Open Innovation Resources and Tools

The following playbook is intended to provide challenge managers guidance on how to run challenge competitions as set forth in Section 105 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, and to help HHS Agencies operationalize a prize competition or challenge, particularly under the COMPETES Act authority.

What decisions should be made in advance?

Define the problem. Defining the specific problem(s) you wish to solve will help guide the approach and competition type. You can do this by convening one or more meetings with a group of experts, use a Federal Register notice to collect wide input, and/or ask for help from the federal prize community. If you would like assistance, please write to [email protected].

Justify the use of a prize competition (to yourself and to others) to address the identified problem(s). There are a number of advantages that competitions offer over alternatives. You should be clear on why a competition best fits your situation and how solutions will be utilized.

  • Does a prize competition provide what cannot otherwise be effectively accomplished through a grant, contract, or cooperative agreement?

  • Is the goal a specific achievable outcome or a more general improvement? Are they clearly defined and realistic?

  • How will this prize competition benefit or advance my program/close a gap?

  • How will the prize stimulate innovation that benefits the agency’s mission?

  • Can it be achieved in a reasonable time frame?

  • How will the results of the competition be used and integrated into the Department, projects and available to end users?

  • How will you measure success as compared to other approaches to problem solving?

Decide the legal authority under which the competition will be run. Most competitions at HHS will be run under the COMPETES authority, but there may be exceptions. Consult your Office of General Counsel for more information.

Explore options for collaborations or partnerships. The America COMPETES Act provides options for collaboration on prizes, notably with other federal agencies and non-profits. Partnerships can further leverage the impact of a competition.

Decide how you will administer the competition. Whether you want a vendor to manage most of the process, do everything yourself, or anywhere in between, you have a lot of flexibility on how to plan, manage, and execute the competition. Refer to the Toolkit to get started.

Decide on prize incentive. Prize incentive is a key component to drive quality participation. Prizes need not be monetary. If the prize is more than $500,000, Secretarial approval is required. See these instructions on what to include and how to submit an approval packet:

  • Are the target problem solvers likely to contribute their own resources to work on the problem and risk not winning?

  • Can the winner’s submission be marketed and commercialized?

  • What intellectual property, if any, shall you seek to gain and use from the prize competition?

Identify the source of prize and vendor funds. Remember, prizes are not contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements. They are a distinct funding vehicle. The COMPETES Act provides the authority to fund prizes through the following:

  • Federal appropriations

  • Gift funds. Private entities may contribute to cash prizes by depositing them in gift funds, even for Agencies with no prior gift fund authority.

  • External partnerships. Private entities may also directly award cash prizes and operational costs as part of a public-private partnership.

The timing and payment of prizes depends on the source of funds. For example, for federal appropriated funds, the availability and use of those funds will depend on the appropriation. The COMPETES Act and ASFR’s Competition Award Policy provide rules about when and how funds from outside sources must be secured and treated. Consultation with your agency’s budget office is suggested. Consult with your agency’s financial officer about funding for your challenge competition and specific requirements for the treatment of appropriated funds and gifts. ASFR’s Competition Award Policy is also available for reference.

Define your target audience and eligibility criteria for participation. Defining your target audience will guide your marketing, communication and prize design strategy.

Define the judging criteria and identify the judges. Judging criteria helps solvers produce the solutions you seek. Note that COMPETES defines judges as those persons who “select the winner or winners of a prize competition,” and the choice of judges must adhere to HHS Competition Judging Guidelines. Additionally, you can choose advisors to provide recommendations on winners. This is a great way involve key external stakeholders. You may wish to consult your Designated Agency Ethics Official for ethical issues associated with the selection of judges and required forms that must be filled out. View a list of HHS agency DECs.

Clarify your intellectual property requirements. There are a number of options available to managers. Decisions should consider the competition goals, the target audience, and the post-competition plan. Refer to the Intellectual Property section of the FAQ tab.

Identify the source of prize and vendor funds. If you plan to offer a purse prize, funding strategy must be considered. The timing and payment of prizes depends on the source of funds. For example, for federal appropriated funds, the availability and use of those funds will depend on the appropriation. The COMPETES Act and ASFR’s Competition Award Policy provide rules about when and how funds from outside sources must be secured and treated. Consultation with your agency’s budget office is suggested. Consult with your agency’s financial officer about funding for your challenge competition and specific requirements for the treatment of appropriated funds and gifts. ASFR’s Competition Award Policy is also available for reference.

