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Project of the Week: Challenge.gov

1. What is Challenge.gov and what was the impetus for the project?
Challenge.gov is a platform which allows federal agencies to post challenges, and at the same time, allows the public to find challenges.

The impetus: In a March 8, 2010 memorandum, OMB Deputy Director for Management Jeffrey Zients provided legal guidance on the use of Challenges and Prizes to promote open government and innovation. In this memo, OMB tasked GSA with providing an online challenge platform.

GSA issued a Request for Information (RFI) for a no cost solution and selected ChallengePost. ChallengePost has experience working with government clients, having run New York City’s Big Apps and Apps for Healthy Kids with USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama, among over 100 total challenges.

2. Who’s been involved with the project – any resource / stakeholder lessons that you can share with other agencies implementing Open Gov projects?

GSA’s Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement has been working with ChallengePost, a start up out of New York City, with support and encouragement from the White House. Our White House partners included CIO Vivek Kundra and the egov office, CTO Aneesh Chopra and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the White House Office of New Media.

Often in traditional procurements, what the government wants (or thinks it wants) is spelled out ahead of time in much detail. This stifles creativity and doesn’t allow vendors to present the best solution. We prevented some of these problems by building Challenge.gov through a no-cost contract.

And when we sent out the RFI, we posted it in FedBizOpps and also sent it to about 20 small companies that we knew were in the challenge space. We chose ChallengePost from 8 responses to the RFI. It has been great working with such an agile company.

We worked closely with other agencies before launching Challenge.gov. Although the platform is awesome, what really matters are the challenges the public can interact with. Challenge.gov is launching with 38 challenges from 16 departments. We canvassed agencies to see what challenges already existed and which ones agencies had planned. Agencies showcased the existing ones in Challenge.gov so people could find them in one place, and agencies created 8 new challenges to launch simultaneously with Challenge.gov on September 7, 2010.

3. What are some of the best practices in marketing/outreach on challenges and how do you plan to apply them?

Challenge.gov itself markets all challenges by putting them in one place, and encouraging the pubic to support challenges and to share them through twitter, facebook, and email.

The White House, GSA, and agencies also release press releases, do interviews and blogger roundtables, and flex our new media muscles to reach out to thought leaders, bloggers, tweeters, and others. And, of course, we promote through GovLoop and GovFresh.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and GSA plan to do press releases on Challenge.gov. So each agency should definitely do press releases for their challenges. Press releases are so effective in getting interviews and coverage from beat reporters.

The people in government who are working on challenges are really pioneering innovators and tend to be social media savvy, so they will also apply a lot of these best practices

4. What are some of the top challenges for which you hope to generate solutions?
The challenges depend on each agency and their mission. Some agencies are seeking to raise awareness on certain issues, like the dangers of Carbon Monoxide (CPSC), the environment (EPA), don’t “text and drive” (DOT), inspiring kids and adults about government (GSA), and high growth occupations (DOL).

Other agencies, like HHS, are looking for skilled application developers to help them make better use of data. There are scientific challenges – cars that get 100 mpg, or a more efficient alternative to the light bulb (Energy).

There are also challenges in key policy areas – covering more kids with health insurance (HHS), or helping teachers with their greatest classroom challenges (Education).

We hope the public helps generate solutions to all of these. All Americans can participate and engage.

5. How/Do you plan to classify the different types of challenges?
On Challenge.gov we classify challenges in several ways. The public can find challenges by topic (e.g., economy, health, science & technology); by agency; or by keyword search. The public can also sort challenges by newest, time left for submissions, prize amount, and most popular. Most popular is based on the number of “supporters” each challenge has generated. The “I Support this Challenge” is one of the social rewards built into the Challenge.gov platform.

6. Looking out 3-5 five years from now – what are the indicators that you are using to determine if this project has been successful?
With 38 challenges at launch, I think we can already claim success. But this is just the beginning. By doing the technology and policy lift once, GSA has saved agencies significant time and money not having to duplicate these actions. They can use the policy-compliant and feature-rich Challenge.gov to post their challenges.

As challenges solve problems like the ones described above, the successful power of challenges will be shown again and again. An agency may be able to not only get a better solution through a challenge – they may get that solution for a better price.

Agencies are just getting started in this area. I think we will see more and more challenges to solve really hard problems faced by our country. Challenges have the ability to tap into the ingenuity and innovation of the American spirit to help solve problems together.

Some challenges will also stimulate private sector investment, just as Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight across the Atlantic led to the development of the private passenger air industry. The $10 million Automotive X Prize challenge to build a car that gets 100 mpg has spurred a lot of activity in this area. In 3-5 years, the successes will be just as significant and greater in number.

7. Anything else you want to share about the project?
Go to Challenge.gov (
http://challenge.gov) and see for yourself. Also, follow us on Twitter @ChallengeGov to learn when each new challenge is launched.

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