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EPA’s Apps for the Environment — Lessons Learned — What you need to know!

There’s a lot of talk about challenges and contests and many government organizations are actually doing them.

But what works and what doesn’t?

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency conducted a challenge… Apps for the Environment — the EPA’s developer challenge. The goal was to create environmental applications using EPA data. And the challenge scored 38 apps.

The project was the brainchild of Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer. Now that contest is over and the agency is sharing its lessons learned. Ethan McMahon is a program analyst at EPA. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program what worked and what didn’t.

Apps for the Environment lessons learned with the EPA by cdorobek

This was EPA’s first developer challenge and here are the Top 5 lessons learned:

  1. Structure the challenge so all stakeholders win: A project like this will only work if all key stakeholders get something out of it. Developers need recognition, data, and expertise. Users need to know that people want to hear their ideas. Data providers need to see that their data can be leveraged to yield more value. It will take a lot effort to effectively connect users and developers.
  2. Make the data/user/developer connection sustainable: Challenges are great for raising awareness of data availability and user needs. We are evaluating ways to maintain the developer community we initiated and achieve results with fewer staff resources. We are also aware that developers deserve funds for creating apps and we are encouraging discussion on that front.
  3. Get internal buy in: The challenge requires culture change, especially for data providers. We leveraged EPA’s workgroups for Open Government and the Strategic Data Action Plan to clarify the benefits of data use and explain that data providers are a critical part of the solution. Many data providers understand the benefits, but sometimes see themselves as data managers, not necessarily data access providers.
  4. Partner with complementary parties: Because this was a new kind of effort for EPA we searched for parties who could complement our strengths. HHS provided helpful advice about structuring the challenge and how to make data available. EPA’s program offices are also partners because they both provide data and gain from the resulting apps. We sought advice from our external affairs office for the video, web presence, and listserv.
  5. Listen to what your stakeholders need: It helps to have an open mind for projects like this. We adjusted our activities based on what we learned as we went along.

To listen to Ethan’s full interview you can catch the full radio show at GovLoop Insights or your can subscribe to our itunes channel.

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