TSG's Collaborative Challenges Spread: Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania (Round 2)
TechSoup Global-sponsored challenges try to find that sweet space wherein people are motivated to do their very best, and to do so in a fully collaborative way. We started in the Challenge business in 2007 with the first of three NetSquared Challenges, where Maplight, Miro, and Freecycle walked away with the top prizes. All three projects have continued to create impact -- notably, Miro, which has grown into the Participatory Culture Foundation (its Amara project was a recent Knight News Challenge winner). In 2008, a previously little-known project called Ushahidi walked away with the top prize.
Early on, we engaged Allen "Gunner" Gunn as chief challenge wrangler. In Year Two, Allen said, "Let's bring the fifteen finalists in a day early to work together on shared ideas and technologies."
So we said that was OK with us if the finalists agreed—after all, what else could they possibly have to do on Memorial Day?--and they all did. I wandered in halfway-through to see how it was going, and Allen informed me that every finalist had sung a song and now it was my turn. So I did my tone deaf version of Brennan on the Moor, only to find out later that Allen was lying like a rug and I was the only chanteur. I guess it was a bonding exercise for the finalists.
FrontlineSMS:Medic, SeeClickFix, The Extraordinaries [now “SPARK.COM”], Kabissa, and Social Actions were other winners of our crowd-sourced challenges. Meanwhile, people and ideas were moving between projects, bringing hybrid vigor and encouraging network effect.
The Challenge meme was spreading quickly. Maybe too quickly? It seemed like every corporation and every government department wanted its very own challenge. Challenge platforms proliferated. We declared victory and withdrew.
But a funny thing happened between 2009 and 2011. Challenges started feeling like American Idol. And the collaborative stuff, which was always the real soul of the matter from our standpoint, largely disappeared from the Challenge arena and found its way into hackathons and the hackspace generally. Which was great. But also kind of private, a bit of a walled garden.
In 2011, Chris Worman and the team of TechSoup Romania worked with American Ambassador Mark Gitenstein, to issue a startling challenge to Romanians: come up with great ideas about how to address corruption, transparency and open government in a web-based way. Compete for prize money and support, but also collaborate across the field. Team up with others outside your immediate community—hackers, marketers, web designers, writers—to build the strongest possible project. Tell your friends.
It worked. See the results here. And now, with the support of the Central and Eastern European Trust for Civil Society, United States Embassies, Microsoft, and a variety of local donors, we are launching challenges in very much the same spirit in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania again, followed, next year by the Balkans.
TechSoup Global is a network of organizations, now in 44 countries, that seeks to support the use of technology for social good. We work with other networks—such as Random Hacks of Kindness, Campus Party, Ashoka and Telecentre Europe (and the Telecentre.org Foundation) --to leverage our resources collaboratively. We look forward to plugging these combined communities into the creativity that will surface in the next set of challenges.
This is going to be fun.