015 8:35 am PST | Data Rockstars

Waldo Jaquith HeadshotOpen government visionary Waldo Jaquith directs the U.S. Open Data Institute. Jaquith also was a roadie with the Rolling Stones for three days, a Fellow with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and was named a “Champion for Change” by President Obama. He kicks off our series of conversations with open data rockstars.

What do you actually do all day in your job?

I help people in government open their data and understand why it’s important to open up data. Traveling, meeting with people who work with government in all levels, finding obstacles to their open data that need to be solved. I help bring about incentive models for data sharing.

Favorite open data app you use yourself?

Weather Underground’s app. I’m constantly paying attention to the weather. It’s totally reliant on a huge stack of open data. Things like weather apps I think are fantastic, and so successful at integrating open data that I don’t think we think of them as open data.

What’s the next whizbang innovation coming from open data?

I hope for no whizbang innovation. The next innovation is less innovation and a return to basics, focusing on what data should be published and why, and how to make it sustainable. What’s much more important are the simple problems of how and why open data should be published.

What does the open data community need to pay more attention to?

The open data community needs to pay attention to what it’s actually like to work as an employee of a government agency. It’s about building solutions “with” government, not “for,” so you find out how to solve the actual problems that they have. Maybe government’s just blowing off steam, maybe they just want someone to say “That’s all right.” The solution might not involve technology, it might involve sitting down and talking to people.  

Who’s your open data inspiration?

Carl Malamud. Here’s a game I play at conferences: How long does it take before someone mentions his name from the stage – usually about 15 minutes – and how many times is his name mentioned? I stop counting after 10 or 15 times. His first big win was with the SEC [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission]. EDGAR [Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system] exists because of Carl. I definitely learn patience and strategy from Carl.

What’s your advice for making open data interesting?

If you have to make it interesting, you’re doing it wrong. I think a lot of people are drawn to being able to do interesting things or talk about doing interesting work. But there’s a lot of important work to be done and it might not be interesting. Open data is really boring and that’s fine, I’m fine with it being really boring. Make it interesting, why?

What question would you ask the next Open Data Rockstar?

Why should any government employee work to open data, if in doing so there is no potential personal upside, and when the downside is that they could be fired? It’s a terribly hard question.

Where to see Jaquith’s work:

“Everywhere” seems like the obvious answer when we’re talking about Waldo Jaquith’s endeavors, but saying that would be a failure to organize data. The best place to delve into his work is the U.S. Open Data Institute.


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