Get Started

Welcome to the Challenge and Prize Toolkit!

This site is a resource for federal government employees who are interested in learning more about incentive prizes and challenges. Whether you’re new to prizes and challenges or a veteran challenge manager, you’ll find the information here to be valuable. This toolkit is intended to be a knowledge repository that includes case studies of successful challenges, best practices for running challenges of all kinds and even ways to contact experts in different phases of the challenge process.

This toolkit is a part of Challenge.gov, which is run by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), where you can find every challenge, active and completed, that’s been run by the federal government. The Challenge.gov team also manages the upkeep of this site, which is intended to be a living document. The Challenge and Prize Toolkit joins the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit, launched in February 2016, as open innovation resources designed to help you engage the public. Public participation in crowdsourcing and citizen science can enhance scientific research, address societal needs and spark science learning and literacy.

The Challenge and Prize Toolkit was developed by an interagency team using insights drawn from challenge experts across the federal government. There are three main sections, Challenge Phases, Challenge Types, and Case Studies, any of which you can use as a starting point for learning about challenges. You will find additional sections listing Mentors who can help you refine your challenges, and Resources like development tools, templates and examples.

 

UNDERSTANDING CHALLENGES

CHALLENGE PHASES


CHALLENGE TYPES


prepare books icon

develop pencil and ruler icon

conduct wheel icon

award star medal icon

transition hand and star icon

Challenge Phases breaks down the execution process into five sequential stages: Prepare, Develop, Conduct, Award, and Transition. This is a step-by-step guide to everything you have to do as a challenge manager to deliver a successful challenge, from Get to Know Challenges to Share Best Practices and Results. If you’re unsure of exactly what the end-to-end challenge process entails, this is where to start.

Every challenge goes through the five phases in the order they’re presented here; each phase is composed of three to eight substeps that do not necessarily need to be completed in the order presented. The substeps contain several sections—in the main column you will find a description of the substep, and below it expandable Key Takeaways that answer common questions or detail best practices. In the column to the right are links to the other substeps within the phase.

Below those links are resources recommended by the challenge community. These take many forms—video tutorials, downloadable templates, examples of documents and slide deck pitches among them—that will help you at every step in the process.

The Project Timeline lists all the phases and their substeps in one convenient place and allows you to mark each step as completed as you progress through your challenge.

analytics icon

design icon

entrepreneur icon

idea icon

scientific icon

software icon

technology icon

Challenge Types identifies the seven types of challenges you can run: Ideas, Design, Software, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Scientific, and Analytics. These types are broadly defined as the types of activities or outcomes that will be worked on or produced in your challenge. Your challenge may fit into two or more of these categories, or it may not fit perfectly into any of them—that’s ok! If you have a challenge idea and want to learn more about type-specific considerations, this is a good place to start. These seven Challenge Types were developed with extensive feedback from the Federal community of practice. The 2009 “And The Winner Is…” report from McKinsey & Company as well as the 2014 “The Craft of Incentive Prize Design” report from Deloitte University Press also offer widely used taxonomies of prize types that are often referenced in prize design and evaluation.

Like the substep pages, each of these contains key takeaways and best practices unique to that type of challenge. The best examples of the challenge types have been highlighted in the Case Studies section—see below for more information.

GET MORE INFORMATION

CASE STUDIES

Case Studies highlight the best challenges to come out of the federal government. These contain the most innovative ideas and best examples of what challenges can accomplish. If you’re unsure about what challenges look like in practice, or what kinds of outcomes they lead to, the case studies will help open your thinking to the many possibilities that challenges enable.

Each case study is a comprehensive recap of the challenge and highlights the areas in which it excelled. They include information about how the challenge was run, results and lessons learned. The case studies are also tagged with a Challenge Type so you can see what a model challenge of a particular type looks like.

MENTOR NETWORK

The Mentor Network is a group of individuals identified by Challenge.gov in fall 2015 as experts who have run multiple challenges and are available to provide consultation and advice to the federal community. While they won’t manage a challenge for you, their experience makes them well-suited to answering any questions you may have, from those of a novice working on a challenge for the first time to those of a longtime challenge operator.

Each mentor’s page includes self-selected areas of expertise and their challenge history. You can submit a request to contact a mentor with the Request Mentor link on each one’s page.

