Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

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.

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

More