Rather than relying on volunteer efforts to generate innovation and contributions from you, governments are increasingly seeking these through the use of challenges and competitions, hackathons, and game mechanics. The reward may be a prize or recognition or something else that will encourage lots of people to compete and create innovative products and services.
Interestingly enough, the use of challenges and competitions in government is not new. In 1714, the British government offered a prize of $20,000 to the person who could find a way to accurately determine a ship’s longitude. John Harrison, a Yorkshire carpenter and clockmaker, won the prize after decades of work by inventing a clock that worked at sea. There are more examples along with when and how to create them in this report by McKinsey. Today, the US government hosts Challenge.gov so that any agency can easily create their own challenges to leverage citizen knowledge and engenuity.
Hackathons are a method of engaging software developers to solve specific issues or generate a diversity of apps that leverage government data. While the term may sound like a bunch of gamers from the 80s trying to get into the Defense Department’s computers, it really references creativity and the rapid development of prototypes. Governments may set the criteria for the what they are looking to have developed and give prizes for the best results that are created. These are fairly common today, with NASA having just hosted the largest one ever (Space Apps Challenge) and the White House recently announced that they will be hosting a second one.
Finally, game mechanics are all the rage right now. The question is how to leverage the addictive nature of online games to get people to more actively engaged with their government. At its most basic, this involves creating a reward system for achieving goals or participating in online activities. This creates a sense of competition between citizens, but there is also a recognition factor where the citizens with the most points are more respected and have more access in the system, eg in a discussion forum, they may be able to approve items flagged as spam and remove them. NASA utilized this technique to encourage visitors to return to Planet Hunter, a game designed to help find planets based on images from the Kepler mission. These kinds of reward systems can be used to incentivize citizen participation, to help educate citizens, or to help turn online participatory processes into more immersive experiences.
To learn more about incentivization, challenges and competitions and see some examples from the US Federal government, check out the Open Innovator’s Toolkit on the White House website.