Some agencies have adopted the technique with such gusto they now have dedicated presonnel focused on running competitions. But not everyone thinks challenges are the vehicle for efficiency and innovation proponents claim. Challenges and competitions do more harm than good, writes Kevin Starr in an Aug. 22 post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
The Library of Congress is challenging the public to help identify barriers to using open, legislative data formats in the hopes of increasing accessibility to the legislative record and creating opportunities for international standards. XML and Akoma Ntoso--an open framework used worldwide to annotate parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents--are at the heart of the data challenge.
"I do think that apps, app contests, coverage thereof and other related activities can help make people more aware and knowledgeable about problems," said Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Foundation's Sunlight Labs. "Gridlock, in particular, might benefit from more awareness."
The Federal Communications Commission Dec. 5 recognized (.pdf) eight communications technology projects benefiting people with disabilities. Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will present the projects with Awards for Advancement in Accessibility during a Dec. 19 ceremony at which time the technologies will be demonstrated at FCC headquarters.
Apps in the competition may be designed for smartphones, feature phones, or other formats such as traditional browsers. Challenge organizers encourage developers to be creative when it comes to format--they can be interactive and informative games or data visualizations, for example. One clear requirement, however, is that all apps meet or exceed Section 508 usability standards.
The Labor Department is a firm believer in using competitions, rather than traditional contract vehicles, in order to gain the attention of the developer community. During an Oct. 23 presentation hosted by DigitalGov University, Labor Department Chief Information Officer Xavier Hughes offered agencies tips for using challenges for mobile app development.
The General Services Administration's competition platform Challenge.gov is currently hosting 10 challenges around accessibility, said Tammi Marcoullier, program manager of Challenge.gov. "We'd like to see more of this. We know that there are parts of the community on the technology side that just really need to get more involved and inclusive," said Marcoullier during a Sept. 6 event called "Developing with Accessibility," hosted by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C.
A Challenge.gov contest is seeking an app that would inform people of their personal risk for cardiovascular disease and compel them to take action to reduce it. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and Million Hearts, a Health and Human Services Department initiative, will award a $100,000 grand prize and $5,000 each to up to five finalists.
Three agencies recently issued requests for information and public solicitations for mobile applications, but they're not all using the same methods for acquisition.
In the first 8 months since prize authority for government-sponsored challenges was expanded under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, five agencies launched seven challenges under the new prize statute, according to a progress report from the Office of Science and Technology Policy.