RESOURCES

Resources houses links to many reports, announcements and general information from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on challenges and open innovation. You will find a variety of blog posts and write-ups by the media about prominent challenge efforts. This page also includes specialized guides that collect all of the substeps and key takeaways pertaining to two topics crucial to most challenges, Communications and Partnerships.

The PrizeWire blog was created by GSA to highlight solvers, their solutions, and their impact on government, communities, and society at large. When you’ve completed your challenge, share your story on PrizeWire!

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is a challenge, and why should I use one?

A challenge (also referred to as “prize challenge,” “competition,” “prize competition,” “incentive prize” or any combination thereof) allows the public to solve problems presented by federal agencies and receive awards for the best solutions. This boils down to three steps:

  1. Agency announces a problem to the public
  2. Participants create and submit solutions to the problem
  3. Agency evaluates solutions and awards prizes to the best ones

This process may sound similar to grants or contracts, but challenges differ in small and significant ways. In grants and contracts an agency receives proposals to do work, chooses one and then pays the monetary award incrementally as the work is done. In challenges, an agency generally makes a single award after assessing work that has been completed. (In more complex, multi-phase challenges, awards can be made progressively as development stages are completed.)

Unlike contracts in particular, which provide detailed and comprehensive specifications of the work that needs to be done, challenges define a smaller set of requirements, which allows participants to bring more of their own creativity to solutions. This can be advantageous when a problem can be solved many different ways, including ways that the agency is not even aware of. The open-ended approach is conducive to out-of-the-box thinking and can bring in participants who do not have expertise in the problem subject matter but can apply their own experience.

Challenges can serve more purposes beyond generating solutions to problems, including:

  • Signal interest in an area that you think markets should be doing more to serve
  • Reach wide communities of experts
  • Deliver messages to the public in a fun, interactive way
  • Generate interest in new services, data or technologies your agency provides
  • Develop public buy-in for agency initiatives

These are just a few of the many benefits that challenges provide. As you make your way through this toolkit, you’ll start getting your own ideas about how challenges can best serve your organization and how to tailor them to your needs.

For more details and to get started, visit Substep 1.1-Get to Know Challenges.

Where do I start?

Challenge Phases breaks down the execution process into five sequential stages: Prepare, Develop, Conduct, Award, and Transition. This is a step-by-step guide to everything you have to do as a challenge manager to deliver a successful challenge, from Get to Know Challenges to Share Best Practices and Results. If you’re unsure of exactly what the end-to-end challenge process entails, this is where to start.

Challenge Types identifies the seven types of challenges you can run: Ideas, Design, Software, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Scientific, and Analytics. These types are broadly defined as the types of activities or outcomes that will be worked on or produced in your challenge. Your challenge may fit into two or more of these categories, or it may not fit perfectly into any of them – that’s ok! If you have a challenge idea and want to learn more about type-specific considerations, this is a good place to start.

Case Studies highlight the best challenges to come out of the federal government. These contain the most innovative ideas and best examples of what challenges can accomplish. If you’re unsure about what challenges look like in practice, or what kinds of outcomes they lead to, the case studies will help open your thinking to the many possibilities that challenges enable.

How long does it take to run a challenge?

If you’re managing your first challenge and it’s fairly straightforward, allocate at least eight months from building out an idea to awarding winners. You’ll need to extend your expected timeline if the challenge is technically difficult and participants need significant amounts of time; if you incorporate multiple rounds; if it’s the first time your agency is running a challenge; or if the challenge becomes more administratively complex.

Do all agencies have legal authority to run a challenge?

The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (“COMPETES”) provides the statutory authority for all federal departments and agencies to run prize challenges. COMPETES leaves a great deal of leeway for agencies to create their own policies and processes, so make sure to check with your leadership, legal and procurement teams to get off on the right foot.

Not all agencies use COMPETES to run their challenges; NASA, for example, has used the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2005.

Is there a challenge network or community of practice?

Yes! The Challenges Listserv provides a forum for asking questions, marketing your challenge and just about anything else that could benefit from community feedback. You can be added to the listserv by emailing a request to team@challenge.gov.

Additionally, the GSA Challenge.gov team maintains a community of practice (CoP) composed of more than 700 challenge practitioners. The Challenges and Prizes CoP holds a quarterly meeting, usually at GSA headquarters in Washington, D.C. These meetings are a great opportunity to learn about updates to Challenge.gov and the Challenge and Prize Toolkit, meet fellow challenge practitioners and hear from challenge experts across the public and private spectrum.