In this phase you'll begin to think through the problem you're trying to solve, estimate the necessary resources and consider partnerships within and outside government. This will help identify goals and desired outcomes and determine if a challenge is the appropriate tool for achieving results.
Prioritize Goals and Outcomes
Goals and desired outcomes form the foundation of a challenge design. You should plan your challenge in the context of any broader objectives.
Recognition of a basic problem often sparks the idea to run a challenge. The initial conversation might start with proclamations such as "we need communities to conserve energy" or "desalination is too expensive." But remember: Achieving ambitious goals often necessitates multiple approaches, only one of which may be a challenge.
Once you identify a problem or goal and craft an initial framework for the challenge, you need to prioritize the project's goals and desired outcomes. Think of a goal as an objective your project seeks to achieve and a desired outcome as a measure of how successful you are in meeting that goal.
Historically, challenges have been used to achieve a broad range of objectives such as developing new ideas, technologies, products or processes and motivating people to work toward a targeted goal. In the process, the pursuit of these goals influenced public perceptions, inspired new talents and mobilized private capital, among other outcomes. In the past few years, the majority of government challenges have been designed to achieve multiple goals, and more than a third have been designed to produce multiple solutions.
Goals and desired outcomes ultimately will determine the monitoring and evaluation process for your challenge, as well as the metrics included in the biennial report to Congress.
Most challenges have restraints such as specific focus areas, budget limits, timing requirements and broad organizational priorities, so defining and prioritizing goals and desired outcomes for a specific challenge can be difficult.
There are often complex layers of goals and outcomes that can be realized. Keep asking "Why?" until you discover the most important ones. The answer may not be obvious, but make sure to engage many internal and external stakeholders, collaborators and intended users in the process. That way you can jointly identify outcomes that meet, align with or support their objectives.
Work hard to find the goals and outcomes that will make the greatest impact. Design your challenge around those.
It's not enough to set goals. You should take a comprehensive approach to your challenge design to identify specific opportunities that support those goals and metrics that will help you understand how well you did in meeting them. Collaborators are important to this process and can provide valuable insights to identify and implement other activities that may make the challenge more effective.
You should be able to articulate and prioritize the goals for your challenge BEFORE you start to design it. Many challenges have more than one goal. Keep in mind: The more goals you have, the more complicated your challenge design is likely to be. The America COMPETES Act defined these 10 goals for federal challenges:
- Improve government service delivery
- Find and highlight innovative ideas
- Solve a specific problem
- Advance scientific research
- Develop technology
- Inform and educate the public
- Engage new people and communities
- Build capacity
- Stimulate a market
Even if engaging people and communities isn't a primary goal of your challenge, it often will be a secondary goal because challenges rely on gaining access to new communities of innovators. Most successful solvers depend on a community and a support structure. Engaging and supporting these communities can be time-consuming and costly.
Prioritize how communities will be cultivated, empowered and sustained throughout the competition. Nurture and strengthen bonds in existing networks before, during and after the challenge as much as possible. Sometimes the most interesting solutions do not come from the top winners but from a runner-up. You want to inspire these solvers to continue innovating.
It's important to specify how your agency and collaborators will measure the success of the challenge. Clear, easy-to-follow measures ensure that everyone understands how the challenge supports the goal. Maintain coherent measures throughout the challenge so you can report outcomes to leadership, collaborators and stakeholders.
Maintain a framework or logic that explains the rationale for how your goals were identified and prioritized. Once you settle on a challenge design, you probably will be asked to give briefings and presentations internally. You'll need to be clear about your priorities and how they support the agency's mission. Be definitive about what you do and don't seek to achieve through the challenge so agency leadership understands why certain design decisions were made.
Clearly define your objectives: When prioritizing goals and outcomes, consider what you plan to do with the solutions or technology after the challenge ends. If you want to transition a complete or partial solution to an acquisition to buy it, develop it further or provide it to a third party, then you need to identify this objective when you prioritize your goals and outcomes.
Work with your contracting office to incorporate the rigor of the FAR, Agency Specific Regulations and OTA: If you want to acquire the solutions generated in your challenge, it's crucial that you consult with your legal team and contracting office before you design the structure of your challenge. The structure should support the acquisition of solutions under the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), Agency Specific Regulations and Other Transaction Authority (OTA). You may have to adjust the design, structure and documentation of your challenge so it aligns with current statutory or regulatory requirements and provides a direct path to acquire the solutions.