DotGovLabs opens to public

'Skunkworks' team crowdsources digital solutions to public service problems

A development hub set up to find innovative digital solutions to public service problems has been made open to the public.

DotGovLabs, run by the Cabinet Office's "skunkworks" team, can now be accessed by anyone, as opposed to by invite only.

The project involves crowdsourcing ideas from innovators from outside government to explore ways of making more efficient and transparent systems.

Contributors can post challenges, which last for about three months, or respond to those set by the DotGovLabs team. Recent examples have included ways of supporting carers, social mobility and youth employment, and using visualisations to communicate policy and important messages.

Sandie Bakowski, DotGovLabs programme manager, told GGC: "We want the site to be a place where digital innovators can meet and support each other, creating a community where new solutions and teams behind them form. We are aiming for a community of like-minded people with skills that complement each other, rather than just big numbers.

"Opening it up is more about the culture of the site and being open and transparent rather than numbers, as a private site will always have its limitations and put a lot of people off.

"We want it to be a place where a social innovator can find someone to help with their digital challenges, where a team can find funding and where people can connect with government decision-makers all through connections on the site."

DotGovLabs was set up in January and has attracted 1,600 SMEs, entrepreneurs and innovators to work on the challenges submitted.

Proposed solutions have to graduate through three stages. Ideas go through the "buzz" stage by acquiring a 12 votes or 10 comments then the "teaming" stage by attracting 25 votes, 10 comments or four expert rating approvals.

They then move to investment time and a virtual stock market, in which contributors invest in shares of the solution they would like to see taken forward, earning the contributor lab points on a reputation index.

The government does not retain any rights to any solutions posted by non-government contributors on the hub, which is still at its beta stage of development.

Bakowski said DotGovLabs is open to suggestions about what to focus on in the future.

"We want the community to tell us what challenges they want to work on, which is where the 'visualisation' challenge came from," she said. "Noel (Hatch, projects and research lead at Kent county council) got in touch and asked if we could put it on there, which we were happy to do.

"Suggestions can come from government departments or from outside of government. As long as they are broad social challenges that explore digital opportunities then we are happy to consider them and see if we can help."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

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