Harnessing Ingenuity

Stephen Voss

Sometimes, the federal government needs help solving a problem. Increasingly, it is turning to the public at large for solutions. 

Martha Dorris is leading the General Services Administration into the future of crowdsourcing with Challenge.gov, and bringing the rest of government along with it. The website, entering its third year, has helped dozens of agencies solve hundreds of problems. 

Based on an Obama administration executive order focused on “harnessing the ingenuity of the American people,” the idea is simple: Use challenges and cash prizes to incentivize the public to create marketing ideas, develop software and find scientific answers that further the missions of government agencies. 

So far, solutions have ranged from blocking robocalls to an app that enables people to track and pay their student loans. 

“It’s a great way to get ideas you wouldn’t ordinarily get through standard, traditional ways of getting solutions,” Dorris says. “You’re able to reach into communities of solvers you wouldn’t usually get to.” 

Harnessing those ideas will only get easier, as barriers such as legal difficulties and adapting to the unique culture of each federal agency are removed. 

More than 42,000 “solvers” from across the globe have already gotten involved with Challenge.gov. 

“People have always wanted to find a way to get their idea or solution in front of somebody,” Dorris says. She expects the website to evolve, as well as the entire notion of how government confronts its obstacles to change. 

“It’s the very beginning stages of what I think is possible,” she says. 

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