Dr. Kevin Desouza’s “Challenge.gov: Using Competitions and Awards to Spur Innovation”

This post was written by Dan Chenok, and originally appeared on theIBM Center for the Business of Government Blog.

Kevin C. Desouza’s “Challenge.gov: Using Competitions and Awards to Spur Innovation,” examines the cross-government electronic platform, Challenge.gov, through which agencies can pose problems and challenge the public to provide solutions.

Cutting-edge government leaders are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to solve public problems. The opportunity facing government managers is to find these new approaches.

One new approach is the use of challenges, which use “crowd­sourcing” to canvass solution approaches for particular prob­lems. Challenges open up new avenues for connecting people who have innovative ideas to people in government who can implement these ideas. A recent IBM Center for the Business of Government report, Managing Innovation Prizes in Government by Luciano Kay, examined var­ious models pioneered in the private sector to connect innova­tors with ideas to businesses looking to solve problems; today’s report complements that study.

Federal agencies have posted nearly 200 contests on the challenge.gov web­site since it was launched in September 2010. Dr. Desouza examines the outcomes of various contests to better understand the issues and problems for which agencies are seeking solu­tions, and evaluate the various approaches they are using to conduct these contests. The concept of challenges gained a legislative boost in December 2010, when Congress included a prizes component in legislation, the America COMPETES Act, designed to increase American innovation and competition.

To gain insights about what worked in Challenge.gov and what can be improved, Desouza interviewed government managers who sponsored contests, and contest winners. Based on his research and their insights, he offers a series of findings and recommendations on ways agencies can better use Challenge.gov, from the pre-competition phase through design, launch, and oper­ation, to identify promising ideas for solving public problems.

Based on his research, Desouza concludes, “Challenge.gov is still in the developmental stage and our analysis and interviews point to numerous opportunities to improve its operation and impact …We believe Challenge.gov is a viable platform for solving the grand challenges of our time.”

While Challenge.gov is designed primarily to address federal innovation needs, there are similar platforms being developed for local government use. We hope the insights and recommen­dations presented here will be helpful to them and to federal managers who seek to tap into the innovative talent of the American public.

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