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Not Just a Website: Challenge.gov Enables Agencies to Innovate with Incentives

Cupcake with sprinkles and a starred number 5 candle

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Next month, Challenge.gov turns five. A technical platform, a listing of federal prize competitions, and consultation and support services for running impactful challenges all meld into the program, which brings the best ideas and talent together to solve mission-centric problems.

To mark the milestone, the General Services Administration (GSA) will host a special event on Thursday, October 8th, to celebrate Challenge.gov’s accomplishments and to honor some of the visionary teams and individuals using incentivized competitions to spark significant change.

The numbers tell the story.

Upwards of 80 agencies have used this no cost platform since its debut, launching more than 440 challenges with prizes totalling over $150 million. Some 200,000 solvers—a mix of entrepreneurs, budding citizen scientists, students, and more—have participated in these challenges to solve important local, national, and global problems.

Five Years of Innovation, Solutions, and Engagement

Full logo for Challenge.gov with the tagline: "Government Challenges, Your Solutions."

Since its launch in 2010, Challenge.gov has accelerated the federal government’s mission to spur innovation, cost-effective solutions, and citizen engagement through competitions and challenges. Along with other White House initiatives, Challenge.gov has made it easier for federal agencies to launch and manage challenges.

In 2011, President Obama signed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, giving agencies a clear legal path to running challenges and enabling the pursuit of more ambitious competitions and incentives.

The Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI), established by NASA in 2011, provides guidance to NASA and other agency teams on all aspects of implementing challenge-based initiatives. This end-to-end service has allowed other agencies to rapidly experiment with these new methods before standing up their own capabilities.

Today, agencies are adding dedicated staffs and implementing programs to promote the use of challenges across the federal government. An annual report from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy [PDF] details the increasing use of challenges to meet national priority needs in areas such as energy, public safety, health, cybersecurity, and infrastructure.

And Challenge.gov has been a strategic federal partner through it all, helping agencies improve services and maximize tax dollars by only paying for successful solutions that meet the set criteria for the competition.

More than just a website, the Challenge.gov program helps agencies throughout the process of creating and running a challenge—from the conception of an idea to the awarding of a prize. A mix of training, consultation, and new features to the site make it increasingly easy for federal agencies to launch and run challenges.

Harvard University acknowledged this when it awarded Challenge.gov the Innovations in American Government Award, citing the program’s role in enabling agencies to solve public problems in a more effective manner.

“Challenge.gov creatively sidesteps many of the roadblocks to public-sector innovation,” Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, wrote in a column in Governing Magazine.

“Instead of paying first and hoping a solution is delivered, GSA’s approach minimizes risk and encourages creativity by inducing dozens and sometimes hundreds of potential solutions and leaving the government agency free to pick the best before delivering a reward,” Goldsmith wrote. “It’s an approach that opens up space for individuals and smaller businesses to shine in a sector often crowded out by big companies.”

Celebrating the past and Looking Forward

A n award for "The Best" shaped like a gold star, against a red and gold hued background.

Alexander Vasilyev/iStock/Thinkstock

The October 8th event at GSA will highlight the critical role challenges and prizes have played in federal government innovation and honor those who have helped this community thrive and progress.

The event will feature a variety of activities of interest both from a federal and industry perspective, including:

  • Keynote speeches from leaders in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and GSA
  • Vendor showcase and lightning talks for the federal community to learn about professional vendor services, capabilities, and current challenge development work
  • Awards to recognize teams and individuals who have raised the bar on prize design and incentives and/or led the adoption of challenges in the federal government
  • Information on new capabilities on the Challenge.gov site.

Be sure to register even if you can’t attend in person, as there will be a live webcast of the festivities. The hashtag #publicprizes will be used.

Also, don’t forget to nominate your choices for the Five Years of Excellence in Federal Challenge & Prize Competitions Event & Awards. You have through Friday, September 11th, to make your nominations.

If you are a vendor currently working with government agencies on challenge and prize development and would like to participate, please email the Challenges team.

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