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Open Data for Good Grand Challenge

Unleashing the value of open data through digital tools for the public

U.S. Census Bureau

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $210,000
Type of Challenge: Software and apps, Creative (multimedia & design), Analytics, visualizations, algorithms
Partner Agencies | Federal: U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Submission Start: 09/13/2021 09:00 AM ET
Submission End: 10/24/2021 11:59 PM ET


Key Dates

  • July 1: Rules posted
  • July 14: Launch information session – RSVP Here
  • September 13: Submission window opens
  • October 24: Submissions due
  • December: Prize winners announced


Open data is all around us – in the apps and websites we use, the tools that help families find housing and schools, and more. The federal government is a critical provider of open data to the public, with hundreds of thousands of datasets maintained by government agencies and made available on platforms such as

But open data on its own is not enough to deliver its full potential for Americans. Federal open datasets need to be enabled through digital tools that put data at the fingertips of communities, businesses, families, and decision makers nationwide. By engaging technologists and community members in creating tools with open data, government agencies can exponentially increase that data’s utility and value - and solve pressing national challenges. The Open Data for Good Grand Challenge seeks to reward the most creative and high impact uses of open data in digital tools that solve problems for the public.

This Grand Challenge was inspired by The Opportunity Project (TOP), a program of Census Open Innovation Labs at the U.S. Census Bureau, used by federal agencies to catalyze digital tools with open data.

TOP sprints brings together government, communities, and technologists to create data-driven digital tools that address our nation’s greatest challenges using federal open data. Through 12-week development cycles, or “sprints,” technologists from industry and social sectors — including companies, nonprofits, and universities — create digital tools to address challenges such as family economic well being, climate change, COVID-19 response and many more. To learn more about The Opportunity Project, visit

Since launching in 2016, more than 20 federal agencies and over 1,500 individuals from companies, universities and community organizations have co-created nearly 150 new digital products for the public. In 2020 alone, participants co-created more than 30 new digital products addressing challenges in the natural and built environment—such as reducing ocean plastic pollution, developing effective and efficient markets for recycled materials, facilitating sustainable rural economic development, and more.

TOP supports the Census Bureau’s mission and the OPEN Government Data Act mandate to identify and disseminate public data assets as well as utilize these public data assets to grow the economy, promote transparency, and make government data more useful and accessible to the public. Both open data and The Opportunity Project as a mechanism to unleash its potential, are key components of the Federal Data Strategy and Department of Commerce Strategic Plan, which focus on utilizing data as an asset to grow the economy, increase the effectiveness of the Federal Government, promote transparency, and make government data more useful to the public, businesses, and researchers.

The Problem

One of the greatest challenges associated with public interest technology (or civic technology) development is product sustainability and adoption. Open data is used to create many products for the public good, but the teams who built these products often face challenges in deploying and maintaining them. To advance some of the most promising technology solutions built with open data, the Census Bureau and its collaborators are launching the Open Data for Good Grand Challenge. This Challenge aims to 1) help technologists and their collaborators better deploy their data-driven technology solutions, ensure they reach end users, and drive impact of the critical problems they aim to solve, and 2) to reward exemplary uses of federal open data. This challenge is open to:

  1. Anyone who participated or participates in The Opportunity Project sprints or TOPx sprints in 2020 or 2021 (between the dates of 1/1/2020 and 10/24/2021).
  2. Anyone in the general public who follows The Opportunity Project methodology via TOP’s public product development toolkit to create a user-centered digital tool using federal open data in 2020 or 2021 (between the dates of 1/1/2020 and 10/24/2021).

Please refer to the eligibility section below for full details.

The Census Bureau is conducting this challenge under the authority of and in accordance with the America COMPETES Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 3719.

Challenge Goals and Categories

In this competition, prizes will be awarded in 3 main categories that capture a range of critical problems, as described below. Teams applying for the prize must submit their product in at least one category, and can submit in up to two categories.

  1. Climate, Resilience, and the Natural Environment: e.g., products focusing on challenges such as reducing ocean plastic pollution, creating markets for recycled materials, enabling data for agricultural decision making, transportation emissions, air quality, community resilience to climate change, or other similar natural environment and climate challenges.
  2. Society, Economy, and the Built Environment: e.g., products focusing on challenges such as family economic well-being and economic security, rural economic development, civics education, supporting small and minority-owned businesses, analyzing federal spending, infrastructure planning around housing and migration trends, affordable housing, assisting resettled refugees, or other social and economic challenges.
  3. Health and COVID-19: e.g., products focused on challenges such as helping state and local public health authorities track and understand COVID-19, helping stakeholders working alongside healthcare make key operational decisions, and helping consumers and businesses manage point of care testing data outside lab settings, or other COVID-19 health-related challenges.

