Government Challenges – Your Solutions – Why Challenge.gov Works

In 2010 the General Services Administration launched Challenge.gov. The idea was simple the site would house agency contests and competitions together in one place. But no one could have predicted the success. Now three years in, Challenge.gov is home to more than 250 challenges from 60 agencies. 

Sheila Campbell is the Director for Excellence in Digital Government at GSA and Karen Trebon is the Acting Program Manager for Challenge.gov. 

The site was a finalist for the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government's Top 25 Innovations in Government.

Campbell and Trebon told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that Challenge.gov is a place where government and the public can come together in a really innovative way.

How Challenge.Gov Works?

"Agencies posts a challenge or a prize and look for submissions from the public. These are problems that previously didn't have solutions or the solutions were very costly," said Campbell. "The public can also vote for competitions and can support a challenge. It doesn't supplant the typical procurement process but compliment it. It also solves problems in a transparent way."

Transparency

"Challenge.gov opens up the process to people who may not have had access to solving these problems before. The non-traditional folks come out of the wood-work. It brings much more diversity to the task. There are a variety of different incentives and prize purses so it attracts different sets of people," said Campbell. 

With more than 260 challenges already filter through Challenge.gov some lessons learned have emerged.

Trembol reports her lessons learned:

  • Having a good communication plan is key.
  • You also have to define the problem correctly.
  • You have to clear the challenge with General Counsel.
  • You need to get the full backing of the leadership team at your agency.
  • Must have a strategy to reach the people you want to have involved - you need to discover how they hear about competitions and reach out to them.
  • After the challenge is over, making sure to toot your own horn. A staff person needs to keep in touch with the winner. You need document the success. Tell your own lessons learned.
  • The contestants are motivated by feedback so keeping the process ongoing is essential.

Community Involvement

"It is not just the winning solution that are useful for agencies, but government can gain broad insights from other submissions or from solutions that are only able to fill 60-80% complete," said Trembol. 

Biggest Challenge

"The big challenge is for agencies is that this is a completely new way of doing things. It is still growing and evolving so within agencies it can be tough to get critical mass around it," said Campbell. 

Big Success

"The Federal Trade Commission issued a challenge to stop illegal Robo Calls. They received almost 800 submissions. FTC identified the winners, but now they are taking it a step further and incorporating some of the other cool ideas to create a consumer education campaign," said Trembol. 

"Innovation isn't a one-off thing. It is part of this greater eco-system of building communities. People who participated saw something in the challenge that caused them to participate. So the key is to build on that engagement point and push them into engaging on other opportunities," said Campbell.

Culture Shift

"We had to get past the point where we in government know everything. There is a huge value in reaching out to the public. We get a huge diversity of solutions by thinking outside the box," said Campbell. 

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