In celebration of Challenge.gov’s fifth birthday, the officials in charge of the program Thursday announced a new suite of tools, among other things, to help agencies put more ambitious contests and bigger prizes on the site, which showcases competitions aimed at solving complex problems for the government.
The new tools, which have been in beta for the past few weeks, said Kelly Olson, senior innovation adviser and director for Challenge.gov within the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, will “help new agencies better manage incoming solutions and proposals, gauge the impact of challenges across their portfolios, and engage more directly with their community.”
During an event at GSA’s headquarters to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the program, Olson detailed a few of the tools for agencies to use, such as the ability to query the website’s database to create data visualizations, and a new mentorship program.
“It’s designed for federal employees to help advocate for the program and amplify the benefits and positive impacts of prizes by driving support and expertise to agencies as they design and execute competitions,” she said. “We are a small but mighty team. But the demand for this tool, this platform and this type of innovation is increasing. So this is a way for us to multiply.”
Launched as a way to seek citizen input to solve some of the nation’s biggest problems, Challenge.gov showcases hundreds of competitions that, its website says, “cover a wide range of interests and require varying levels of skills and abilities in order to participate.” After a half-decade, it is starting to hit its stride, said Jenn Gustetic, assistant director for open innovation in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Over five years’ time, the program has engaged more than 200,000 citizen innovators through more than 440 challenges on topics ranging from relief of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to fighting Ebola in 2014.
“We really are somewhere today completely different than we were five years ago,” Gustetic said. “Now it’s not even about justifying prizes and challenges as a tool anymore, talking about benefits; it’s talking about how we can do them better, and how we can be more ambitious.”
That’s exactly what Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation at OSTP, charged agencies and the challenge community to strive for.
“I don’t think we should rest on our laurels,” Kalil said, emphasizing that agencies should “support evermore ambitious and high impact prizes.”
“When agencies first try this out, they kind of put their toe in the water and say ‘Maybe I’ll do an app challenge,'” he said. “That’s great, but I think the next step is to say, ‘What is an innovation that would truly be game-changing, that would be front page, above the fold, that will have a transformational impact on the lives of millions of people, not only in the United States but around the world?'”
As Challenge.gov turned five, in addition to the new tools on the website, the anniversary was greeted by a host of other launches. This week, the program announced more than 20 new challenges, nine of which are led by federal agencies. Tuesday, Reps. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., and Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., formed a congressional caucus around prizes and challenges. To better connect innovators with global funding opportunities, at Thursday’s event, a member of the Global Development Lab at U.S. Agency for International Development introduced a networking tool, called the Global Innovation Exchange. And by the year’s end, Gustetic said the Challenge.gov community should have a toolkit to make the transitions for agencies and innovators eager to take part in prizes and challenges easier.
“The future looks nothing but bright for Challenge.gov,” GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth said.