Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Hardwiring Prizes: Leveraging Public Sector Investments

    We are continuing our live blogging from today's summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking. The lunch time session was an interview of Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Chief Information Officer, by Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum. The interview captured the vision for the Prizes and Challenges Guidance issued by OMB on March 8, 2010.

    Sifry stared off the interview asking Kundra to share his experience running his first challenge approximately two years ago in the District of Columbia. Kundra said that his experience then launching Apps for Democracy gave him more insight into transforming government by simultaneously experimenting with novel procurement processes and, at the same time, engaging the public. Traditionally there have only been two mechanisms, contracts or grants, to drive and unearth innovation from the public sector. Apps for Democracy was an experiment showing that we could find a third way to solving public sector problems – through prizes and challenges. In that case Apps for Democracy received over 40 applications within 30 days, which would have taken much longer under a normal procurement process. In addition it was forecasted that the government saved over $3.6 million from the applications that were created!

    In response to being asked about the vision for the Prizes Guidance, Kundra went on to talk about the more than $70 billion the US Government spends on information technology in the context of a public that expects the efficiency and seemlessness of private sector transactions from sites like Open Table and many others.  The vision for this new guidance is to re-think the traditional way in which IT and other projects are procured and to help drive intelligent investments that are responsive to citizen needs.

    Kundra also pointed out that while we are in the early stages of implementing the Prizes and Challenges Guidance, the idea is to make it easier for agencies to solve problems with another strategy and set of tools. This set of tools doesn’t always have to involve a monetary prize. For example with the SAVE Award Kundra said:

    We didn’t issue a challenge of $1 million, the prize was rather a meeting with the President which generated enormous response. We also want to make sure we have appropriate rules and regulations in place so that we are being good stewards of tax payer dollars… and the platform doesn’t have to be a sophisticated enterprise wide solution, it can be one that is something more lightweight and is a platform that best serves an agency’s mission.

    The long-term goal for the guidance is to instill a notion of a participatory democracy in which you have citizens helping to solve some of the most difficult problems.  In a traditional procurement process, this wouldn’t occur. In addition, where feasible, it is important to engage the public in judging solutions while being aware of balancing the interests of hyperactive communities. Both Sifry and Kundra discussed the evidence that with relatively low amounts of prize funding people will be incentivized to self organize, form partnerships and drive innovative solutions. The guidance was disruptive by design and the President has been clear that he wants to get the best ideas for how government operates from anyone in the country because government should serve the American people. These ideas are not just about finding solutions, but also could be about uncovering problems or inefficiencies.

    Vivek Kundra summed up the end of the interview by reiterating that prizes and challenges are being introduced in the government in a way in which the hope is that this mechanism becomes embedded as part of the culture and to push action beyond just grants or traditional procurement processes. 

    Following Vivek’s speech is a breakout of the 200 or so participants into 17 different lunch tables with wide ranging themes hosted by experts from inside and outside of government (such as NASA, DARPA, Global Giving, Sunlight Labs, Prize4Life, Knight Foundation and many more). The summit can be viewed live here on the Case Foundation website. 

    Vivek Kundra and Micah Sifry

    Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, interviews Vivek Kundra, U.S. Chief Information Officer at the Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking summit. April 30, 2010. (by Jocelyn Augustino)

    Aman Bhandari is a Policy Analyst in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  • Live from the White House Summit on Promoting Innovation through Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking

    At today's summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenge and Open Grantmaking, two leading experts on the use of prizes to solve problems addressed the assembled gathering. Leaders from over thirty Federal agencies have come to learn about how to incorporate prizes and incentive-backed challenges into their work of addressing complex policy problems.

    Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X-Prize Foundation, described the importance of prizes to provide the incentives for "radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity." The X PRIZE Foundation is an "educational nonprofit organization whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity thereby inspiring the formation of new industries, jobs and the revitalization of markets that are currently stuck."

    According to Diamandis, if a new prize is designed correctly it can bring 10-40 fold the size of the purse in innovation. Prizes also create a collaborative and open environment that stimulates innovation. Incentive backed challenges attract "maverick thinkers who challenge normal assumptions" and make heroes of the teams who compete in these paradigm-changing efforts to solve significant social problems like building the ultimate fuel-efficient car or developing a lunar landing vehicle.

    The X-Prize Foundation has established X-Prize Labs at several universities. In these interdisciplinary graduate level courses, students learn about the history of prizes and think about root cause problems. The best ideas they develop may become X-Prizes -- competitions that generally take between 3 and 8 years to win.
    Among the X-Prizes currently underway or being planned include the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, a $10 million purse to be awarded in September 2010 to the teams that win a competition for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPG energy equivalent; a $10 million prize to sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days; a $10 million "African entrepreneurship" prize to the team whose graduates create the most new "beneficial jobs" over 5 years.

