DOL's tips for mobile app challenge success

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The Labor Department is a firm believer in using competitions, rather than traditional contract vehicles, in order to gain the attention of the developer community. To date the department has hosted four application challenges on Challenge.gov.

The InformACTION app challenge, which DOL launched in July 2012, was the first ever enforcement-related app challenge in the federal government. The challenge ran for 62 days, followed by a public voting and judging period with winners announced Oct. 27.

Thanks in part to promotion and support from Google and GitHub, the challenge had nine entries. Eight of those enjoyed a cut of the $34,500 in prizes doled out by DOL.

The first-place app, called "Eat Shop Sleep," allows the public to use iOS devices to search for restaurants, shops and hotels using a mash-up of Yelp data and DOL data. Users can view which establishments have health and labor violations, as well as other industry enforcement data.

While DOL considers this most recent app challenge a success, navigating the challenge process can be tricky. During an Oct. 23 presentation hosted by DigitalGov University, Labor Department Chief Information Officer Xavier Hughes offered agencies tips for using challenges for mobile app development.

Executive support for the initiative is critical, but almost as important is data. Agencies must have open, usable data available to developers in the form of application programming interfaces, software development kits and sample code, said Hughes.

For example, the InformACTION challenge required participants to use several elements from two DOL data sets:

  • Location and violation penalty information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's inspections data set, and
  • Wage and hour inspection data, with attention to trade name, address, National Association of Insurance Commissioners code, period of findings, Fair Labor Standards Act violations and child labor violations.

Choosing an appropriate award amount is the next big decision in the challenge process, said Hughes.

"Not all contests should have money as the primary prize, and not all prizes should be 'Meet the Secretary!'" he said.

It's unlikely the prize will be the sole incentive for participants. By engaging the private sector for promotion and offering a mix of contest judges, developers will also be drawn to the challenge because it will bring attention to their skills and increase exposure.

When crafting the details of the challenge, it's important to avoid being too prescriptive, said Hughes. It's also important to think like the user of the service and not like a program manager, he said.

"Flexibility is key in order to allow creativity and innovation," he added.

And once the challenge is ready to launch, there's no such thing as too much promotion, said Hughes. Partnering with other agencies and organizations will ensure the competition gets maximum attention.

For more:
- watch an embedded video demonstrating the "Eat Shop Sleep" app
- go to the event page (includes presentation slides and the speaker's bio)

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