App contests are a dime a dozen these days. Right now there are 111 listed on challenge.gov. A quick review of the challenges showed that few agencies do anything to reach out to developer communities once the contest is posted. The EPA, however, has done a fantastic job with their Apps for the Environment contest by actively working with participants. Ethan McMahon, dedicated public servant and EPA employee, came to the last django-district meetup to try and get developers involved in the contest.
The EPA has compiled a great list of data sets and web services for developers to use. If you've looked these over and still don't have an idea, there is a curated list of potential app ideas to get you going. Still without an idea? The public has been submitting their own suggestions on the EPA's data blog.
One of the biggest issues with app contests like this has less to do with the quality of submitted applications and more with the proper usage of the data; many of the datasets that the government produces are quite complex. People have spent their entire careers becoming experts in their field, so how can a developer understand the data in the few months they have to create an app? EPA has really excelled in this area by hosting weekly webinars (I hate that word, it's netposium from here on out) to help developers understand the data sets they are working with. You can suggest a netposium or ask specific questions about the data by emailing email@example.com. I'd love to see the netposiums continue after the contest ends so that anyone working with EPA data will have a rich resource to which they can refer.
Submissions are due by September 16, so get coding!