2013 Winner
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
General Services Administration

In the past, the federal government had a difficult task in corralling and measuring the work that was happening through innovation challenges, and open government and open data initiatives. The public would have to search widely to find out whether they were eligible to participate in specific competitions.

In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget tasked the General Services Administration with creating a hub for all federal challenge competitions. The resulting Challenge.gov platform and federal community of practice is a one-stop site for both government agencies and the public to find out what is happening in federal innovation competitions and to engage in this space. It has transformed the way agencies can solicit ideas and crowdsource solutions to critical mission issues.

The website conveys national priorities to the general public and enables participation from a diverse and creative cadre of experts in the private sector. The program allows the government to adapt more quickly, provide cutting-edge solutions, and tap into expertise outside government.

It is an alternative to traditional procurement, which allows federal agencies to award prizes to only those solutions that meet specific criteria, not just the hope of a desired outcome, while at the same time stimulating the marketplace by encouraging the private sector to develop tools, technologies, and other advanced solutions.

Challenge and prize competitions have changed the way federal agencies assess opportunities to find solutions, drive innovation within and beyond agency borders, and how they engage with citizens. In a traditional procurement process, an agency would outline detailed technical requirements and prescribe how a provider is to deliver a solution, with no guarantee of success. With challenge competitions, agencies set a goal and a deadline for what they need, without predetermining exactly how it will get done, and then let solvers submit a solution that is driven by their own ingenuity and expertise.

The Challenge.gov platform, at a minimum, saves each agency approximately $50,000 per challenge. (Minimum savings is closer to 25,000 and 50k is what we use as a benchmark since private-party platforms can cost $100,000 and more) This figure is calculated by accounting for the costs of building a new site for each challenge (presuming it to be both 508- and security-compliant and to have the tools for communicating with a solver audience and to manage judging) or using a known competitor platform and paying for their services with similar functionality. With 370  challenges listed and more than half hosted on the platform to date, the total estimated cost offset savings from the program is upwards of $10 million.

Challenge.gov has been visited by more than 3 million people around the world, with citizens from every major US city supporting the crowdsourcing programs. Since September 2010, agencies have awarded more than $73 million in cash prizes and dozens of valuable incentive prizes to innovative citizens, teams and companies.