Prize Competitions Help Agencies Innovate

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy last week released a report  that shows that public sector prize competitions for innovative technology in the 2015 fiscal year have increased in capability and impact.

The 116 prize competitions detailed in the report have allowed superior prize designs through partnerships, established new ways of getting people involved in the competitions, given out prizes as a supplement to the already beneficial projects that were built, conducted challenges to raise awareness for specific issues, and commercialized solutions that resulted from the competitions to address market failures.

After the 2010 America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, all Federal agencies are required to hold prize competitions.

“Over the past 7 years, the Obama Administration has worked to expand the use of prizes and challenges as a part of an agency’s innovation toolkit,” Christofer Nelson, assistant director for Open Innovation at the OSTP, wrote in a blog post. “Critical to this effort is the ongoing work of the General Services Administration (GSA), which launched the Challenge.gov platform and community of practice in 2010.”

Challenge.gov has hosted more than 700 competitions from more than 100 Federal organizations. In addition, the GSA has trained 1,500 staff members on the effective use of competitions and prizes.

“A prize competition can generate an innovative solution from a wider variety of solvers at a significant cost savings compared to more traditional approaches,” Nelson wrote.

NASA’s Astronaut Email Challenge wanted the International Space Station’s (ISS) email system to be able to hold large file attachments. NASA was able to begin the process of revamping the email system because of 12 winners who contributed their software solutions and were given $23,638 total. Without the ideas compiled from the competition, it would’ve cost NASA $193,000 to solve the issue. Instead, it cost about $81,000, a 42 percent savings.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology partnered with the National Football League, Under Armour, and General Electric to hold the Head Health Challenge III, which asked participants to find materials that absorb energy and dissipate energy. Five out of 21 teams were selected to continue developing their materials. In the coming year, one grand prize winner will be selected.

Eleven agencies launched teams to help with the facilitation of prize competitions in the past fiscal year.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, within the Department of the Interior, created the Water Prize Competition Center, which is working on an interagency effort to craft, organize, and judge competitions looking for solutions to infrastructure sustainability, ecosystem restoration, and water availability.

“As Federal employees extend the use of leading innovation techniques such as prizes and challenges, our public sector workforce will be better equipped to tackle intractable problems like climate change and infectious diseases, while making meaningful advancements in scientific research, technological development, educational attainment, and economic prosperity,” Nelson wrote.

Morgan Lynch
About Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.
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