The Stockholm Challenge

By Darby Patterson
Center for Digital Government

and Wayne Hanson
Government Technology

There is worldwide awareness of the Internet’s power to create the greatest of benefits and to foster the darkest evils. There are some outstanding efforts to highlight the potential of information technology to enhance the lives of people in the farthest reaches of the world. Among those is an annual contest called the Stockholm Challenge, originally called the Bangemann Challenge after EC Commissioner Martin Bangemann, author of a 1994 article on the “Information Society” that spurred interest in Europe on using IT to improve society.

Evaluations of the projects are done over the Internet by a team of global experts, and the winners receive their awards from the King of Sweden in an impressive ceremony. Among those is an annual contest called the Global Bangemann Challenge – also referred to as the Stockholm Challenge.

The competition, started in 1999 when Stockholm, under Mayor Mats Hulth, began a European contest between cities, tailored to the Information Age. The competition was to compare city efforts to serve the public, deliver excellent service, provide information and operate at less cost through the use of computers and telecommunications.

The competition was to be friendly, designed primarily to focus attention on best practices in the use of IT. The winning projects would receive plaques from the king of Sweden in the same hall where Nobel Prizes are awarded. But the real prizes in the Global Bangemann Challenge would be the sharing of good ideas on how to operate governments with less cost while providing better service.

Winners in the 2000 Challenge included the city of Tartu in Estonia where Mikesike (a nonprofit corporation) created freeware worksheets in html and a set of virtual teacher assistant services. The materials have created access to teaching tools for the small country with only 700, mostly rural schools. The villages are geographically separated and lacking trained teachers. Consequently, teaching materials are scarce. The project dramatically increases resources for classrooms in Estonia.

A project in Dhar, India helps village people use the Internet to improve the quality of their lives. Gyandoot is an intranet project within a tribal district. It has helped poor merchants find better prices on goods for the village market; helped a cyber-café coordinator to offer low cost classes in computer use to people; keeps valuable records on land and crops to enable farmers to get loans; and eliminated corruption from an ancient system that depended upon written records and memory.

In Santiago Chile, Hyperstories for Blind Children has opened a new world for poor youngsters who are sight impaired. Through use of 3D audio, children were exposed to a highly interactive experience through sound. The project showed that 3D sound in the right environment can create mental images without stimulation to the eyes. The chip developed for this project can be used in most computers.

In Sweden, home of the Challenge, Mindmouse won top honors for developing a system that enabled a girl who could not talk to operate a computer with her thoughts. For the first time in her life, the youngster was able to directly communicate. The developers say this is the world’s first application of its kind.

South Africa, with its vast reaches of isolated lands and lack of communications infrastructure, was home to another Challenge winner. The Manguzi Wireless Internet provides access, e-mail and leaning resources to villagers who have no telephones or modern means of communications. The project has trained teachers and introduced distance learning to rural schools, in addition to exposing students to the possibilities of the Internet age.

In Canada, students have gotten real-world experience in the value of information technology through Canada Digital Collections. The project contracts with museums, libraries, schools and other groups to have students put information into digital format and on the Web. Since the project launched, more than 2,300 youngsters have worked nearly 500 Web site projects.

Evaluations of the projects are done over the Internet by a team of global experts and the awards are presented at a ceremony in Stockholm. The Challenge is an example of how nations can use new tools to create a better world for everyone. A new, more intelligent world is forming and competitions such as the Olympics, the Nobel Prize for Peace and the Global Bangemann Challenge are our hope of a new spirit of reconciliation and cooperation more suited to this age.

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