Identify the Award Approving Official. Determine who within your agency will serve as the Award Approving Official (AAO) (e.g., OPDIV head or direct report). If the AAO is not the OPDIV head, make sure that the awarding authority has been appropriately sub-delegated. Note that the eligibility of agency employees to participate in the challenge may be affected by the choice of AAO. For competitions with total prize awards above $500,000, the appropriate OPDIV official will still serve as the Award Approving Official.

Decide on the required liability insurance. For competitions run under the COMPETES authority, the law requires the agency heads to determine in writing the amount of required liability insurance (even if the amount is zero) and develop a liability release and indemnification agreement for participants to see. See FAQs for more information.

Consider Section 508 compliance. Look through the FAQ on issues related to ensuring compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the context of competitions.

Choose how you plan to post and communicate competition information. It is strongly recommended that you post information for participants on a website; you may use exclusively, or consider using a commercial competition platform or create your own website.

What paperwork do I need to fill out before I start?
  1. Draft and obtain agency clearance of a public challenge notice. Seek approval from your agency head or individual delegated this authority (this step is required for challenges issued under the COMPETES Act authority). It is recommended that you use HHS’s public notice template. If total prize amount is more than $500,000, send a draft public notice via the Exec Secretariat for the Secretary’s approval of Challenges.

    We have included an HHS Federal Register Notice template and several past examples for your reference. Please ensure compliance with your Agency’s policies.
  2. Submit HHS Competition Award Obligating Document (CAOD). As soon as the competition is announced in the Federal Register, your budget officer must record the obligation of funds using the HHS Competition Award Obligating Document (CAOD). There are explicit rules outlined in ASFR’s Competition Award Policy on how appropriated funding must be treated, how gift funding must be handled, and how payment obligations should occur.
  3. Determine what information solicited from applicants. Information solicited from applicants beyond what is needed for communication may be subject to Paperwork Reduction Act guidelines Information on how a solution was reached or what resources were used may fall under the HHS Generic Clearance. Personally identifiable information (PII) issues should also be considered.
How do I launch and manage the competition?
  1. Publish the Federal Register Notice. Note that the year in which the Federal Register Notice is published determines the fiscal year from which prize money is obligated; the notice must be published prior to posting on or any other public website.
  2. Post on COMPETES requires that all federal competitions must be posted on, the primary federal listing site. You can contact [email protected] for assistance. For additional guidance, consult the HHS governing principles.
  3. Declare the judges. Ideally, judges should be announced by the launch of the challenge; judges must be declared by the time the challenge closes. The selection of judges, and their “employment” status relative to HHS, should be guided by HHS policy as well as your agency’s preferences. Challenge managers must keep a record of the decision-making process used to select finalists as the documents involved in the judging process are subject to Freedom of Information Act and record retention laws.
  4. Promote the competition. Consider using a variety of communication channels to promote your competition, including agency press releases, promotional activities at conferences or meetings, email blasts, social media, or a webinar to attract solutions providers to your challenge. HHS may be able to provide additional promotional tools through departmental communication channels. See the toolkit for more information.
How do I distribute the awards?
  1. Ensure winners are eligible. Prior to announcing awards, the awarding agency must check the System for Award Management to see if any prospective awardees have been suspended or disbarred. If a potential awardee is on the list, challenge managers should check with HHS Office of General Counsel or the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grants and Acquisition Policy and Accountability before proceeding.
  2. Announce the winner. In addition to announcing winners on the competition website, your agency may wish to issue a press release announcing the winner. Follow your agency press release processes. You may also consider announcing winners at a relevant conference or other event.
  3. Pay the Award. To process payments for competition awards, the awarding agency must complete Standard Form 1034 and the associated supplemental documents (the SF 1034 package). Challenge managers are to provide the HHS Payment Information Form to awardees and submit this information into the appropriate accounting system via the agency budget officer.
What do I do after the challenge is over?
  1. Complete the annual COMPETES report. Each Fiscal Year, as part of statutory requirements, HHS will collect a report on any challenge that began, continued, or completed in any given year. The HHS Assistant Secretary of Administration’s Office of Business Management and Transformation (ASA/OBMT) will collect reports on behalf of the Department, usually in October or November. Send any questions to ASA/OBMT via [email protected]. The individuals reports will be compiled as part of HHS’ annual report on challenges, which will be compiled again by OSTP and sent to the Congress.
  2. Seek sustainability. To maximize the value of your competition, consider ways to remain engaged with participants, either by following up with winners, providing them access to partners to continue work, or letting them know about additional opportunities of interest.
How do I hire vendors?