    Next Jonathan Bays of McKinsey & Company, and author of the recent report "And the winner is... Capturing the Promise of Philanthropic Prizes" walked the audience through a history of prizes, such as the longitude prize, which awarded $2 million of today's dollars to the inventor who could develop a way of precisely determining a ship’s longitude (1714) and the French government’s food preservation prize that led to long-shelf life canned foods that awarded $44,000 of today's dollars. Prizes have historically been used to solve difficult and pressing problems. Today they are experiencing a resurgence ($250 million in prize capital for prizes of $100,000 or more has been raised since 2000) and offer many strengths. Prizes identify excellence by rewarding path-breaking innovators. They focus a community and public perception on a particular problem. Prizes help to mobilize new talent and pull unexpected people into developing solutions. Often the solvers of prize-backed challenges are the people whom one would least expect to be working in the field. Prizes educate competitors and build skills.  They bring additional capital to problems by mobilizing funds and give innovators access to facilities and resources.

    Bays explained that there are different types of prizes such as participation prizes that bring people together to solve a problem; exemplar prizes like the Nobel or Man Booker prize, network prizes that stimulate the creation of communities and networks that outlast the prize; and exposition prizes like Ashoka Changemakers designed to focus on a specific need. In developing a prize, it is crucial to articulate the goals and objectives before jumping to designing the prize. After the aspirations are defined, then one can develop the prize strategy by identifying stakeholder needs and prize types. The prize elements and prize process -- the precise way in which the prize event will unfold -- can be developed. Equally important, he pointed out, is to spend time designing the post-prize process. That's when the impact of the prize is measured, reinforced and the legacy of the problem and the solutions generated by the prize will be rooted in the community.


    Speakers at the Case Foundation Event

    Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X-Prize Foundation, and Jonathan Bays of McKinsey & Company speak at the summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenge and Open Grantmaking, April 30, 2010. (by Jocelyn Augustino)

    Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative.

  • White House and Case Foundation Host Summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking

    Ed. note: Beth Noveck and staff from the Office of Science and Technology Policy will be live-blogging from the Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking summit all day on the Open Government Blog.

    Last month, the Administration issued its Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government. The Guidance provides a policy and legal framework for the use of prizes and challenges to promote open government, innovation, and other national priorities. Today the White House and the Case Foundation are hosting a summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking. The day is organized into a combination of presentations and panels, breakout roundtables, and Ignite Sessions all designed to deepen our understanding of how to incorporate prizes and other innovative techniques into the way we solve complex economic and social problems.

    There are over 200 public and private sector participants at this event, learning from one another how to bring innovation to policymaking.

    You can see the program here. While the speeches and panels will be broadcast online next week, today you can watch live interviews with the speakers, including Sonal Shah of the Domestic Policy Council, Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation, Bonin Bough of PepsiCo, and Jim Shelton of the Department of Education.

    We welcome your participation in this event. Before and during the sessions, you can submit questions via Twitter, using the hashtag #opengov, via email at or by using the interactive chat window on the Case Foundation website available during the sessions.

    Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative.

  • Transparency at Work: Making Your Workplace a Safer Workplace

    Each day 14 workers die in our country from traumatic injuries. That means more than 5,000 people are killed on the job every year.  Tens of thousands more die each year of work related diseases. In addition, more than 4.6 million are seriously injured. While those numbers are alarming enough, what troubles me is that most – if not all of these – are injuries and fatalities that could have been easily prevented.

    Yesterday, on Workers Memorial Day, we remembered those killed on the job and recommitted ourselves to ensuring that future tragedies are prevented. As a part of this effort and the Department of Labor’s continued emphasis on greater transparency, through the White House Open Government Initiative, we released 15 years of valuable data detailing workplace exposure to toxic chemicals.

    This Chemical Exposure Health Data is comprised of measurements taken during the course of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections and includes exposure levels to hazardous chemicals including asbestos, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, silica, and others. 

    Making this dataset available to the public for the first time will offer new insight into the levels of toxic chemicals commonly found in workplaces, as well as how exposures to specific chemicals are distributed across industries, geographical areas and time. This information will ultimately lead to a more robust and focused debate on what still needs to be done to protect workers in all sectors, especially in the chemical industry.

    So what does this mean for you? For starters, those of you who are technically inclined, please help develop software (e.g. search and visualization tools) to enable all of us to know if any chemical hazards have been reported in our workplace or see which occupations have a greater risk of exposure to certain chemicals. This information is also a great way to make sure that companies and businesses in your area are doing all that they can to minimize chemical exposure as your neighbors. You could even combine our data with other useful datasets like the National Institutes of Health “Haz-Map” database to help diagnose exposure related illnesses more quickly. If you build any useful tools using this data, let us know by submitting your tool via the Developer’s Corner on Most importantly, whether you’re a software developer, an employer, or a worker – with this data you’ll be able to arm yourself with the information you need to make your workplace a safer workplace. 

