Open Innovation Contest for Tech-Savvy Citizens

Published Dec-02-11

Apps contest to create useful tools out of data sets of digital information.

City of Ottawa, Canada

The Story:

Open Innovation Contest for Tech-Savvy Citizens In 2010, the City of Ottawa decided to embark on a new mission to encourage the development of apps to make living in the city easier. With an overall prize purse of $50,000, the Apps4Ottawa competition caught the attention and imagination of software developers, local businesses, university students, and ordinary citizens.

Freeing Up Information

The open innovation contest’s launch followed an open government process that had started in the spring of 2009 where reams of government information were made available to the public in a digital format. The move was not only designed to give people better access to information, but also to see if they could find inventive uses for it.

Low-cost crowdsourcing and open innovation initiatives such as these offer a number of benefits for public authorities and for the individuals who take part. For example, public sector IT projects are notoriously expensive and have a significant failure rate. Putting an initiative out there reduces the financial and reputational risk of the public entity (i.e., a local government authority) and allows IT companies and individuals to make a name for themselves, while deepening the relationship between government and citizen.

They are also great opportunities for innovative minds to stretch their creative muscles.

Apps Contest

The Apps4Ottawa contest was open for three months for all residents of Ontario and participants could either submit a full application or just an idea for any of the five following categories: Having Fun in Ottawa, Getting Around, Green Environment/Sustainability, Community Building, and Economic Development.

Once the competition closed the public voted for their favourite app for the People’s Choice Award. The winners of the other categories were determined by a panel of judges that looked at each app’s usefulness, ease of use, originality and its ability to be used by a broad array of citizens.

Winning Submission

The winner of the best overall app was Ekwa Jacob Duala-Ekoko, a doctoral student in software engineering at McGill University. His Ottawa Guide app displays real-time information about your current location using a smart phone’s camera. All the user does is point the camera at an object, say a famous landmark and the app will tell you through the camera what the landmark is. And if you touch the screen on your phone it will take you to the Wikipedia page, or other online information sources about that landmark.

In addition to winning the best overall award, the doctorial student also picked up the Economic Development Award and tied for People’s Choice Award. The OttawaGuide is available for free for Android smart phones and an IPhone version is in development.

The city authorities judged its crowdsourcing apps competition a success and it did indeed attract a lot of interest with over 100 idea submissions.

Open Innovation Contests Need Follow-up

An apps contest can only be truly successful when those apps are developed into functional programs that are then made available to the public.

The downside of some apps competitions is that there’s little guidance on how to develop a product further and market it. But there needs to be this kind of follow-up to capitalize on all the benefits that an open innovation and crowdsourcing competition can bring.

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