New York's fourth annual BigApps competition now is underway. This time around, the city is giving developers access to more than 1,000 raw data sets to develop apps that address specific categories of issues, including jobs, environment, lifelong learning and healthy living. Winners will receive up to $25,000.

As the contest itself continues to expand, the city also is finding new ways to use app competitions to involve the public in creating solutions to local problems. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the Gap App Challenge, an effort to help improve student math skills. He is asking developers to create apps, games or other programs focused on middle school math that can be used by students, teachers or parents. "New York City is home to more and more of the world's most successful startups, and by challenging that tremendous creative energy into our public schools, we can help our students thrive," Bloomberg said in a statement.

While government app challenges are certainly nothing new, a number of cities and counties are experimenting with them for the first time. In the past year, for instance, Albuquerque, N.M., Jefferson City, Mo., and Alameda County, Calif., hosted their first app competitions with prizes ranging from $500 to $11,000. Before opening its competition, Albuquerque first asked residents for input on what type of apps they would like to see developed, with cultural resources, business in the city, and outdoor fun and healthy living topping the list. Common winners were apps that help residents and visitors locate city amenities and services. Alameda County and Albuquerque both awarded apps that help locate parks and recreation areas with specific features, such as hiking trails or playgrounds. Albuquerque and Jefferson City also chose winners that provide news, weather, attractions and other points of interest.

Other apps have a more direct link to city services. Alameda's first-place BookIt! app allows residents to scan a barcode on a book with their phone, search the library system for the title, and reserve it if available. As cities try to make reporting service issues easier for residents, the AT&T San Diego Apps Challenge presented its grand prize to Street Report. The app lets residents use their phones to send photos and location information on service issues like potholes and broken street lights directly to the San Diego Street Division.

As competitors in this year's BigApp challenge begin sorting through the massive amounts of data city departments are making available, last year's Best Overall Application winner may be of assistance. NYC Facets, which simplifies the process of accessing and understanding the data available in the city's NYC Open Data portal is serving as a BigApps 2013 data partner.