When NASA scientists were stymied last year in trying to devise a formula for predicting solar flares, they took an unusual approach: They posted their problem online, and offered a prize to anyone who could solve it.
One requirement: the person with the winning solution would have to fork over exclusive rights to the idea – in exchange for a $30,000 prize.
579 people considered the challenge, while only five submitted entries. The winner was a retired radio frequency engineer from New Hampshire who offered an algorithm that may be a first step in helping NASA predict when solar particles might endanger astronauts or spacecraft.
Top officials within the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget have called the contest the beginning of a huge movement.
Now, the website challenge-dot-gov allows agencies to post challenges, create blogs and discussions, and reward winners with an array of incentives.