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Back in April, the Case Foundation and the White House teamed up for day long strategy session aimed at promoting innovation in the public sector through the use of prizes, challenges and open grant making. The idea was that leveraging the use of online challenges could help the federal government achieve some of the goals set forth in President Obama’s Open Government Directive, while at the same time building democracy by allowing citizens to participate in certain elements of federal decision making, and helping the government to crowdsource cost effective solutions for some of our nation’s greatest challenges. The government has moved very quickly to turn this idea into a reality.
Today, the U.S. General Services Administration—GSA, for short—is opening up shop on their new online prize and challenge site, Challenge.gov, a comprehensive database for government challenges and a home base for all individuals looking to help the government resolve today’s issues and build tomorrow’s future. According to GSA, this is how it works:
In a challenge, one party - a "seeker" - challenges a third party - a "solver" - to identify a solution to a particular problem or reward contestants for accomplishing a particular goal. Incentive prizes, which can be monetary or non-monetary, often accompany innovation challenges and contests. Challenge platforms (like Challenge.gov) are the tools that provide an online forum for the seeker to post the problem or call to action, and invite a community of solvers to suggest, collaborate on, and/or judge solutions. Challenges can range from fairly simple - idea suggestions, creation of logos, videos, games, mobile apps - to proofs of concept solving the grand challenges of our time.
There are already plenty of government challenges out there, so be sure to view the video below to learn about some current challenges as well as to see directions on how federal employees can post their upcoming challenges. Also, you can find GSA’s Challenge.gov fact sheet here.
Launching a challenge database is only the beginning of GSA’s endeavors to bring government prizes and challenges to life, however.
GSA contracted ChallengePost to design Challenge.gov, the online platform on which government agencies can run their challenges seamlessly, without the hassle of building their programs from the ground up or haggling with any legal red tape. ChallengePost has already seen great success in their work with government programs, having run both New York City’s Big Apps competition and the Apps for Healthy Kids challenge put on by USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama. What’s more, GSA and ChallengePost together are running training programs for all federal agencies to make sure they are comfortable with the challenge platform, as well as with the idea of challenges themselves.
To me, this is all groundbreaking news. While the idea of a website like Challenge.gov is, it has the power to spark a new and improved relationship between the federal government and the American public, based on two-way trust, accountability and interdependence. Government challenges can offer US citizens a new avenue to present their ideas and solutions for various issues while also asking citizens to play a larger role in the democratic process by allowing them to take government into their own hands and work with government officials in Washington.
On the other hand, the federal government can tap into a gigantic pool of knowledge, expertise and ideas for resolving many of our nation’s greatest woes, from environmental protection to energy independence, rather than limiting itself to traditional outlets or contractors. Just as the X-Prize foundation is offering $1 million for the best ideas on how to clean up the Oil Spill, the federal government could use challenges to harvest the best solutions for job creation, clean energy or poverty reduction. What’s more, the government will be able to spend tax dollars on ideas that work rather than wasting money on failed research or expensive contractual agreements.
Some of mankind’s greatest inventions have been found and funded through government innovation challenges; did you know that the food canning process was the result of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1800 food preservation prize? But don’t take it from me; check out the results of some of the current and past government challenges out there. Below are a few examples, from innovation challenges to ideas competitions, but make sure to check out the Government’s Innovation Challenges & Contests page for a larger list and more detailed information. Also, be sure to read the latest report from our Promoting Innovation conference on prizes and challenges.
- The DARPA Network Challenge: A competition that explored the role of the internet and social networking in team building exercises. The challenge was to locate 10 red weather balloons hidden around the continental US.
- The GreenGov Challenge: An online participatory forum which gathered over 5,300 ideas for helping the Federal Government go green.
- The Department of Energy’s L Prize: A technology prize challenge which asked manufacturers to find a high efficiency replacement to the common light bulb.
- Childhood Obesity Infographic Challenge: A challenge put on by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative and GOOD to create an informational graphic to illustrate different way to combat childhood obesity.
- Treasury's G 20 Finance Challenge: This competition asked for ideas on how to catalyze finance for small and medium enterprises.
- DC’s Apps for Democracy: This challenge led to the creation of 47 different web/iphone/facebook apps; a $2,300,000 value for only a $50,000 in investment!
- Department of Labor’s Tools for America's Job Seekers Challenge: Asked for the public’s assessment of various online job tools in order to create an all access database for job openings and career information.
- The NASA Innovation Pavillion: NASA has been one of biggest champions of using prizes and challenges to find innovative solutions to their toughest issues. Check out the innovation portal for a list of their current challenges.