When people hear about challenge competitions, they most often ask about the results. What worked and why did it work? Two great examples are featured on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy site, which include the “needle in the haystack” solvers for a space mass competition and eleven entrepreneurial start-ups that are using breast cancer research. You’ll also read about how the Federal Community of Practice for Challenges and Prizes is creating a toolkit with user-centered design that ultimately will be developed into an interactive resource for government agencies to run incentive competitions, from conception through to implementation.
“I tell the interns: In this lab, we’re all about failure. If you’re not failing, you’re not really doing anything.” –Sam Droege, USGS biologist, in Audubon magazine The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is actively working with citizen scientists to discover, collect, and organize a variety of scientific data that is critical for the future of understanding broad trends and findings across a variety of categories—from geological mapping to tracking bird species.
This month we’ll be highlighting articles about crowdsourcing. These are the programs that use a variety of online mechanisms to get ideas, services, solutions, and products by asking a large, diverse crowd to contribute their expertise, talents, and skills. Among the mechanisms are hackathons, data jams, code-a-thons, prize competitions, workplace surveys, open ideation, micro-tasks or microwork, citizen science, crowdfunding, and more. A brief look at history outlines a few notable prize competitions, crowdsourcing where solvers are given a task and winners are awarded a prize: The X-Prize and its many iterations from personal space flight to unlocking the secrets of the ocean, Charles Lindburgh’s flight across the Atlantic for the Orteig Prize, and the 300 year-old Longitude Prize, launched by an act of Parliament in Britain to determine a ship’s longitude with the goal of reducing shipwrecks.
Challenge competitions were recently highlighted as two potential solutions to help with the Ebola crisis responses. The first is a grand challenge launched Oct. 17, 2014, by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID): Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development. The goal: To help health care workers on the front lines provide better care and stop the spread of Ebola. Engage the global community to identify ingenious ideas that deliver practical and cost-effective innovations in a matter of months, not years; Forge public private partnerships necessary to test and scale these innovations and; Provide critical funding to get some of the most promising ideas into the field quickly.
Challenge.gov now hosts the full federal-wide listing of crowdsourcing competitions and has a back-end platform for agencies to create and manage their competitions. The site is managed and produced within GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology (OCSIT) group. The main feature is a complete listing of federal challenge and prize competitions, including archives going back to 2010. For website visitors searching for competitions, this is an easy to search tool that can help people find competitions based on:
If you are a coastal resident, go to the beach, or are interested in digital volunteering, you can be a tremendous help in identifying and classifying changes that storms make to our coast after severe storms. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has launched iCoast, a Web application where you can view aerial photographs and help classify them. The iCoast Team explains: We are looking for online volunteers to classify photos taken before and after Hurricane Sandy, and particularly targeting people with different kinds of coastal expertise, disaster skills, and volunteer interests.
If you have a hand in contracts for crowdsourcing initiatives and challenge and prize competitions, here are some helpful hints for you. We’ve gathered this list from the expert businesses that provide competition services. Haven’t heard about that? See GSA Schedule 541-4G. Background: Over the last two years, competition providers and consultants have become more specialized in niche areas where they have expertise, access to specific solver communities, and experience in driving outcomes based on the competition structure and goals.
Challenge and prize competitions are competitive and not always squeaky clean. There is money at stake, pride, honor, and awards. So this Quartz/NexGov article, Crowdsourcing Behavior Encourages Malicious Behavior, Study Finds, that highlights the ugly side of competitions hits a raw nerve. The University of Southampton in the UK and the National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) conducted the study, examining recent crowdsourcing competitions. Crowdsourcing generally espouses openness and broad-based cooperation, but the researchers explained that it also brings out people’s worst competitive instincts.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had such great success with their first robocall challenge competition that the agency decided to take a different angle this year—targeting the skilled hackers at DEF CON 22, the annual defense conference in Las Vegas in early August. Five winners earned cash prizes and bragging rights for their creative technical solutions around building and hacking “honeypots” that spoofed illegal robocall experiences. Some details from the program managers:
Federal challenge and prize competitions are in the news again. Our colleagues across government participated in research that resulted in a new report released June 19 from Deloitte University Press, The Craft of Prize Design: Lessons from the public sector. In the last five years, incentive prizes have transformed from an exotic open innovation tool to a proven innovation strategy for the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. Incentive prizes seem deceptively simple: Identify a problem, create and publicize a prize-based challenge for solving that problem, sign up diverse participants, and offer a reward to the winner.
Our fabulous colleague Jeanne Holm is ready for the #hackforchange events this weekend and summarized some tips, notes and links to resources on Data.gov. Great things will happen this weekend! Remember, if you hear about great uses of government data, let everyone know by tweeting #hackforchange or mention @usdatagov. The Data.gov team is organizing a webinar in a week, showcasing some of the best outcomes and hosting lightning talks by the developers and designers.