Agencies have the option to hire vendors to provide technical assistance to manage a challenge, using the procurement authorities already available. HHS has created a contracting vehicle to expedite use of vendors, and GSA has created a separate Schedule for challenge management vendors

HHS Competes Strategic Sourcing Vehicle. If you are an HHS Agency, you can access 8 vendors on the HHS Competes Strategic Sourcing Vehicle. Below are descriptions as provided by the vendors.

  • Capital Consulting Corporation. Provides the knowledge and expertise to manage the America COMPETES challenge process—from convening expert panels to selecting innovation topics, to holding the competitions, and to awarding the prizes.
  • Dept. of Better Technology. Create beautiful forms. Make your next great hire, solicit proposals, or ask for feedback with a form that looks great on any device. Customize your form with our drag-and-drop form builder, and add advanced features, like signatures and online payments, in seconds.
  • Health 2.0. Health 2.0 is a platform in which teams boldly tackle the most complex challenges we face in health care. Our mission is to catalyze and showcase disruptive technologies in health by providing funding, validation, and marketing reach to solutions.
  • HeroX. HeroX exists to enable anyone, anywhere in the world, to create a challenge that addresses any problem or opportunity, build a community around that challenge and activate the circumstances that can lead to a breakthrough innovation.
  • Luminary Labs. Luminary Labs is a consultancy that develops strategies and innovation systems for leaders seeking to transform their organizations and industries.
  • Patexia. Patexia brings together a global community of subject matter experts to develop creative solutions to a wide-range of technical, scientific, and intellectual property challenges.
  • Sensis/Skild. Skild has run hundreds of challenges and other programs that have awarded over $40 million in prizes over the past 12 years. We use our experience to guide and share knowledge each step of the way.
  • Tongal. Tongal is an on-demand platform for crowdsourcing ideas, creative solutions, and finished, professional-quality video content. Tongal deliverables digital and broadcast quality content, animation, authentic stories, social media content, instructional videos, documentaries and original content.

Vendors can help Agencies do the following:

  • End to end management
  • Challenge platforms
  • IP and market scans
  • Prize design
  • Marketing and promotion
  • Advanced reporting
  • Hosting events
  • Managing collaborations
  • Crowdsourcing high-quality video production

GSA 541.4G Schedule. This vendor list is specifically designated for challenge management services. If you would like to hire one of these companies, please discuss the need with your contracting office. Expect the process to take several months.

Go beyond GSA Schedule. If none of the expertise you seek is available on the GSA Schedule, consider widening the scope of your procurement. Depending on the cost, you may be able to take advantage of simplified acquisition processes. Please discuss the need with your contracting office.

  • Under $3,000 – Micropurchase threshold; can be purchased without competitive procurement and through your purchase card.
  • Over $3,000 and Under $150,000 – Simplified Acquisition Threshold – can be purchased by comparing among three quotes from target providers
  • Over $150,000 – requires competitive procurement. Expect the process to take several months
How do I use

If your agency is looking to conduct a challenge competition, we have a wealth of information to help you through the process.

All federal agencies are required to “list” their challenge program on The site is open to the public and is a one-stop collection of all federal competitions. This allows you to link to any site on which you are hosting the crowdsourcing competition. (All links will open in a new tab.) is a no-cost platform on which you can fully host and manage your competition. Details are available through our on-demand training and through the [email protected] team. View this 30 minute webinar to learn how to use the platform to post or host your competition.

Platform Hosting Features:

Home page promotes: Title, logo, call to action (summary), prize amount, agency, dates.

Agency page (example): With overview, discussion board, list of all agency challenge competitions.

Challenge page (example):

  • Overview, Rules, Dates, How to Submit, Terms and Conditions
  • Prizes (amounts and detailed breakdown)
  • Judges (optional) and Judging Criteria
  • Discussion board
  • Accept submissions (via standard form which emails to challenge manager and team)
  • Public voting (5-star rating, optional)
  • Display solutions (optional)
  • Winner display with summary and links
  • Ability to add logos, video, and other media in multiple areas

The program also provides social media promotion and program amplification of your communications and outreach.

