Last year the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) in partnership with ChallengePost launched an online challenge platform, challenge.gov, to aggregate all challenges being offered across the federal government. The intent of challenge.gov is to empower the U.S. Government and the public to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation’s most pressing challenges.
What is a challenge?
A challenge is a solicitation from one party to a third party to develop a strategy or tangible solution to a particular problem. In other words, a challenge is where an individual/group compete to solve a challenge posed by the solicitor. If selected as the winner by a group of judges, based upon pre-established criteria, the individual or group will receive a prize which can vary between a monetary prize or non-monetary such as being featured at a national level.
One might be asking themselves why the federal government would participate in something like this; shouldn’t it be left up to for-profit corporations? As many people in and outside of government will agree, the federal government does not have the resources or capacity to solve all the challenges that are posed. Challenges provide a unique opportunity to create public-private partnerships and foster innovation in a flexible environment not normally associated with government.
Technology driven challenges are great examples of where soliciting outside expertise is beneficial. SAMHSA is the national expert on behavioral health not the national expert in developing iPhone and Andriod Apps, but as mobile technology continues to grow, SAMHSA recognizes the importance of reaching people through these platforms. By issuing a challenge for the development of app, SAMHSA can connect with some of the best and brightest minds in the IT world while contributing the content necessary (through the challenge criteria) to make a high quality product for the constituencies SAMHSA serves.
What types of challenges are out there? Are they all technology driven?
Now you might be asking yourself what type of challenges are out there and whether or not any are applicable to you. Most challenges vary greatly from each other, so there’s likely one that everyone would be interested in. There are technology driven challenges like HHS’s Apps Against Abuse Challenge currently open for submission which challenges individuals and groups to develop apps that provide college students and young adults with the tools to help prevent dating violence and sexual assault.
However, challenges can also be engagement driven; a challenge that asks individuals or groups to engage the most people on a given topic. An example of this is NIH’s Lessons About Bioscience (LAB) Challenge, which challenges people to develop engaging, inexpensive experiments for students from kindergarten through high school.
Lastly, challenges can also be process driven; both internal government process and external program processes. The age old stereotype is that government processes are cumbersome and bureaucratic; challenges give government an opportunity to look outside government to take advantage of innovative processes from the private sector. For example, a government agency could issue a challenge to help come up with its internal web governance process or a challenge around the external Medicaid enrollment process.
So what now, all the government’s problems are going to be solved by issuing challenges?
Absolutely not, but a lot of great new ideas and innovative products can come as a result that wouldn’t be available otherwise. As SAMHSA continues its mission of reducing the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities, it will look to utilize challenges, to have the public do the same.