This morning, the US Treasury announced the MyMoneyAppUp Challenge, a “contest intended to motivate American entrepreneurs, software developers, the public, and students to propose the best ideas and designs for next-generation mobile tools to help Americans control and shape their financial futures.” The challenge is a joint effort of the US Treasury, the D2D Fund, and CFSI. There are cash prizes for winners of the challenge that come from the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, and the Citi Foundation. It is the newest in a line of challenges to encourage technology designers and developers to start thinking of new programs and products for public interest purposes. Other challenges are being administered by US Health and Human Services, Innocentive, and Mozilla. On a somewhat related note, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also looking Design+Technology Fellows to make sure that any tools and services they produce are attractive and effective for consumers.
What’s underlying this push for apps and software programs for public interest purposes? In addition to the private sector successes of tech applications and tools, the White House has a cross-agency initiative on Smart Disclosures. The goal of the Smart Disclosures initiative is to help people make more informed choices by allowing them to have greater access to the necessary information to make those choices. It calls for federal agencies to make sure the data infrastructure to create these consumer-facing tools is in place. For example, think of the GPS navigator you use in your car or through your mobile phone. The satellite technology to collect data on your geographic location was created by the US Military. Though it was originally restricted to military use, President Reagan cleared it for civilian use as a common good. This allowed companies like Garmin, TomTom, and Google to create the navigation software that many of us would be lost without.
With the White House Smart Disclosures initiative, the federal government hopes to spur more creation of technology tools to make our lives and the decisions we have to make easier. There are already large-scale initiatives to help veterans make personal health decisions and consumers make decisions about their energy usage and utilities providers. With continued investment in app development and innovation, we’ll hopefully see a more robust market of quality tools accessible to help people make effective decisions about the financial products and services they rely on.