As the United States Congress grinds to a standstill over the state of the economy, gun legislation and general partisan backbiting, we need to take a step back and reflect upon the past for proven solutions for the future.  If I asked any of my colleagues in the Government 2.0 industry where, historically, we should focus our attention, few would answer the 1980s given the fact that the Internet wasn’t even invented until the end of the decade.

Despite this, we only need to look back to the Eighties to find inspiration and proof of concept for one important path forward in technology: Open Data.  The first true "Open Data Directive" was a mandate for "Free and Open GPS Signals".  This was created and championed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The directive from President Reagan was a response to the terrible tragedy of a Korean Airlines flight that sadly strayed into Russian airspace and was shot down.  President Reagan’s altruistic directive, which opened the military’s GPS to the world, provided an amazing opportunity to the private sector that is experiencing its second act 30 years later in the Government 2.0 ecosystem of open data.

The decision to open up GPS provided the ability to create sophisticated navigation systems to prevent future disasters.  The unforeseen consequence of President Reagan’s move was the creation a $250 billion a year navigation industry (including GPS enabled smartphones), millions of jobs, and inspiration to spur the next generation of innovation and economic prosperity in the US.

Channeling 1983, on his first day as President, Obama signed the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government to spur innovation at the Federal level for private sector development.  This inspired progressive cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia to create own open data legislation at the local level.  This has led to an emergent new industry, unparalleled innovation, job creation, revenue, and collaboration between government and the private sector not seen since the ‘80s. Organizations like Code for America and Citizenville, as well as private companies like Appallicious are living, breathing examples of the new industry first created by President Reagan and rejuvenated by President Obama.

President Reagan’s fortuitous decision to open one data set to the world created millions of jobs and a multi-billion dollar industry.  As progressive government leaders at the Federal, State, and City levels begin to explore their own open data legislation, they should look at their smartphone, click open their map app and ask, "if the GPS industry was created by one open data set, imagine what millions of open data sets could create?"

Yo Yoshida is the Founder & CEO of Appallicious, a San Francisco-based open data and Government 2.0 company.