The Importance of Open Innovation Contests to the US Government

Published Aug-07-19

The US government’s increasing use of open innovation competitions and citizen science projects.

Federal agencies, US Government, United States

The Story:

The Importance of Open Innovation Contests to the US Government During recent years the US government has been increasingly turning to open innovation contests to help discover new ideas and technologies. Dozens of federal agencies up and down the land have worked with the crowd to look at old problems in new ways and to make research funding stretch even further.

In 2017 and 2018, 169 different prize competitions were funded by the government covering a broad range of topics. They were hosted by 30 agencies with NASA and the Health and Human Services Department sponsoring the most.

Among the reasons agencies use prize competitions are to improve government service delivery, advance scientific research, solve a specific problem, inform and educate the public and engage new people and communities.

“One of the things this administration is keen on is everybody joining forces, coming together to solve the great challenges that we have facing us,” OSTP Director Kelvin Drogemeier said at an open innovation event at the General Services Administration.

“[Public research is] bringing science to the masses. You’re letting everyone participate and understand they have a role to play in discovery and innovation.”

Innovation Catalysts

During 2017 and 2018 the government funded open innovation competitions focused on a broad range of topics, including developing tools to identify antibiotic resistant microbes, improving the provision of timely and accurate information to first responders during natural disasters and coming up with new designs for a urine and fecal management system for space suits (NASA's Space Poop Challenge).

According to the 'Implementation of Federal Prize and Citizen Science Authority: Fiscal Years 2017-18' a report by the Office of Science & Technology Policy, prize purses for these open innovation competitions ranged from zero to $20 million with the median prize purse being $50,000 in 2017 and $75,000 in 2018.

“While prize competitions are not the right tool for every problem, they can serve as a mechanism for spurring and sourcing innovation if and when they are aligned with a broader strategy and used systematically within an agency,” officials wrote in the Office of Science & Technology Policy report.

Citizen Science Initiatives

The Office of Science & Technology Policy report also looked at the government’s “citizen science” efforts, highlighting a number of successful initiatives They included a project to monitor the status of the Columbia River Gorge pika population after the Eagle Creek fire and a project to monitor harmful algal blooms in water bodies.

“[The citizen science programs] are proving particularly beneficial in applications that cannot be easily automated but instead require human intelligence and understanding to efficiently and correctly sort and analyze complex observations,” said the report.


If you want to take part in prize-based competitions wherever you are in the world visit IdeaConnection's Innovation Contests and Challenges page. It is the world's biggest and most popular list of live challenges and is continually updated.

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