What I learned doing the GovFresh Awards

Tomorrow, we’ll announce the winners of the 2013 GovFresh Awards, and I’m really excited, but the whole process didn’t come without some hiccups, and I wanted to share these with the community, what I learned, what I did during the process, and want your ideas on how we can make it better.

My objective behind the GovFresh Awards was to open it up globally, create wider awareness for journalists interested in covering government innovation and inspire other government leaders and entrepreneurs.

For those of us inside the bubble, we see the same people, places and technologies over and over again. An open awards process allows the community to see what else is happening beyond just the noise.

My favorite example of this is the City of Piqua, who is doing some amazing work around citizen engagement and is a model for other small (and big) cities.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Doing awards the right way is hard. Most government awards (all?) follow a very closed process. You submit closed nominations and they’re “judged” by a panel of unnamed, unknown (or no) judges with agendas that focus on creating visibility to certain public sector employees or vendors who have paid to increase their standing or credibility (or perception of) within the community. “Winners” usually fit into a nice, strategic package that conveniently brings both together in a way that makes me very uncomfortable.

I don’t ever want the GovFresh Awards to be that. I don’t ever want GovFresh to be that.

Communicate, communicate. I was delayed in communicating updates and reasoning as to why things were delayed. That’s all on me and much of that will be resolved next year with these lessons-learned and feedback from the community.

Start earlier. I made the mistake of rolling out the awards right before the holidays. In the back of my head I knew better, but I just wanted to get something launched, because I felt like it was important to just get something out the door. The initial participation was low, and I decided to extend the deadline. I should have done that earlier and explained why so that there wasn’t any confusion.

Refined categories. I’m not convinced the categories were perfect, and I think they could be better refined. For example, when it comes to publicly nominating people (especially public servants and mayors), there are political, PR and humility issues that cause most to not want to get involved in a public submissions process.

In the case of ‘City of the Year,’ I added a new category (‘Small city of the year’), because I felt it was important to separate the two and give visibility to the work of smaller cities that often get overshadowed by what’s happening in major metro areas. Big thanks to Piqua city employees for working with me on refining that.

Longer submission time. I gave one week for people to submit nominations. In reality, it should be more like three weeks. My reasoning for keeping the process short was to limit what is typically a hype cycle for awards program and the organization holding them. The reality is people need more time than one week.

No popularity contest. Having judges select from a list of top vote-getters potentially eliminates entrees that may not have the bandwidth or network to garner enough votes to secure a nomination. While I think encouraging collaboration, participation and support is important, it should by no means be a gauge for determining who judges can select from.

More judges. The judges who took their time to review submissions were amazing. Most of them I’ve never met or talked with before, but still graciously gave their time and were honest and proactive about conflicts during the voting process. While I’m not a fan of big committees, next time around we’ll have more judges because, even as diverse as it was, I think it could still include a wider demographic.

Longer judging time. As with nominations, judges need more time. There also needs to be more time between the judging deadline and announcement to give someone like me time to review and prep an announcement.

This is an amazing community. Some in the community pinged me about the status and were understanding of the situation once I told them about the hiccups. For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of how GovFresh operates, it is run solely by me in my spare time. When you run into personal issues like a long jury duty selection process or a death in the family, administering awards becomes a secondary priority. Many thanks to those of you who understood this as well as the importance of doing an awards program right as opposed to just doing it for the sake of doing it.

Thanks everyone for participating in the 2013 GovFresh Awards. Let’s make 2014 even better.

Share your thoughts on how here.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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