The National Defense University (NDU) is hosting a conference call Friday, May 23, to spread the word about the Disaster Apps Challenge Competition, which opened yesterday. This call is open to the public, specifically the people who are interested in learning more and possibly entering the competition. The goals: Introduce the challenge Explain the basis for meeting the challenge Answer your questions NDU will also be joined by “socialpreneur,” Nelson Jacobsen, CEO, Random Hacks of Kindness and the chief architect and guru who guides and grows Altavoz, the entertainment distribution company he co-founded in 2011.
We won’t build the government of the 21st century by drawing within the lines. We don’t have to tell you the hard work of building a digital government doesn’t exist in a vacuum or a bubble. Show us social media without mobile, Web without data and user experience without APIs. You can’t? That’s right—in reality, digital government intersects and cuts across boundaries every day in order to deliver the digital goods.
You should be on this list—the current federal government participants in the National Day of Civic Hacking. There are 15 agencies participating in the event, primarily in and around the Washington, D.C., area. This is a fantastic compilation of what agencies are doing, but it is not enough. We need more widespread participation across the country. If your office has a regional presence and has data or ideas for technical and design projects they’d like to contribute, this is a prime opportunity to dip in and see what it is like to work with people outside of government.
We are thrilled to share an update from our competition colleagues at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The third annual comprehensive report detailing the use of prizes and competitions by federal agencies to spur innovation, engage citizen solvers, address tough problems, and advance their core missions is now available — Federal Prize Authority 2013. You can read details about the remarkable results from 87 prize competitions implemented by 25 federal agencies in fiscal year 2013, representing a more than 85 percent increase from 2012.
The National Day of Civic Hacking is actually a weekend. An awe-inspiring two days of collaborative work where coders, designers, writers, innovative thinkers, and data geeks get together to solve problems and build things for their communities. For the Challenge.gov community, this is a fantastic opportunity to get live, hands-on experience talking with and working next to people in a real-time hacking environment. If you’re thinking about running a competition around data sets or have an idea you want to float to developers, you can do it here first and see what feedback and traction you get, before committing to a full-fledged prize competition.
There is some confusion about how “ideation” fits into challenge and prize competitions. Often, we hear from agencies that they would like to ask the public for ideas, to survey them on a specific question, or to request proposals in response to a problem. And all of these things could be challenge competitions. But often they are not because they’re missing critical elements. A challenge competition: Has a clear problem statement and ask Offers a prize incentive Addresses intellectual property (IP) rights Has criteria for judging entries AND Includes a plan for development and/or implementation We studied successful ideation competitions, talked with our colleagues in the challenge and prize community, the ideation community, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to come to a consensus on these points.
This is a phenomenal month for federal challenge and prize competitions with 12 new programs launched in February. The challenge.gov platform usually averages four to six new challenges a month, so we’re excited to see the year start off with a big push to engage citizens in creative problem solving. Take a look and see what these agencies are doing to drive innovation: White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Our team and a few other agencies had the chance to attend the 2013 TopCoder Open this year and meet the best of the best developers, coders, designers, data scientists, and innovative thinkers in crowdsourcing. This is the #TCO13 highlight video. Watch a few minutes and you’ll see the excitement of the competitors and why we at challenge.gov do what we do to encourage federal agencies to use competitions to engage the public in solving government’s technical, scientific and operational problems.
This week the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released its second comprehensive report detailing the use of federal challenge and prize competitions. Read it and you’ll find details about the fiscal benefits of more than 300 competitions implemented by 45 agencies. As the report released today makes clear, agencies made big strides in the challenge arena in FY 2012. In FY 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began establishing strategies to expand its use of the new prize authority – and by FY 2012, HHS emerged as a leader in implementing prize programs, offering 18 prize competitions, many conducted through public-private partnerships.
Thanks to the tremendous work of challenge managers across federal government and the support of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, the Challenge.gov program at GSA has been named one of the top 5 finalists in Harvard’s Innovations in American Government Award! We are honored to be among this group, after rigorous competition from all levels of government. Join us in congratulating all the finalists today. And a big pat on the back to the hundreds of champions at 59 agencies who worked on the 300+ public prize competitions to-date.
Technology to block robocalls is a huge win for consumers and for challenge competitions this year. The FTC awarded a prize to Aaron Foss, creator of Nomorobo, in April. The technology went to market September 30, and the tool has already blocked more than one hundred thousand calls. The FTC did a number of things right in setting up and managing this challenge competition — among them, creating a competition focused on mission and designing the challenge to track measurable results.
The first public page on the world wide web went live twenty years ago on April 30, 1993. Take a look because this is the page that explains all things www at the time. ReadWriteWeb put it in perspective: CERN, the European science laboratory where the Web was born (and where physicists are now exploring the origins of the universe with the world’s largest particle accelerator) first made the page public on April 30, 1993.
Nine federal programs made the list! Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation announced the Top 25 Innovations in Government May 1. A winner and four finalists will be revealed this fall. TheWashington Post described how Harvard’s review committee selected the finalists and why this is important. Against the tide of talk about sequestration and cuts, positive change is happening among agencies: “… this is a story about innovation in government at a time when people, including those on the inside, generally believe government is incapable of anything close to it.