Please refer to the prizes section below for full details on prize opportunities within each category.


Total Cash Prize Pool

This is a single-phase competition in which a total of $210,000 will be awarded by the Census Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We expect additional monetary and in-kind (non-monetary) prizes to be added by agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other entities; so, please refer to this posting regularly for updates. This section describes the prizes available in each category, as well as additional prize opportunities for which any applicant can be considered.

Prize Breakdown

Climate, Resilience and Natural Environment

A total of $50,000 will be awarded by the Census Bureau to exceptional digital products that address challenges within the broad theme of climate, resilience, and natural environment:

  • One (1) Grand prize: $25,000
  • One (1) Runner up prize: $15,000
  • One (1) Student prize (* student teams are also eligible for grand prize and runner up; student prize only open to those who can demonstrate student status): $10,000
  • Subcategories:

    • Climate Smart Community Challenge: NOAA will award one (1) or more prizes totaling $50,000 to projects that focus on tackling the climate crisis through “climate smart” communities. Prizes will be awarded to exceptional tools that help improve climate resilience planning in communities around the nation by supporting data-driven local decision making.

    • Enhancing Recycling and Reducing Ocean Plastics Challenge: One (1) to Five (5) prizes totaling $50,000: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will award prizes to projects within this category that focus on reducing marine/ocean plastic pollution and/or creating markets for recycled materials.

    • Reducing Transportation Emissions Challenge: One (1) Prize of $10,000: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will award prizes to projects within this category that focus on helping the public understand the impact of transportation emissions on air quality.

  • Additional in-kind (non-monetary) prizes may be announced.

Society, Economy, and the Built Environment

A total of $50,0000 will be awarded by the U.S. Census Bureau to exceptional digital products that focus on challenges broadly relating to topics such as social support systems, businesses and economic development, and the built environment:

  • One (1) Grand prize: $25,000
  • One (1) Runner up prize: $15,000
  • One (1) Student prize (*student teams also eligible for grand prize and runner up; student prize only open to those who can demonstrate student status): $10,000

Health & COVID-19

  • One or more prizes will be awarded to exceptional digital products that focus on challenges like helping state and local public health authorities track and understand disease transmission, helping stakeholders make key operational decisions, and helping consumers and businesses manage testing data. Specific prizes are to be announced and we expect these to include monetary prizes sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Potential additional prizes (may be combined with monetary prizes)

We expect to partner with organizations that will offer in kind prizes. Applicants in any category are eligible to be considered for non-monetary/in-kind prizes. You must opt into in-kind prize consideration when you enter. Please be advised that opting-in to consideration for in-kind prizes may require additional information about your organization. Once confirmed, in-kind prize opportunities will be announced in the coming weeks; please check regularly for updates.

The U.S. Census Bureau and any future partnering agencies may award different prize amounts at their discretion. The winners of any monetary or in-kind awards that may be provided by partner agencies and organizations will be selected based on the judging process outlined for the competition with input from both the Census Bureau and partners. Additional prizes may be added to this competition before the submission window closes, so please refer to this page regularly for updates.


Submission requirements

What to submit

Applications for this prize challenge have four (4) required components and one (1) optional component. Please closely review the required and optional parts of a complete submission, as described below. Then review the How to Submit section below for information on how to submit the required information.

Teams are strongly encouraged to use the template at this link for parts 1-3. If you are unable to access the link, please email

PART 1: Team information

  • Lead organization: Name one company, organization or individual as the lead organization who will receive the prize funds if awarded.
  • Contributors: List the organizations and individuals that contributed to the tech team that built this product. For each individual, please provide name, organization (if applicable), and role in developing the product.
  • Eligibility: Please identify your eligibility for this prize, as 1) a 2020 or 2021 TOP Sprint or TOPx sprint participant (list year and problem statement) or 2) an independent team using TOP methodology. For either type of eligibility, please indicate either facilitated sprint or digital toolkit, and year of participation.
  • In-kind (non-monetary) prize consideration: Would you like to be considered for in-kind prizes? (yes/no)
  • Optional: Certain prizes are offered only to students, non-profit organizations, and start-up companies. If you would like to be considered for any of these categories, please provide the following documentation.
    • To be considered for student prizes, please include the name of your academic institution and graduation year.
    • To be considered for in-kind prizes intended for start-up companies or small business, please identify which individual/organization in your team represents a start-up company or small business, and please briefly describe why you consider your team to be in this category.
    • If you would like to be considered for in-kind prizes intended for 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, please provide any of the following as evidence of nonprofit status: (a) a reference to the applicant organization’s listing in the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) most recent list of tax-exempt organizations described in section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code; OR (b) a copy of a currently valid IRS tax exemption certificate; OR (c) a certified copy of the organization’s certificate of incorporation or similar document that clearly establishes nonprofit status.

