As the Federal Government increases its use of challenges and contests to engage citizens in problem solving, Federal employees and contractors are seeking guidance on best practices. A briefing I attended yesterday, hosted by the Ad Council, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), and Google, brought together a stellar panel to discuss the topic. The panel included Brandon Kessler from ChallengePost, Jackie Haven from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Dr. Jeff Davis from the NASA Johnson Space Center, and Read Holman from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with moderator Bev Godwin from the GSA Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement.
Through a challenge or contest, Federal agencies can engage a broad community and tap into a wealth of outside knowledge and creativity. Sounds exciting, but what do you need to know to get started? These key takeaways from the briefing will get you on your way:
Dedicate resources. To be successful, challenges require dedicated resources, including staff time. Establish a team of challenge leads if you regularly do challenges plus staff from IT, legal and procurement, public affairs for communications, and human resources to advise on awards. Day-to-day challenge management is a good assignment for an intern, providing they have support from a panel of experts.
Establish rules, they’re important. By establishing rules for your challenges, you can address any issues that may arise. For example, with a video challenge, your rules may address what’s inappropriate, use of copyrighted materials, permission requirements for minors and adults appearing in submitted videos, and who’s eligible to enter your challenge. Consult your legal team when developing rules, and look at other agencies’ challenge rules to see what they have done.
Choose appropriate prizes. People aren’t only motivated by monetary rewards. If your challenge is exciting, people will participate. Tough technical challenges may warrant large cash prizes, as participants may have to invest their own resources or hand over intellectual property. For less technical challenges, nonmonetary rewards, such as tech prizes, recognition, exposure, certificates, and meetings with key figures, may be a better incentive to get people to participate.
Set a realistic timeline. Consider how long it will take participants to solve your problem. A 30-day entry period may work for an ideation challenge and 90 days for a technical challenge. Include in your timeframe enough time to spread the word about your challenge and to judge entries, as most entries will likely come in at the last minute.
Showcase your challenge on Challenge.gov. You can run a challenge or contest on any platform, but by posting your challenge on Challenge.gov, you can take advantage of added functionality, including judging capabilities.
Promote your challenge! If nobody knows about your challenge, how are they going to participate? Make sure you spread the word online and offline.