Let’s Get ‘Appy


Everyone knows that app contests are exciting. Ideas, fueled by caffeine and youthful energy, combined with the prospect of an eventual payday paint a picture that most organizations can’t resist. And for the open government community, it’s even more enticing, since app contest are an opportunity to engage residents in ‘doing good’ by enticing developers to create software based on public data sets.

Getting stated with an app contest may seem easy enough once you’ve worked through the event and legal requirements, including a hosting site and judging criteria – but before you jump into the app pool, here are some additional things to consider.

Set clear and achievable goals for the contest. It’s easy to shoot for the moon, and create idealistic goals about improving quality of life in your jurisdiction. But be specific. What exactly do you want to improve? Public access to transportation timetables? Real-time pothole reporting? Some less exciting but still relevant goals could relate to supporting business driven innovation, technology mobility, citizen access to public data, and overall data set quality improvements.

In addition to setting contest goals, it’s important to connect the contest with your organization’s strategic mission and show how the app contest supports your organization’s goals. This will help others get on board and ensures alignment between the contest work and accomplishing strategic objectives.

Avoid garbage in, garbage out. Provide your best data for contestants to use, for the best possible results. If you want innovative apps as a result of your contest, you need to provide quality ingredients. Take a look at your data sets, and determine if you need to work with your data partners to increase quality, quantity, or variety of data. For government, allowing public use of some data is a challenge since there are sensitivities and legal requirements protecting health and criminal justice information. Another way to determine if you have sufficient data for an app contest is to analyze stats from your Internet traffic to determine what people come to you web for, then see if you have the data sets to fit those interests.

Make sure nobody can contest your contest. To create and host an app contest, it is important to define what ‘app’ really means. Is it a mobile app? Can it be a desktop app? Does it need to run on all platforms? What are acceptable programming languages? While discussing these potential definitions, remember to plan for the likelihood that some progressive programmers might code in languages not used by your organization. If you restrict the coding to certain accepted languages, you might miss out on innovative ideas and decrease participation. But if you accept all languages, you might find yourself with a great app that you can’t use in our environment.

App contests are a big commitment of time and resources, with many moving parts. Before you get your contest going, remember to make sure you’ve set achievable goals, taken the steps to get the best data that you can, and clearly defined the terms of your contest. If you spend the time and perspiration up-front, your end result will be superior apps based on good ideas that contribute something valuable to your community.

Terra Milles is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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