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Challenge.gov - Obama Administration Leverages Prizes and Challenges to Bring the Best Ideas and Top Talent to Bear on Nation's Most Pressing Issues

For most of our country’s history, the U.S. government has obtained goods and services and carried out its mission in two ways – contracts and grants. In 2011, another method – challenges and prizes - began to prove itself as a viable third option.

Challenges have been used for years by NASA and Defense agencies, but challenges are finally being used more widely and getting their day in the sun. The launch of Challenge.gov, and the success of challenges and prizes, is shining light on this alternative way for the federal government to solve problems.

In a March 8, 2010, memo from OMB’s Jeffrey Zients, GSA was asked to build a free, governmentwide challenge platform. One hundred and twenty days later, Challenge.gov was launched. It is a portal to all the federal government’s challenges and prizes, and was built through an innovative, no-cost contract with ChallengePost of New York.

Challenge.gov is a one-stop shop, where the government can launch challenges and the public can submit solutions. Thirty-seven different agencies have used Challenge.gov to launch over 140 challenges. The public can also “follow” challenges they are interested in, share them with their friends and family through email and social media, vote for their favorite submissions, and ask questions on discussion boards.

The Challenge.gov team at GSA helps other federal agencies use the site effectively, and has built a repository of case studies and guidance on HowTo.gov. GSA is using its existing Web Manager University program to host webinars and live events that bring the Challenges Community together to share best practices.

The Challenge.gov team also works very closely with Robynn Sturm Steffen of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She leads the 550 member Challenges Community of Practice and provides valuable challenge design advice to the federal community.

Here are a few examples of how challenges and prizes are helping the federal government and the people we serve:

For just $5,000, the Health and Human Services SMART Apps for Health Challenge produced an app that translates medication instructions into a dozen languages. FCC’s Apps for Communities resulted in apps that help Americans comment on legislation, and find transportation, jobs, farmers markets, and activities for children.

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently completed two successful challenges: InformACTION and the Occupational Employment Statistics Challenge. These challenges raised awareness of fair and safe workplace laws, and yielded tools to help workers plan education and training, make career choices, move to a new area, and negotiate pay. These victories inspired DOL to revamp developer.dol.gov and host DOL Data Days.

The potential for even greater return on investment, community building, and improved customer service is huge. Sunnier days are ahead for Challenge.gov, and challenges and prizes in general.

Check out Challenge.gov today. You can also follow us on Twitter @ChallengeGov and like us on Facebook.


Tammi Marcoullier and Karen Trebon are the managers of Challenge.gov at the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.