How do I create a website?

Websites house the details of your competition and provide a mechanism for participants to submit entries. This can be a single page on your agency’s site or a full-fledged custom website. Websites can be built in a variety of environments and styles.

There are four basic options available.

  1. Use as your sole challenge site.
  2. Create a page within your Agency’s site. A page within your agency’s or program’s website can simply describe the competition details or include competition registration functionality. It can also complement or reinforce information posted on, e.g. CDC “No-Petri-Dish” Diagnostic Test Challenge
  3. Use a commercial third party platform. You can access commercial crowdsourcing platforms through the HHS BPA (see ‘hiring a vendor’ section), the GSA Schedule, or directly purchase through a credit card or procurement. Your needs and target audiences will determine which platforms are appropriate.
  4. Build a standalone website. On your own or through a vendor, you may also choose to build a standalone website serving as the home for your challenge. This is likely appropriate for unique or larger challenges, e.g. 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge.

You will also need to ensure that the website and related materials are Section 508 compliant. Use the 508 Website Checklist to ensure that your site is compliant.

How do I partner with another Federal Agency?

There are two ways to work with other Federal Agencies to design and manage a prize competition:

  • Through an inter-agency agreement (IAA), you can collaboratively administer and fund a prize competition with a willing partner in another agency. For example, NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoCEI) often works with other agencies on prizes. An IAA will facilitate the process of using funds from more than one office for the prize award.
  • You can also consider an option to collaborate with another federal agency without the transfer of any funds. In this case you can collaborate in several ways:
    • Collaborate on the design, administration, and/or branding of the prize while prizes are funded by only one of the sponsors.
    • Collaborate so that each agency can make distinct awards under a co-branded prize competition.
How do I partner with a private entity?

The America COMPETES Act allows agencies to enter into an agreement with a private, non-profit entity to administer prize competitions. For example, you may work with a non-profit foundation to pool prize funds from both public and private funds. They may also administer the prize on your behalf. There are also options to accept gift funds from private sources for prize competitions.

The Breast Cancer Startup Challenge was run with two non-profit partners. One organization funded the prizes while the other administered the challenge. This was not an America COMPETES Challenge because no government money was issued.

How do I market my challenge?

Below are tools to help you spread the word to your target audiences.

Twitter. Create a @YourCompetitionHere Twitter handle and begin outreach to the communities that matter to you.

Facebook. Facebook is a widely used social media tool that can be leveraged to reach broad, diverse audiences.

Linkedin. Linkedin is a professional-focused networking service that can be used to reach out to potential judges as well as specific groups of potential solvers.

Google+. Google+ is Google’s social networking service.

Eventbrite. Keep track of participants, teams, mentors, and judges, automatically time messages to each group, and take advantage of their robust reporting and analytics offering; free for no-cost registrations

Email. Email blasts can be a great way to magnify your message; take advantage of HHS listserv, the federal challenge community of practice, and of course those of your target audience.

Cross–post with other federal initiatives. Chances are the problem your competition is addressing probably overlap with many federal and external initiatives. Seek them out for cross-posting opportunities.

Conferences, meetings, etc. Online media isn’t the only way to magnify your message. Often reinforcing your message through conferences, meetings, and other in-person venues will reinforce your online promotion strategies.

HHS IDEA Lab. HHS IDEA Lab can help promote your competition (before, during and after) through blogs, twitter, and traditional promotion channels. Email them at idealab @ hhs [dot] gov to start a conversation.

Federal Prizes and Challenges Listserv. There is a federal government-only community of practice. Through a listserv, in-person quarterly meetings, and monthly webinars, you can access peer-to-peer mentoring, collaboration and information sharing for best practices and changes in the programs. To join, send an email to [email protected] with your name and agency you work for.

What are some additional resources?
  1. The Federal Challenge and Prize Toolkit offers a range of advice and case studies on challenges
  2. Reach out to the federal-wide challenge community listserv. For access to the listserv, type “subscribe” in the subject line and email [email protected]
  3. Consult NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation site
  4. Reach out to the HHS Open Innovation Manager Sandeep Patel
  5. The Craft of Incentive Prize Design – 2014 – Report by Deloitte. on public sector use of prizes.


Content created by Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Content last reviewed on September 27, 2018