Challenge proposals must fit several criteria to proceed with further development. Most importantly, challenges must support the achievement of ONC and HHS strategic goals and have the potential to significantly impact public health. An idea for a challenge needs to create a solution that does not already exist or solves a problem in which there are no existing solutions that sufficiently address the problem.
Successful challenges are those that leave potential solvers with plenty of room to use their creativity and experiences both inside and outside of healthcare to craft something original. The core idea must be able to be simplified and abstracted in such a way that individuals in adjacent, non-health domains can understand it. This keeps the problem comprehensible for all potential solvers and makes it less intimidating for those with non-health experience – an important consideration, as research has demonstrated that problems are most frequently solved by those outside of the subject domain.
Additional criteria include the potential for breakthrough innovation, technical complexity and difficulty, and how much the topic area is in need of increased attention and development.
Challenge reviewers are selected by the challenge managers for their subject matter and technical expertise. Challenge reviewing panels are usually a mix of federal (ONC and other HHS agencies) and non-federal (including non-profits and private sector) experts.
Intellectual property policies vary from challenge to challenge and are specified in each challenge’s announcement in the Federal Register. Generally, ONC challenges leave intellectual property with the challenge winner and seek a one-year, non-exclusive license.
Challenges serve purposes beyond the creation of innovations and solutions to problems in health IT. They allow ONC to highlight specific programs, activities, and areas in need of development. Drawing attention to these areas can help stimulate private sector investment that may otherwise have been lacking. Awarding prizes to individuals and teams who solve a problem can motivate and inspire others who have not participated in such efforts or do not think of the government as a hotbed of innovation. Challenges help us reach out to communities that have not previously considered working on health IT problems, even though their expertise in other subject areas may lend itself well to thinking about these issues; the application of other experiences can produce the out-of-the-box thinking needed to create genuine innovation.
Each challenge uses different criteria that reflect what should be achieved by an innovative solution. However, challenges with similar anticipated outcomes will have common criteria. For example, solutions that are mobile health apps must be easy to learn and use, not contain malware, and function as intended.
Award amounts are determined similar to how challenges are selected. An award amount will be larger if, for example, the solution has a high degree of technical complexity, will require a longer amount of time to create, has a high potential for public health impact, or is in a particular area that we want to shine a spotlight on.
Awards are also used to incentivize the target solver base and therefore do not necessarily have to be monetary. While money may be the prime motivator for some, peer recognition, exposure to funders or investors, and free passes to industry conferences, for example, can also be the appropriate incentives.
Individuals who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and private entities incorporated in and maintaining a primary place of business in the U.S. are eligible to win prizes. There are no restrictions on participation and solution submission.
Federal employees are eligible to win prizes provided that they do not work on their submissions during duty hours, and do not use Federal facilities or consult with Federal employees that are not made available equitably to other challenge participants.
In January of 2009, OMB to issued an Open Government Directive [PDF - 86 KB] to prompt executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration. The directive specifically calls upon executive agencies to use innovative methods such as prizes and challenges to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with the public, including those in the private sector, non-profit, and academic communities.
Section 105 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 [PDF - 300 KB] provides federal departments and agencies with the authority to plan and execute challenges and competitions, and specifically authorizes the use of appropriated funds for these purposes.
Challenges enable the Federal government to tap into the expertise and creativity of the public in new ways. Under the Administrations’ directive calling for innovative ways to generate ideas and collaboration, challenges are policy tools that can foster participation in government activities through the process of co-creation. As an inducement of participation, challenges may offer a variety of “prizes”, including cash, recognition, or the deployment of a winning solution.