PART 2: Product Information

  • Product Name
  • Product Access information: Teams must submit a web link to the working digital product they are submitting. If the solution is web-based, provide a URL and any other access instructions. For example, if a login is required, demo accounts with password should be provided, which will enable judges to access all parts of the product. If there are different interfaces (i.e., a separate interface for a patient and a different interface for a provider [e.g., physician]) separate logins should be provided. If the solution is a smartphone or tablet-based app, identify a web location to download the application. The product should not be submitted via software that requires installation. A submitted digital product must run on at least one of the following: Smartphone, tablet, web or mobile web, desktop computer.
  • Product Overview: A one-sentence overview of the product that must be in the following specific format: [Product name] uses [federal open data sets] to [solve XX problem] for [end users]. Please do not diverge from this format for the purposes of this section of the application; there are numerous other places to provide open-ended descriptions of your product.
  • Categories: In what 1 or at most 2 categories are you applying? 1- Climate, Resilience, and Natural Environment 2- Society, Economy, and Built Environment 3- Health and COVID-19

PART 3: Project Description (4 pages maximum)

Applicants must submit a narrative document describing the sections listed below in no more than four (4) pages (minimum 11-point standard font, single spaced, 1” margins, submitted as a .docx or PDF document). This is the team’s opportunity to address the scoring criteria. The sections below are suggested, but the specific items within each are not intended to be exhaustive and applicants are encouraged to include other points they consider relevant to address the judging criteria, within the stated page limits. Submissions exceeding the allowed length may not be reviewed.

  • Product overview and functionality: Explain how the product works, the target end-user(s), what problem it was intended to solve, and an overview of the user journey.
  • User-centered design/build process: Describe the process used to design and build this product, focusing in particular on strategies employed for end user engagement and any other notable collaboration around product development or implementation, the timeline along which it was created, and where it is now in the product life cycle. As part of their process, teams should have completed user research, such as user interviews, focus groups, needs analysis, ethnographic research, or collation of existing research, which should be described in this section.
  • Federal open data used: Describe the federal open data used in the product – which can include qualitative, quantitative or geospatial datasets, data schema, or data standards from any federal agency – and describe what purpose each data set serves in the product. Applicants may also choose to highlight what other state, local, or proprietary data they have used in the product, if applicable.
  • Impact: Describe the impact you expect this product will have on the target end users and stakeholders it aims to serve. If the product is already in use, describe any documented user metrics or outcomes to date. Describe the approach your team is taking or planning to take to ensure the proposed impact is achieved.
  • Product implementation and sustainability plan: Describe how the product has been or will be deployed to the target end users. How will you ensure that end users can access and are able to successfully use this project? Teams are encouraged to describe and implementation partnerships towards this goal. Additionally, how will the product be maintained over time? What is the team’s long-term strategy for this product’s maintenance? Please note: This is not intended to be a commercialization plan; the product can but does not necessarily need to generate revenue.

PART 4 - Collaborator letter(s) of support

Teams must submit at least one (1) and up to three (3) letters of support from collaborators on this project who represent user advocates and/or implementation partners. This can include community-based organizations, state or local governments, national advocacy organizations, unions, individual product users, nonprofits, foundations, or other representatives of the target end users. This should NOT include federal government representatives. Each signed letter should indicate how this partner collaborated with or will collaborate with the applicant on the specified product. Each letter must be no longer than one page (minimum 11-point standard font, single spaced, 1” margins, submitted as a .docx or PDF document).

PART 5 - (OPTIONAL) Multimedia documentation

Teams have the option to submit an up to four-minute video that demonstrates the product’s functionality. In place of a video, teams may also submit images or screenshots of the product in a PPT or PDF document of five (5) slides or fewer. Submissions longer than the stated format will not be reviewed.

Additional submission guidelines and requirements:

  • Applications must be written in English, follow all page limits and documentation specifications (as noted above, for Part 3, this must be single spaced, minimum 11-point font, 1” margins, page dimensions of 8.5 x 11 inches, submitted as a .doc/.docx or .pdf file).
  • Any material that does not follow the submission guidelines provided may not be considered.
  • Each product should be submitted in at least one (1) and no more than two (2) categories.
  • Applicants must submit a working, interactive digital tool that uses open government data to address one or more of the challenges in the categories described above.
    • “Working product” indicates that the intended features of the product have been created and are currently functional and usable to the public or intended user(s). For example, a clickable prototype that illustrates future functionality, but does not yet provide it to the user, cannot be considered.
    • The product must include interactive functionality for the end user to access and/or analyze the open data (for example, a static slide presentation that illustrates an analysis but is not interactive would not be eligible).
    • The product must be capable of being successfully installed and running consistently on the platform for which it is intended, and must function as depicted or expressed in the text description.
    • Any submitted product must run on at least one of the following: Smartphone, tablet, desktop or laptop computer, web or mobile
  • Teams may submit multiple products.


This prize challenge is open to anyone who built/builds a digital product using federal open data or data standards through The Opportunity Project methodology in 2020 or 2021 (between the dates of 1/1/2020 and 10/24/2021). Eligible participants include:

  • Anyone who built or builds a product in The Opportunity Project sprints or TOPx sprints in this timeframe.
  • Anyone in the general public who follows The Opportunity Project methodology via our product development toolkit to create a digital tool using federal open data in this timeframe.

Applicants must:

  • Demonstrate eligibility through participating in a 2020-2021 The Opportunity Project or TOPx sprint, or by utilizing the TOP Product Development Toolkit.
  • Submit a working digital product (i.e. a product that can be accessed online via a web URL or downloaded via web URL).
  • Provide documentation of federal open data used, end user engagement throughout the product development process, and plans for implementation, sustainability, and impact.

Additionally, to be eligible to apply for and win a prize award in this Challenge, an individual or entity:

  1. 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.
  2. Must have created a functioning digital product in a facilitated sprint of The Opportunity Project, participated in a TOPx sprint, utilized the TOP Product Development Toolkit, or otherwise leveraged The Opportunity Project methodology in 2020-2021 by the submission deadline (between 1/1/2020 - 10/24/2021). High fidelity wireframes such as InvisionApps and other clickable prototypes are not eligible; the product must have a functioning URL or be available for digital download with fully usable interactive features.
  3. Must have created a functioning digital product that uses federal open data. Products that do not use federal open data, data schema, or data standards in any capacity are not eligible for this competition.
  4. Digital products that cannot demonstrate that they were created through The Opportunity Project sprints or following the Toolkit are not eligible.
  5. Must have complied with all the stated requirements of The Opportunity Project Prize Challenge.
  6. May not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their federal employment.
  7. May not be an employee of the U.S. Census Bureau, NOAA, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  8. Must not be currently under contract with the U.S. Census Bureau or other federal agency to perform work related to the product submitted for this competition.
  9. Federal grantees may not use Federal funds to develop COMPETES Act Challenge applications unless consistent with the purpose of their grant award.
  10. 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.
  11. A product may be disqualified if it fails to function as expressed in the description provided by the participant, or if it provides inaccurate or incomplete information.
  12. If applicable, the proposed application must be HIPAA compliant to be eligible for entry into the challenge
  13. An individual or entity shall not be deemed ineligible because the individual or entity used federal facilities or consulted with Federal employees during a challenge if the facilities and employees are made available to all individuals and entities participating in the challenge on an equitable basis.
  14. Participants may be asked in future stages of this competition to provide additional confirmation of their eligibility. The Census Bureau will determine whether applicants meet eligibility criteria.

Terms and conditions

By participating in this challenge, applicants:

  1. 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 their participation in this prize contest, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.
  2. Agree to indemnify the federal government against third-party claims for damages arising from or related to challenge activities.
  3. May not be a judge of the challenge, or any other party involved with the design, production, execution, or distribution of the challenge or the immediate family of such a party (i.e., spouse, parent, step-parent, child, or step-child).
  4. Must understand that it is their sole responsibility to review and understand their employers’ policies regarding eligibility to participate in this prize challenge. If applicants are participating in violation of employee policies, they may be disqualified from entering and/or receiving prizes. The Census Bureau disclaims any and all liability or responsibility for disputes arising between an employee and their employer related to the competition, and prizes will only be awarded to applicants in compliance with their employer’s policies.


