Procurement contests get their due

As Challenge.gov is recognized by the Ford Foundation and Harvard's Kennedy School, Steve Kelman explains why contests are a big deal.

compass innovation

A nice email came into my mailbox the other morning from the Kennedy School media person, announcing that the General Services Administration had won the annual Innovations in American Government award co-sponsored by Harvard Kennedy School and the Ford Foundation, for its Challenge.gov contest site. Challenge.gov was the only federal winner this year.

Challenge.gov is GSA’s version of a platform for enabling procurement contests – an innovation pioneered a number of years ago by DARPA where the government outlines a performance challenge and promises a prize (usually money plus publicity) for the first entrant who successfully solves it. I have written a number of blog posts over the years advocating use of this idea in the procurement system. In fact, I’ve written about this so much that I got an email shortly after the announcement came out, from a federal contracting lawyer, asking whether I was behind the award to GSA. (Actually, for better or worse, I had nothing to do with it.)

The GSA press release highlighted two examples of use of contests as a procurement tool, one by the FTC for developing an application that would screen out annoying “robocalls” that plague people (often at dinnertime), the other to develop apps that would help disabled people apply for jobs.

The FTC Robocall challenge got almost 800 entries. “If there is public engagement about the topic of the challenge, you will find a lot of people come out of the woodwork to enter,” GSA’s Tammi Marcoullier told me. Two winners tied, and received $25,000 each. Google was also a winner in a separate entry category for large organizations, which had no monetary prize associated with it. One winner is called “Nomorobo,” developed by a young

New York techie named Aaron Foss, and at this point available to the public for free. The way it works is described as follows:

Nomorobo uses an existing feature of the current phone system along with the power of cloud computing to fight back against illegal robocallers. By using simultaneous ringing, the call is split and routed to the Nomorobo server as well as the user’s phone. Instantly, Nomorobo analyzes the call and determines the threat level by using machine learning to identify and adapt to new robocallers based on their calling patterns. Nomorobo inspects the CallerID header, analyzes the frequency of every call, and compares this data to its real-time black and white lists. Potential robocallers are presented with an audio CAPTCHA for final verification while legal robocallers have their phone numbers whitelisted to guarantee message delivery. If it’s an unknown robocall, Nomorobo answers and immediately hangs up. If no threat is detected, Nomorobo does nothing and the call goes through like normal. All of this happens instantly, before the consumer’s phone begins to ring.

The Labor Department made three awards – with cash prizes of $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000 – for its disability employment challenge, two chosen by a panel of judges headed by the Secretary of Labor, and a “people’s choice” award selected by public voting. The people’s choice award involved an Android app called “Speak as you think!” that allows the voices of people with speech impediments to express themselves more understandably in their speech.

GSA’s Marcoullier also told me about a contest by the Mint for designing a new coin. Compared to their normal stable of a dozen designers, the Mint got hundreds of entries in its contest, and got connected with talented designers they didn’t know about before. This is consistent with research by Karim Lakhani of Harvard Business School, which I discussed in a column some time ago, finding that contest winners in the corporate world are frequently small businesses the customer knew nothing about before.

Contests are probably the most-interesting governmentwide innovation out there in the last five years, so this idea certainly deserved the prize it won. It is heartening how widely this is spreading. If your agency hasn’t tried this yet, at this point you don’t have to worry if you don’t want to be an early adopter. Non-U.S. blog readers, any use of this in your country – and if not, could/should there be?

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.