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9/7/2010
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Gov 2.0 Summit: Feds Launch Online Prize Platform

New website Challenge.gov will act as a locus for government-sponsored innovation challenges that award winners with prizes ranging from small change to millions.




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In a bet that prizes -- from a chance to cook healthy school recipes alongside White House chefs to a cash award of $10 million -- will entice members of the public to help promote government initiatives and participate in answering questions and solving problems posed by government, the White House today announced the launch of a government challenge website, Challenge.gov, at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.

The Gov 2.0 Summit, produced by O'Reilly and UBM TechWeb, is being held in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday.

At launch, challenge.gov includes 36 new and existing challenges from more than 15 federal agencies, including everything from a $2,750 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission challenge to develop the best carbon monoxide safety poster to a $10 million challenge from the Department of Energy to develop "high-quality, high-efficiency solid state lighting to replace the common light bulb."

The website allows people to search for prizes, browse through them by organization, how new the challenge is, time left on the challenge, by the prize and by what's the most popular. Visitors will be able to discuss and post answers to problems, share information via email and social media, receive email or RSS updates on challenges and in some cases vote on winners.

Federal agencies, meanwhile, can post challenges on the site easily and free of charge. Agencies decide what problems to resolve with challenges, develop content such as a description of the challenge, create rules and prizes (monetary or non-monetary, such as meeting First Lady Michelle Obama) for the challenge and then judge the winners and dole out the prizes, but Challenge.gov provides a central location where those challenges are hosted, a common way for problem-solvers to participate, and an easy way to launch and manage the challenges and responses.

"Challenge.gov marks a dramatic departure from business as usual," said federal CTO Aneesh Chopra. "We want to make sure everybody has a chance to participate. Prizes engage our nation's top talent as co-creators in the search for solutions, and help the nation accelerate innovation while achieving better results."

Challenge.gov is built with software from New York City startup ChallengePost, which was one of eight organizations that responded to a request for information issued by GSA in April. "Challenge.gov helps government do more with less, and allows the public to add value beyond their tax dollars, and receive rewards in exchange," ChallengePost CEO Brandon Kessler said in a statement. The start-up will continue working with the General Services Administration to help government agencies develop best practices around government challenges.

The use of prizes grows out of successful challenges like the Ansari X Prize, a competition that offered $10 million to anyone who could launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks, which was eventually awarded to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

In March, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo on the use of challenges to "improve government and encourage innovation," promising that the Obama administration would make a web-based platform for prizes and challenges available by September, and OMB tasked GSA with choosing the platform.

Separately, NASA recently launched a competition platform of its own, powered by InnoCentive.com, which recently awarded a prize to a radio frequency engineer who developed an algorithm to help predict solar flares, and has other challenges underway, including a challenge to develop a way to do laundry on long-distance space missions. NASA eventually plans to move its challenge platform to Challenge.gov, and has a number of challenges on the new platform.

Other agencies are interested as well. Soon after GSA announced the program today, Bob Carey, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which administers and provides assistance for military and overseas citizen absentee voting, Tweeted that his agency would soon be using the platform to ask citizens to help absentee voting problems.

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