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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

Bridging the Word Gap

Help kids thrive- develop an innovative solution to promote early-language development among children from low-income families in the U.S.

Department of Health and Human Services - Health Resources and Services Administration

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $300,000
Type of Challenge: Software and apps
Submission Start: 11/08/2015 12:00 AM ET
Submission End: 12/31/2015 12:00 AM ET

This challenge is externally hosted.

You can view the challenge details here:


HRSA's Maternal & Child Health Bureau is sponsoring the Word Gap Challenge to spur innovative solutions to promote the early language environment and address the "word gap," the large difference in exposure to language for children from low-income families as compared to children from higher-income families. This challenge will reward the development and testing of scalable innovations that drive behavior change among parents and caregivers.

The goal of the challenge is to develop a low-cost, scalable technologically-based intervention that drives parents and caregivers to talk- and engage in more back-and-forth interactionswith their young children (ages 0-4).

This Challenge, structured in three phases, will reach a diverse population of innovators and solvers, including coders, public health experts, individuals affiliated with academic institutions, research and development communities in the private sector, and others.

All submissions will be evaluated; separate prizes will be awarded for each of the three phases below.

Phase 1: Design Phase
2: Development and Small Scale Testing
Phase 3: Scaling


Phase 1
Cash Prize Amount: $300000
For Phase 1, 7-10 winners will receive up to $10,000 each.

Phase 2
For Phase 2, 3-5 winners will receive up to $25,000.

Phase 3
For Phase 3, 1 winner will receive up to $100,000.


Eligibility Rules

To be eligible to win a prize under this challenge, an individual or entity—
(1) Shall have registered to participate in the competition under the rules promulgated by the Health Resources Services Administration and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
(2) Shall have complied with all the requirements under this section.
(3) In the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States.
(4) May not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.
(5) Shall not be an HHS employee working on their applications or submissions during assigned duty hours.
(6) May not be employees of HRSA or any other company, organization, or individual involved with the design, production, execution, judging, or distribution of the Challenge and their immediate family (spouse, parents and step-parents, siblings and step-siblings, and children and step-children) and household members (people who share the same residence at least three (3) months out of the year).
(7) Federal grantees may not use Federal funds to develop COMPETES Act challenge applications unless consistent with the purpose of their grant award.
(8) Federal contractors may not use Federal funds from a contract to develop COMPETES Act challenge applications or to fund efforts in support of a COMPETES Act challenge submission.
(9) An individual or entity shall not be deemed ineligible because the individual or entity used Federal facilities or consulted with Federal employees during a competition if the facilities and employees are made equitably available to all individuals and entities participating in the competition.
(10) Entrants must agree to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the Federal Government and its related entities, except in the case of willful misconduct, for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from my participation in this prize contest, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.
(11) Entrants must also agree to indemnify the Federal Government against third party claims for damages arising from or related to competition activities.
(12) The government will not select as a winner an individual who is currently on the Excluded Parties List (  

Submission Requirements

The Challenge has three phases.

Phase One – Design The first stage of the prize competition aims to attract a large set of ideas and innovators. The target product of the first stage will be the conceptualization of the most promising innovations to help support parental and caregiver behavior change around the early language environment. The submissions should aim to demonstrate that the proposed intervention will be accessible across diverse backgrounds and easily implemented by users. The Phase 1 Submission shall include: A comprehensive description of the proposed intervention in 5 pages or less, including:

  • A one-paragraph executive summary that clearly states the question to be solved;
  • Background information linking the evidence to support the intervention;
  • A descriptive analysis of how the applicant arrived at their idea;
  • Descriptions of the methods and technologies involved in implementation of the intervention; and
  • An assessment describing the applicant’s ability to execute the proposed solution in Phase 2 and 3.

Phase Two – Development and Small Scale Testing The winners of Phase One of the prize competition will then advance to a second stage focused on prototyping the intervention, and testing of the effectiveness of the intervention. Using support from the Phase One prize, intervention developers will test the efficacy of their models, to show that the proposed intervention demonstrates an impact on the outcomes of interest for children and families. The applicants should demonstrate both the evidence base for the intervention and its usability. Mentors will be made available to help solvers design appropriate testing methodologies and learn more about the evidence base.

Phase Three – Scaling The final phase of the Word Gap Incentive Prize will involve testing the most promising models at greater scale through rollout at the program or community level. This will test the scalability of the device at low-cost, the feasibility of implementation, and the impact on the intended outcomes. Applicants will be assisted in matching their submission with a community or program.

Judging Criteria

Phase 1
In Phase 1, proposed interventions to be judged on the following criteria: Accessibility. • Is the proposed intervention able to be easily utilized by parents of diverse economic, social, and cultural backgrounds? Is it functional across disciplines/users? Measurability. • How easily will the proposed intervention be evaluated in order to determine its efficacy (in both lab testing and in the real world)? Is the proposed intervention measurable among various audiences? Sustainability. • Is the proposed intervention “sticky?” Does it fit into daily life? Is it fun to use? Impact. • Does the applicant present a theory or explanation of how the proposed intervention would inspire behavior change?

Phase 2
In Phase 2, interventions will be judged on the following criteria: Impact. • How did the intervention impact target outcomes for parents/caregivers and children? What did data show? Evidence base. • Is the intervention grounded in existing science related to the word gap, behavior change, etc.? Sustainability. • Was the intervention “sticky” among users? Did users want to continuously engage with the program? Implementation. • How feasible is the intervention? How much support for implementation will the intervention require (estimated financial and time commitment)?

Phase 3
In Phase 3, interventions will be judged on the following criteria: Impact. • How effective was the intervention when implemented at scale? Did the impacts on parents/caregivers from Phase 2 remain consistent? Implementation. • How feasible was the intervention on a larger scale? How much support for implementation did the model require (financial and time commitment)? How challenging was the actual program implementation? Scalability. • How costly was the intervention in a real-world setting? How likely are cost efficiencies for program delivery at greater scale? Can the device be used in existing platforms? In order for an entry to be eligible to win this Challenge, it must meet the following requirements: No HHS or HRSA logo—The intervention must not use HHS' or HRSA's logos or official seals in the Submission, and must not claim endorsement.

How To Enter

To create a submission, please visit to register and enter.