GSA to launch open government apps platform

A new platform from GSA will help your agency get creative ideas and be more open and transparent.

As we’ve been telling you, President Obama issued the Open Government Directive earlier this year, and encouraged agencies to offer prizes and create contests in the hopes of more effectively engaging with the public.

Many answered the call, but there really isn’t one place to go to find out what other agencies are doing.

Bev Godwin is director of new media and citizen engagement at the agency and says this is where the Innovation Challenges Platform comes in.

“We wanted to provide a platform so that agencies have an option without having to go through all the technology lists themselves, but also the policy lists themselves. So, making sure that security is looked at and that privacy issues are looked at; records management; whether it’s compliance with Section 508 so it’s accessible to people with disabilities; looking at whether we need a cookie waiver, etcetera.”

Godwin says there are a lot of different benefits that agencies get from doing these types of challenges, one of the most important being that they only pay for the solution.

“So, they put forth a problem and don’t pay unless there’s a solution. . . . They also may get many more possible answers, and they’re not deciding up front what team is likely to have the winning solution. So, [agencies] often get new entrants into it. The government buys a lot of things by contract or gives out money through grants. This is a process that might bring new people to the table to look at some of the issues the government is struggling with.”

GSA has selected ChallengePost to build the platform, which approached the agency earlier this year with the offer of doing the work for free. After this, a second company made a similar offer, which meant that the agency had to open up the opportunity for all. So, GSA put an RFI into FedBizOpps for a no-cost challenge platform, and got eight offers in all.

“We evaluated them against the criteria in the RFI and we picked Challenge Post, which is a tool that’s been used for other government challenges. It’s being used right now for Apps for Healthy Kids, which is a challenge being done by USDA and the First Lady. . . . Challenge Post is a very easy product to use and they’re building a very easy interface for our agency to be able to post a challenge. Another factor was they have a lot of intersection with social media, so people can share challenges through Twitter and Facebook . . . and follow a challenge.”

This is important because there are many more people involved with any given challenge than those who offer solutions and participate in the challenge.

For example, Apps for Healthy Kids has over 12,000 followers, “It’s supporters of the challenge. There’s an outreach effort with sort of teaching people about an issue as part of this, as well.”

When the platform is complete, Godwin says there will be a place for the public to find challenges, but there will also be an area for agencies to post their challenges.

“This platform we’re offering is one choice for agencies. They can post challenges and do post challenges on other platforms, but within this one, as they choose it, they’ll be able to aggregate . . . all the government challenges in one place.”

The platform should be available in July.

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