    The mission of the Department of Labor as a worker protection agency is more clear and needed than ever and opening this data to the public is a valuable means of strengthening the tools available to us. With a renewed emphasis on protecting workers and businesses that do the right thing, our goal is simple: Save Lives. 

    Dr. David Michaels is the Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.

  • An Initial Assessment of Open Government Plans

    As part of the ongoing implementation of the Open Government Plans, we have asked the Cabinet departments and other major agencies to work with us to evaluate version 1.0 of their Plans (or recent revisions) against the requirements of the Open Government Directive. The assessments show that we are off to a good start--but have much more work to do as we transition our overall efforts towards effective agency implementation. 

    There are important lessons to be learned not only from the government’s self-evaluation efforts, but also from the reviews and recommendations that we’re receiving from outside groups and individuals.  Some of the constructive criticisms are already being incorporated, while others are sparking new thoughts and approaches to how agencies are pressing forward with their initiatives.  We want that feedback and look forward to much more of it.  This is a work in progress – there are ways every plan can be strengthened – and all of us in the Administration are committed to a process of implementation, assessment, and improvement.  

    Earlier this month, we described a process for evaluating each agency’s plan to make operations and data more transparent, and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight. The review began with a checklist of 30 criteria drawn directly from the Directive. An agency that meets all of the criteria in full gets an overall green flag.  An agency that fails to fulfill even one criterion gets an overall yellow flag, to signify that more work remains to be done to improve the plan as part of the implementation process. In addition, we have included an evaluation of each of the four major components of the plan – Transparency, Participation, Collaboration, Flagship Initiative - as well as a process section.

    We have posted the results on our Open Government Dashboard. In addition, each agency has posted the specific results of its evaluation on their /open government page.

    Finding #1:  All on Board. All Cabinet departments and major agencies have submitted plans that make significant strides towards open government as called for in the Directive. Better still, many other agencies – not specifically bound by the Directive – have completed deliverables to demonstrate their commitment as well.  All agencies recognize the value of breaking down long-standing barriers between the American people and their government.

    Finding #2:  More Still to Do. Only three of the cabinet and other key agencies won a green flag for across-the-board excellence. All the others – including our own offices of OSTP and OMB – have more work to do before the Plan fully satisfies every requirement in the Directive. With your feedback, we are keen to improve upon these living documents to fulfill the letter and the spirit of the Directive.

    Finding #3:  Open Government Pracitices Worthy of Review. Three agencies both achieved the requirements and took ambitious steps that might serve as models for the rest of government – the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, and NASA. HHS developed a concrete plan to which it can be held accountable for identifying and publishing high value data sets with an impressive roster of commitments this year; Transportation engaged over 200 staff members in crafting the plan from nearly every service area to instill an open government culture wide and deep within the agency;  and NASA is inviting volunteer software developers to collaborate in the development of NASA technologies, both to advance the agency’s mission and to spur commercialization leading to economic growth.

    We will highlight more noteworthy open government practices across the agencies as they push forward with their plans.  We’ll keep our “leading practices” page a place where you can learn more about the innovative steps underway across the government. 

    We wish to especially thank the 20,000+ members of the public contributing to each agency’s plans, posting comments and voting on specific ideas. Your input has been incredibly valuable thus far and we hope you will continue to participate as we turn our attention towards the more important task of implementing the milestones described in each plan. We will be reporting back frequently through this blog and other fora to highlight the latest efforts in open government but the bulk of the work will take place at the agency level. Each agency will update you on implementation and opportunities for collaboration through their /open pages.

    Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer.

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

  • The World Bank Frees Its Data

    In an exciting advance for the global data transparency movement, the World Bank today launched its Open Data Initiative, releasing more than 2000 data sets that document human development worldwide, including health, business, finance, environment, and social welfare statistics.  This is a big deal for openness in development:  not only are these high-quality and often unique data sets, but until today they have been available only to paying subscribers. 

    The World Bank's new Open Data site has a lot of features that impress us here at the White House Open Government Initiative.  The data catalog is well-organized and easy to navigate, with breakdowns by country, topic, and statistical indicator.  Some 330 of the data sets have been translated into French, Spanish, and Arabic, with more languages to come.  And there are some good, lightweight, built-in visualization tools -- for example, check out the charts available in the country profile for Rwanda.  We especially like the URL (, which echoes our own

    Perhaps best of all, the World Bank also released an iPhone app called DataFinder, which enables data search and charts/visualizations on the fly.

    Finally, we're impressed by the World Bank's plan to encourage the development of applications that make innovative use of all this open data through an "Apps for Development" challenge later this year.

    Rowdy applause and congratulations to the World Bank team.  You've raised the bar on open data. 

    Andrew McLaughlin is Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer.