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A Challenging Space Inside Government

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, September 7 2010

Meet Challenge.gov. The Obama administration issued a call back in March for its composite angencies to considering using prizes and challenges to spur innovation, through, goes the thinking, greater collaboration between government and citizenry, motivated by a little cash money, in the spirit of private sector experiments like the X Prize. Formally launched today by Obama administration officials, Challenge.gov is intended to be a free and easy platform that federal agenices can use, said GSA's Bev Godwin, to "post challenges in literally a matter of minutes."

U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, at Gov 2.0 this afternoon, talked about Challenge.gov as part and parcel of the White House's push to use technology to open up the federal government. "This is a fundamental shift in power," said Kundra. "This engages the American people as co-creators in solving some of the toughest problems this country faces."

There's some meta collaboration at work in the platform itself. Godwin's General Services Administration handled navigating the "compliance minefield" so that individual agencies don't have to worry quite so much about breaking any laws, or stepping outside the bounds of government restrictions on privacy and more. But the technology of the platform itself comes via a company called ChallengePost.

Of course, adoption here is key. U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra told the crowd that among the biggest fans of prizes and competitions inside the Obama administration is Michelle Obama, the First Lady. Her "Let's Move" campaign is, for example, running on the brand-new platform, in conjunction with the USDA, a contest that awards some $12,000 for the best healthy recipes that might appeal to children. Of higher stakes is the Department of Energy's "Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize." Ten million dollars is up for grabs for those who come up with ideas for workable cars that excel on a new metric that they're calling MPGe, or Miles per Gallon or (sustainable) Energy Equivalent.

Elsewhere during their time on the Gov 2.0 stage, Kundra and Chopra described how the Obama administration is forging new ground when it comes to figuring out how to use incentives to help the federal government do more, better. OMB's IT Dashboard, for example, said Kundra, aims to expose how much government technology projects cost, and how well they're working. Those IT investments that aren't up to snuff, goes the thinking, are ruthlessly cut. Kundra bragged on the cancellation of several federal IT projects, ended because the data exposed them as hopelessly deficient. It's a matter, explained Kundra, of applying "the same Darwinian pressure" that rules the consumer IT world to the federal IT space. Game on.

*A belated note on disclosure: PdF's Andrew Rasiej is an investor in ChallengePost, a New York-based company mentioned in the above post.

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