Activism Meets Innovation At Challenge Post & Challenge.Gov

One of the benefits of attending the Gov 2.0 Summit two weeks ago was the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs as well as government officials, journalists and civic advocates while covering the event for my Examiner column. I’ve included a modified version of that article here for the blogging audience. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview staff from the GSA, USDA and CPSC. I also met with a team member from a start-up to discuss the following initiatives:

Challenge Post is a NYC-based start-up where people can pitch ideas for products and services as well as post wishes. I spoke with executive Brandon Kessler about this exciting venture.  Their business model also includes working directly with organizations and government agencies to help streamline their public outreach. For those who don’t have ideas they can offer encouragement to the suggested ideas. That way everyone gets to participate at any level.

I spoke with GSA officials Bev Godwin, Director Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement who explained the role of the agency from the office of Citizen Service and Innovative Technologies as well as Gregory Romano, Acting Director of Public Affairs from the Office of Communications and Marketing; Patty Davis, spokesperson forthe Consumer Product Safety Commission, Office of Information and Public Affairs and Amanda Eamich, Director of New Media from the USDA Office of Communications. Yes..that’s a lot of titles and classifications but this is why the average voter needs to become better acclimated with how the government operates! This is also indicative of why the government needs to cut back on the bureaucracy – but that’s for another post.

To be brief, Challenge.gov was started to encourage civic activism and encourage people to find ways to take initiative on issues that concern them. Billed as: “The place where the public and government can solve problems together” people support the government in resolving things – but you can get more than  a pat on the back. You may win a prize for offering a viable solution.

A description of the project is detailed, with specific information about the project and what government agency it’s tied to, the time-frame for completion is set, judges and judging criteria outlined and prizes are listed. People respond with a solution, there’s a viral component and/or public voting within that set time and the best practices are selected. It’s crowd-sourcing for the 21st Century.

Some of the challenges listed are:  Radon Awareness Poster Contest,  Career Videos for America’s Job Seekers, NASA Space Rock (songs for astronauts to wake up to), Carbon Monoxide Poster Contest and Recipes For Healthy Kids. I’m very interested in the latter because of the huge obesity problem faced by children in this country. There was a reality show with a famous British chef who went to Small Town USA to help people change their diets. One of the problems that resulted was how the cost of the food would prevent many schools from implementing the new meal plans. The production crew had covered the added costs during filming but that meant little would be utilized in the long run.

So I posed this problem to the officials who assured me their program would not break the budgets of the school districts and the students would be far more hands-on in working with nutritionists and chefs in choosing better meals. Sounds like a great idea.

Since these programs have been newly introduced during the current administration where transparency has been listed as a goal, this can be a wonderful means for civic engagement. Communities that may be underserved can greatly benefit from outside assistance in addressing reforms.

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