  1. An application may be disqualified if it fails to function as expressed in the description provided by the participant, if it provides inaccurate or incomplete information, or if any components of the application are missing.
  2. Submissions must be free of malware. Participants agree that the Census Bureau may conduct testing on the application(s) to determine whether malware or other security threats may be present. The Census Bureau may disqualify the application(s) if, in the Census Bureau’s judgment, the application may damage government or others’ equipment, operating environment or security posture.
  3. The submitting team must not use government logos or official seals and must not claim endorsement by the U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Judging Criteria

Judging Panel

Submissions will be reviewed by experts in technology, open data, product development community engagement, user centered design, and the policy issues covered in the prize categories, from federal agencies as well as non-governmental organizations.

Judging Criteria

Each submission will be scored by multiple reviewers on the following five (5) criteria:

  • Technical Quality (20%): This score focuses on the overall user experience and user interface (UX/UI) design of the product, designing and implementation of product functionality, visual design if applicable, and generally how well the product achieves its stated functionality. This includes questions such as:
    • Does the product have well-functioning features?
    • Is it user friendly? Does it provide a positive user experience?
    • If the product is intended as a front-end interface, does it follow visual and user experience design best practices?
  • Cross-Sector Collaboration and Diversity (15%): This score focuses on the team’s build process, and the extent to which “user advocates” and diverse end user perspectives were included in developing the product. This includes questions such as:
    • Was user research conducted to identify specific community or end user needs, and does the product’s functionality reflect those needs?
    • Has the product been tested and iterated upon based on feedback from end users?
    • Do the partner organizations/collaborating end user represent diverse perspectives within the overall user audience? Does the product account for diverse needs across the user community and offer a solution that is inclusive of many end users within the target audience?
  • Use of Federal Open Data (25%): This score focuses on the extent to which the product uses federal open data creatively and effectively. This includes questions such as:
    • Does the product meaningfully use federal open data sets from the Census Bureau and other federal agencies to solve a problem or deliver value for the end user?
    • Does it creatively align federal data alongside state, local, or other types of data?
    • Does the product present or analyze the data in a new creative way?
  • Implementation + Sustainability (20%): This score focuses on the team’s stated or demonstrated plans for deploying the tool to end users or an existing user base. This includes questions such as:
    • Does this team have established partnership(s) or relationship(s) with the end user community?
    • Does the product have a thorough and realistic implementation plan that includes deploying the product to end users?
    • Does the team describe a sound strategy for the ongoing maintenance of this product?
    • Has the product team deployed the tool to end users, whether directly or via a partner, or have they described a compelling and specific plan to do so?
    • Is this product well designed to scale and grow with increasing users?
  • Impact (20%): This score focuses on the team’s documented or planned impact on the target issue and end user community. This includes questions such as:
    • Does this team have an established partnership with user advocates/community groups?
    • How compelling and realistic is this product’s ability to achieve important outcomes for end users?
    • Does the product directly and effectively address the problem statement and community it was built for?
    • Will this product deliver meaningful improvement on an important problem?
    • Has the team described what metrics it will use or is using to measure the product’s tangible social impact?

The Census Bureau reserves the right to choose not to award prizes in one or more categories if a quality threshold is not met.

How to Enter

Teams or individuals interested in participating in this challenge can apply by submitting an application package following these two (2) steps, between 9am ET on September 13, 2021 and 11:59pm ET on October 24, 2021:

  1. Email your entire prize submission package (Team Information, Product Information, Product Description, Letter(s) of Support, and Optional Multimedia) to after the submission window opens and by the submission deadline. Include the Subject Line: “Prize Submission: [Team Name, Product Name]”.
    • Teams are strongly encouraged to use the template available at this link for parts 1-3.
    • Collaborator letter(s) can be included in the same PDF or attached separately.
    • Optional videos can be linked in the same PDF or attached separately.
    • If you are seeking consideration as a student or 501(c)(3), please also include relevant documentation in your email.
  2. Select information about your product and team must ALSO be submitted via the Challenge Submission Form.

Your application will not be considered complete until BOTH steps are completed.

Submissions can be modified until the submission deadline. Please note that the latest application package sent will be the only one evaluated. Applications and related documents received after October 24, 2021 at 11:59 pm ET, will not be evaluated or considered.

Questions about this prize challenge can be directed to

Point of Contact

Have feedback or questions about this challenge? Send the challenge manager an email