In this phase you'll put your plans into action. You'll roll out your communications plan, accept submissions and interact with solvers to generate interest and enthusiasm throughout. After your submission deadline, you'll begin to evaluate entries, select winners and verify their eligibility. Successful execution of this phase is critical to maintain credibility of the challenge and your agency.
Execute the Communications Plan
The communications plan you developed earlier specified how to communicate your challenge to various audiences and solver communities. Now it's time to execute this plan to deliver your content through various communication modes:
- news outlets
- email blasts
- social media
- in-person events
Give yourself enough time to get approvals and clearances for press releases, blog posts and other content. It may take longer than you think, so plan ahead.
Be prepared to answer questions from participants, judges, stakeholders, the press and the general public. Make these answers available for everyone throughout the challenge to ensure everybody is operating with the same information.
Federal agencies are more familiar than ever with challenges. Even if yours is new to the concept, you'll still want to involve different communications teams within your agency to promote the progress of your challenge.
These teams may have a variety of ways to reach different audiences. Think about how they can reach your target audiences. An announcement from your agency's public affairs office likely will get more attention than one from your program office. Also, the more successful your challenge, the more other communications teams in your agency will want to feature it.
Still, it's not as simple as knocking on a door and asking them to put out a press release or tweet. Different communications teams have distinct cultures, protocols and timelines. If you understand how they operate, then you can work with them to set specific protocols and timelines that serve your challenge.
You already have the firm timelines laid out in your official rules. If you build strong relationships with your agency's communications teams, you should have no delays in letting the world know about your good work.
If you're using a contractor or vendor to run your challenge, they may have their own communications lead. Decide what communication will come from your contractor and what will come from your agency.
Keep in mind that the approval processes will be different. It could take two weeks to get approval to publish a blog post on your agency's website, while it may take your contractor just a day to post something similar on your challenge website.
That doesn't mean you go with one or the other. Remember: You can reach different audiences through different outlets.
You can accomplish parts of your communications plan with the snap of your fingers. Other parts may take longer to piece together.
It's easy to write a short blog post on a cool new video from a participant, but you need a place to put that content. And it will take more time and effort to build out the infrastructure of a challenge website where you can do just that.
If your agency is hosting the challenge website, allow time for approvals before it can go public. You don't want any holdups to derail your entire challenge. That's why you've built those strong relationships with different communications teams in your agency, right? Good. Because that should help mitigate any risks on this front.
If you know you'll be running more than one challenge, consider creating an overall program site hosted by your agency. It's easier to change the content of an existing site rather than creating new sites each time you launch a challenge.
Your communications plan outlines what products you'll use to reach various audiences. Now, you'll want to customize your writing to reach those audiences.
The language you use to describe the goals and outcomes of your challenge should be clear to everyone you want to reach, including your agency's leadership. You may want to develop different communications materials for different audiences.
A basic principle of crowdsourcing is to encourage people from a variety of backgrounds with different skills to work on your problem. To do this, use plain language to explain goals, requirements, processes and progress throughout the challenge. It's good practice, and it's the law.
This doesn't mean you should dumb things down. It does mean you should avoid using jargon and "government speak." The world is full of smart people who will understand advanced concepts but may not recognize the way in which you talk about it with colleagues and other insiders. Use simple, universal words even when explaining technical details.
You're running an open competition for ideas. The last thing you want to do is deter people from participating. Make the challenge accessible to everyone to attract more than the so-called usual suspects.
You may still decide to develop different communications materials for different audiences, say the general public vs. technical experts. If you do, direct people from one set of materials to the other so everyone still has a chance to see everything.
Challenges can unfold over months or even years. Along the way you'll likely generate regular content, such as newsletters, blogs and team profiles. Create an easily accessible archive of news stories and communications materials so those who come to the challenge later can understand what happened before they arrived. This provides a narrative arc that will help bring newcomers up to speed on your challenge.
You'll communicate many different things in a variety ways as your challenge progresses. A lot of the content you generate will end up on your challenge website and social media, where you can easily track analytics and how readers interact with the material.
IMPORTANT: If you want to conduct analytics, you need to be ready from the get-go. Talk to your local web guru or challenge partner about how you can configure your social media profiles and websites accordingly.
You can collect information on "click-through" rates, how much time people spent on your webpage and social media impressions. All of it will help you understand which communications methods have been the most effective. You may see some channels working better than others and consider phasing out ineffective ones to focus on the successful ones.
Pay attention to what's working and what isn't with your communications plan and adjust accordingly.
Even after you launch your challenge you may need to make changes to your overall plan or strategy to reach certain audiences. Blaze new trails. Add key industry or research conferences to your communications plan.
Search all corners of the media world for articles that mention your challenge, especially if they're favorable.
A good news story gets picked up by other outlets and spreads far and wide. Think about ways to "cross-promote" communications about your challenge.
If your program-level communications team writes a blog, make sure your agency's public affairs office links to that piece in its communications.
If local media features a participant from your challenge on the nightly news or a newspaper, highlight that piece through social media and other channels.
Communication among your team members and partners is a critical part of any effective external communications plan and challenge.
Your challenge team likely will include more than just the core team within your agency. You may have industry and other non-governmental partners assisting with your challenge.
Hold regular check-ins with all involved so everyone is on the same page and all moving parts of a challenge stay aligned. Use these check-ins to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of all your extended team members.
By running a challenge, you are motivating members of the public by recognizing and rewarding their hard work and good ideas. You should be doing the same thing with your implementation teams.