How to write a winning GCN Award nomination

GCN Awards: Crafting a winning nomination

Know of a great IT project and team that deserve some time in the spotlight? Involved in a project yourself that delivered great value or made a big difference for its users?

Nominate those projects for a GCN Award.

The annual program recognizes the public sector projects and their teams that have delivered the best in IT innovation, impact and scale in the last year.The winning GCN Award projects and teams are chosen based on the nomination by a panel of judges from federal, state, local government agencies and public sector focused commercial firms.

The judges look for nominations that address three main criteria: the scale of the accomplishment or degree of difficulty shown by the project; the level of innovation or originality of the project and its team; and lastly, what was the impact of the system: what significant effect did it make on the business operations of the agency and the general public.

We frequently get questions on how to write a nomination that meets these hard criteria –  as well as some of the intangibles – our judges will be looking for in deciding which projects deserve recognition this year.

Of the three main criteria – accomplishments, technology used and impact – impact is the most important. Be sure to spell out how the project made a difference, how big a difference it made in terms of cost or time saved or new capabilities and specifically why that difference is important. Don’t be shy.

While we don’t ask for directly for system metrics, be as specific as you can about relevant system performance, cost savings and other project outcomes. This can help the judges understand the impact of the accomplishment and often puts the protect achievement into context.

Last year, for example, Alamance County, N.C., won for an Electronic Protective Order System that used common technology (virtual-private networks, videoconferencing and commercial software) to devise a system that allowed victims of domestic violence to electronically transmit paperwork among protective agencies and testify via webcam. It halved the wait time for protective orders and increased the likelihood victims would seek and follow through with the process.

What are the judges are looking for?

GCN’s tagline is “Technology, tools and tactics for public sector IT.” We want the GCN Awards to reflect that motto by zeroing in on projects that exhibit innovative technology adoption, solid project management and a big impact on agency users and everyday taxpayers.

In evaluating the nominations, judges assign higher weight to nominations that show innovation and risk-taking.  Does the project demonstrate creative thinking in building more agile and interoperable solutions? Or does it just represent the automation of existing approaches and processes? 

What kind of projects are eligible?

The GCN Awards program looks for projects that are as current as possible. Even so, many public sector IT projects are implemented in stages and take more than a year to go operational. To account for that, we look for projects that have been been either completed or have made a significant operational improvement in the last 12-18  months. Projects that were completed over two years ago are not eligible for an award.

What kind of information technology is considered?

The GCN Awards puts in-house or government-developed applications and technology on an equal footing with commercially-developed software and technology for the purposes of evaluating the nominated projects.

Projects operating at enormous scale can also win credits, even if the core technology is mostly off the shelf. In 2014, the judge gave high marks to the Strategic Offender Management System (SOMS) from the California Department of Corrections, which is responsible for the safety of nearly 200,000inmates and parolees.

Not a cutting edge technical project per se, SOMS provided the largest state corrections department in the country a web-based management information system that saved significant costs to taxpayers and replaced a mostly paper-based system. In this case, standard technology plus flawless implementation, made a difference.

What about teamwork?

The while these criteria drive the ultimate choices the judges make in picking GCN honorees, the winning projects are often those showing how an emerging idea, a burst of effort or an opportunity seized can tip the scales in favor of a project.

That appeared to be the case last year when the judges agreed that a project of the the Air Force Mobility Command deserved the nod for their work developing an iOS app to help Air Force flight crews make air tanker load balancing calculations swiftly. 

When the Command’s software engineering office looked around to find employees who could develop the app, they found few with experience, let alone the expertise, to write code in the emerging Apple software environment.  That’s when two of the Command’s developers decided to seize the initiative and teach themselves, in part by taking an online course from Stanford University.

Even though the project may not have had the broad enterprise impact other projects might have demonstrated, the Air Force team’s good chemistry and its swift response helped win points from the judges last year.

Are references important?

The GCN Awards are not evaluated on the basis of specific metrics. Instead we rely on the experience and instincts of individual judges to identify the most exceptional projects entered and to pick up on factors that support their judgment.

That’s also why good project references are invaluable to the process. By offering a second level of evaluation associated with the individual projects, we can confirm an important detail about project entered or back up the written nomination.

Also, let your references know you are nominating the project. Ensuring that the references know a particular project is in contention adds credibility and helps build confidence in the nomination.


June 5: Nominations close

Late August: GCN Award winners announced.

Mid-October: GCN Award Gala.

If you have  questions, please contact Paul McCloskey, [email protected].

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.


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