GSA's Wins Harvard Innovation Award - InformationWeek

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Government // Leadership

GSA's Wins Harvard Innovation Award

Online portal features information on government challenges and competitions, aims to crowdsource creative ideas to solve societal problems.

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The General Services Administration's (GSA) online portal for running challenge and prize competitions has won Harvard University's Innovations in American Government Award. GSA was chosen as a front-runner of the prestigious award from a pool of more than 600 applicants. was launched in July 2010 in response to a memo by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) instructing the GSA to build a platform that allows the public to compete for prizes by "providing the government with novel solutions to tough problems," the GSA said. uses a pay-for-performance model and allows the government to crowdsource such solutions in a contest format. The contest site is powered by a platform called ChallengePost.

Between Sept. 2010 and Sept. 2013, 58 federal agencies used to run 288 competitions, according to the GSA. The competitions encompass everything from science to engineering to design, resulting in many cases in public-private partnerships. "Prizes and challenges are being integrated into the fabric of the way we do business in government," White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director John Holdren said at an event honoring GSA on Jan. 23.

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Some examples of contests on include Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Robocall Challenge aimed at blocking auto-dialing telemarketers. FTC picked two winners, each of whom received $25,000 for their proposals for technology to intercept and filter out robocalls. The Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) launched the Disability Employment App Challenge, calling on entrepreneurs and developers to use ODEP's publicly available data to create apps that assist disabled job seekers. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Michelle Obama used to create the Apps for Healthy Kids Challenge, which focuses on engaging software tools and games for children.

" is a powerful, yet practical, example that any jurisdiction or level of government could follow to enable its agencies to tap into the collective wisdom of completely new and creative audiences of problem solvers, driving innovation within and beyond government," GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a written statement.

GSA was among the top five finalists that Harvard's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation selected for the award. The other four were the Healthy Incentives Program, which offers healthcare savings to King County, Wash., employees and their families; Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), which provides transformative city services to Boston residents; Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), to create a federal strategy to revitalize the nation's most distressed neighborhoods; and New Mexico's Smart Roadside Inspection System, to identify high-risk trucks using specialized roadside imaging systems and multiple back-end data networks.

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets. She writes about the federal government and NASA's space missions for InformationWeek.

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User Rank: Author
1/24/2014 | 12:26:43 PM
Re: Well deserved
David, good question. This is a great example of using crowd sourcing, but I wouldn't say this government program is doing it better than the private sector.  The real genius here is how GSA gave agencies a turnkey program and template for staging contests, similar to what DARPA does all the time.  Rather than trying to develop a proposed solution to a  problem, and put it up for competitive bidding, as agencies typically must do, agencies can simply go out to the public and ask, "What ideas do you have or recommend?" It costs agencies  practically nothing (beyond award a prize, and often, it's just recognition.)  And agencies often get superior ideas to work from at a fractio of the usual cost, and in substantial shorter time frames.  Multiply that times dozens of federal agencies and you begin to see the power of this program.

David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
1/24/2014 | 10:14:56 AM
Re: Well deserved
Would you say this is a case of government succeeding more than private sector organizations in the use of this crowdsourcing technique? The govermment has the advantage of scale and should make maximum use of it.
IW Pick
User Rank: Author
1/23/2014 | 4:34:35 PM
Well deserved
Glad to see this program get the recognition it deserves. I've been following this program since its inception, and it's record for helping agencies innovate, by engaging the public, at so little cost is remarkable.  Some of the stats on this program are worth noting, especially when you consider how the creative work of just a few individuals at GSA has been so powerfully leveraged:

·       300+ challenge and prize competitions

·       59 agencies and bureaus represented (Every cabinet level agency)

·       1,200 people trained at 15 webinars and in person workshops

·       580 members in Challenge Community of Practice

·       42,000 solvers participating in challenges

·       3.6 million+ visits to

·       11,681 U.S. cities represented by site visitors (includes every state)

·       Visitors from every country

·       Bodies of knowledge at and
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