Tool Time: GSA Launches How-To Guide for First-Rate Prize Competitions

The General Services Administration and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy today launched the Challenges and Prizes Toolkit, a comprehensive guide to prize competitions for federal employees at every level.

The toolkit will equip public servants with critical resources to engage citizens in the search for innovative solutions and gives agencies access to additional expertise for designing more ambitious and impactful competitions.

Prize competitions allow the government to open up the innovation process to everybody and find solutions to problems in new and unexpected places, often times faster and at less cost than traditional procurement. Agencies have used prize competitions for everything, from fighting the Zika virus to stopping illegal robocalls to providing access to clean water at low cost.

Over the past year, experts at agencies across government have devoted their time to creating a “how-to” resource to help others who also want to try something different in their efforts to uncover new ideas and inventions.

The toolkit will walk you through every step of putting together a prize competition, from defining the problem you want to solve to ensuring long-lasting impacts after the prize is awarded.

When organizing a prize competition, or simply considering one, there are any number of steps along the way where you can seek advice. The toolkit offers the ability to dive into the different aspects of crowdsourcing challenges in a variety of ways.

Here is a basic rundown on the different sections of the toolkit and examples of how you might use them. You can find all of these sections on the homepage of the toolkit, as well as in the main top navigation on every page of the site.

Types: You want to discover the kinds of competitions that will solve your problem and advance your mission. You can read up on seven foundational types and find key takeaways that will help you decide which will work best for you.

Phases: You have a solid idea for a competition but want a few pointers on judging submissions. Take a look at Phase 2.4 or 3.3. Maybe you just need to know how to pay the winners of your competition. Skip to 4.2. The toolkit breaks down the entire challenge process in five main phases, all of which contain detailed steps.

Case Studies: For your questions about judging above, you could even read these first-hand accounts of how other agencies did it. Agencies share what worked (or didn’t) in a growing collection of case studies covering various aspects of challenges.

Mentor Network: You might have a more nuanced and unique situation, and would benefit from a real live conversation with an experienced practitioner. If you’re having trouble prioritizing goals, for example, you can talk to Heather Evans, who has managed shifting priorities and interests in big-time competitions at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. If you’re planning a technology demonstration as part of your challenge, you may want to connect with Eric Eberly, who has worked on some of NASA’s high-profile competitions. Planning a challenge with global participation? Maurice Kent has helped the U.S. Agency for International Development run competitions that had positive impacts on populations around the world. Heather, Eric and Maurice are just three of more than a dozen mentors who are ready to jump in and help when needed.

Resources: Maybe you’re looking for specific documents that outline the different legal and policy frameworks under which you can run a competition. The toolkit has dozens of reference documents that tell the story of challenges through memos, articles and in-depth reports.

More than ever, federal agencies are turning to the public for help in tackling tough issues and because it makes good business sense. Prize competitions deliver results faster than traditional procurements and allow the government to pay only for success.

Agencies already have listed nearly 750 crowdsourcing competitions on since the site launched in 2010. As the newest addition to the website, the toolkit is expected to spread this innovative acquisition method to even more federal agencies and employees.

As such, the toolkit is intended to be a living and breathing document, and we encourage you to consider how you and your agency could improve it by contributing case studies and other resources.

If you have any questions or a potential contribution, contact the toolkit team at

For more on the history of the toolkit, be sure to read the announcement on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

Eric Beidel is a communications specialist with GSA’s program.

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