The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.44.06 PMThe Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) just published my article “The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government“. I analyzed mobile apps and their functions, as well as their development process. In addition, I interviewed public managers in the U.S. federal government to understand how they overcame institutional barriers to reuse open data and build mobile apps:


Background: Government agencies in the United States are creating mobile health (mHealth) apps as part of recent policy changes initiated by the White House’s Digital Government Strategy.

Objective: The objective of the study was to understand the institutional and managerial barriers for the implementation of mHealth, as well as the resulting adoption pathways of mHealth.

Methods: This article is based on insights derived from qualitative interview data with 35 public managers in charge of promoting the reuse of open data through, the platform created to run prizes, challenges, and the vetting and implementation of the winning and vendor-created apps.

Results: The process of designing apps follows three different pathways: (1) entrepreneurs start to see opportunities for mobile apps, and develop either in-house or contract out to already vetted Web design vendors; (2) a top-down policy mandates agencies to adopt at least two customer-facing mobile apps; and (3) the federal government uses a policy instrument called “Prizes and Challenges”, encouraging civic hackers to design health-related mobile apps using open government data from, in combination with citizen needs. All pathways of the development process incur a set of major obstacles that have to be actively managed before agencies can promote mobile apps on their websites and app stores.

Conclusions: Beyond the cultural paradigm shift to design interactive apps and to open health-related data to the public, the managerial challenges include accessibility, interoperability, security, privacy, and legal concerns using interactive apps tracking citizen.


Mergel I.: The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government, JMIR mHealth uHealth 2014;2(4):e58, URL:, DOI: 10.2196/mhealth.3694


mobile apps;
open data;
prizes and challenges


About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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