SmartLogic built a self-service interactive platform for the General Services Administration, allowing federal agencies to engage with the public via challenges and prize competitions.
Challenge.Gov is a program that allows any federal agency to engage with the public via challenges and prize competitions. Run by the department of Technology Transformation Services (TTS) at the General Services Administration (GSA) of the US federal government, the Challenge program was mandated by and created as the result of the America COMPETES Act, enacted in 2007.
Over the course of the lifetime of the program to date, TTS has piloted a number of different software applications, including five different off-the-shelf and bespoke platforms. Through experimentation and experience, they learned what their customers in the government and in the public needed, and with that information, they decided to reach out to contractors to get a custom platform built to support the program.
A New Platform for Innovation
SmartLogic came to the team via a partnership with Fearless, a local Baltimore consultancy who works directly with the Federal government on a number of projects.
SmartLogic and Fearless had collaborated previously on an open-source project platform for community-issued challenges, Hack Baltimore. Components from the Hack Baltimore platform, designed for similar collaboration between government agencies and community members, were repurposed for the new open-source Challenge.Gov platform.
The Challenge platform has three main stakeholder groups; the administrators at GSA, challenge issuers from across the federal government, and challenge respondents from the general public.
The new platform is built with Elixir/Phoenix and ReactJS, and connects to an existing informational Jekyll site. The platform is integrated with a number of government services:
What’s been great for us is that GSA and specifically Technology Transformation Services (TTS) within GSA is a naturally collaborative and future-thinking organization to be a part of. We’re connecting with a lot of other TTS systems, like Login.gov, Cloud.gov, and Search.gov and leveraging those tools to create a really integrated, modern experience with the new Elixir-based Challenge.Gov application.—Dan Ivovich, Director of Engineering, SmartLogic
Previously, the Challenge process was managed manually by GSA staff via email workflows; the new platform allows issuers to self-manage their postings, and solvers to submit their ideas online via the portal. In addition to a complete revamp of the front end UI, the back end administration side was built out in a much more robust fashion. New features in the system include an internal messaging system, schedulable auto publishing and archiving of challenges, analytics, user management and site management capabilities. The entire system is deployed to Cloud.gov, leveraging it as a starting point and setting up Challenge.gov for future growth within the cloud architecture; one project stakeholder described the new build as “like the Army Jeep of applications — it’s very simple. It does exactly what you want it to — it’s intuitive, clean, simple.”
A More Accessible Tool
The new platform launched in October 2021, and the Challenge team is now able for the first time ever to get visibility into how challenge issuers and problem solvers are engaging with the program.
So far, the new platform has seen engagement from thousands of users; as of January 2021, over 7,000 people from the public are following the 15 open challenges. And among the thousands of users who’ve accessed the platform, only one so far has needed assistance from the Challenge team for technical issues.
In addition, new Challenge managers have heard of and started using the platform, including new problem owners who were not already directly connected to the GSA team managing the platform. The new self-service platform has enabled the program to grow and be of use to a broader set of government stakeholders.
On launch day, the GSA team ran a crowdsourcing campaign with the team at the White House, soliciting input from the general public; the platform was used to gather feedback from everyday citizens, bringing their voices into the White House itself. The new platform’s ease of use and accessibility for the public allowed this kind of transparency and access for individual voices, supporting GSA’s goal of connecting the public more directly with the federal government.
How can we guarantee all Americans can fully participate in & contribute to science and tech? Tell us what you think through The Time is Now: Advancing Equity in Science & Technology Ideation Challenge @ChallengeGov. #SciEquityChallenge #OSTPTimeisNow https://t.co/BFsjT58Mai pic.twitter.com/aYOrhiR8AK— DOE Office of Science (@doescience) November 16, 2021
As well as supporting GSA’s goals with internal and external stakeholders, the new platform is itself also a contribution to the community, in that the new software is entirely open source, available for anyone to use or iterate on.
This announcement was published independently of the General Services Administration. This release does not constitute or imply an endorsement by GSA or the United States Government of the product, process, or service, or its producer or provider. The views and opinions expressed in any referenced documents do not necessarily state or reflect those of the GSA or the United States Government.