America Competes Act – the US Government enables a fresh approach to innovation

Posted by Dwayne Spradlin on Jan 18, 2011 9:00:33 AM

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As we’ve discussed before, we at InnoCentive believe that Challenges and Challenge Driven Innovation (CDI) are transformative, representing a fundamentally better way to manage and distribute work and innovation to achieve unprecedented results. This approach takes maximum advantage of diverse, passionate, creative, and inventive problem solvers from all over the world available “on demand”. Sometimes referred to as Crowdsourcing, Open Innovation, or Prizes, this approach is already being used broadly in the commercial and not for profit (NFP) spaces. And InnoCentive has been working with organizations like NASA to prove out its effectiveness in government.

We partnered with Rockefeller in 2006 and delivered novel approaches to lighting, internet capabilities and malaria control to remote villages. We partnered with the  Global Alliance for Tuberculosis in 2009 and improved the manufacturing processes for pending new therapies. We partnered with NASA in 2010 and provided enhanced abilities to predict and model solar particle storms after 30 years of ongoing efforts. We put forward a Challenge to address the BP oil spill and an InnoCentive Solver who submitted her ideas to both InnoCentive and x-Prize was awarded $1M.

We are thrilled to report that after a decade of success with commercial, philanthropic and governmental agencies, this approach to innovation is now being even more fully embraced by the US Government.

On January 2nd, The Washington Post reported on a watershed event in an article entitled “Can cash prizes for innovation get the economy rolling again?”

From the article:

In the flurry of activity at the end of the 111th Congress, the reauthorization of the "America Competes Act" went mostly unnoticed. But it is a little bill that Washington hopes will prove transformative. The law - its cringe-worthy official name is the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act - overhauls the way the federal government supports private-sector research and development, and one of the main ways the government hopes to support R&D is with prizes. Lots of prizes.

Most important perhaps is that the America Competes Act both permissions and encourages Agencies to take a fresh approach to innovation. This kind of visible and bold directive will shake loose the Not Invented Here and embolden those that want to drive change. Good news indeed.

Tom Kalil and Robynn Sturm from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) noted in their 12/21/2010 post entitled Congress Grants Broad Prize Authority to All Federal Agencies that “By giving agencies a simple and clear legal path, the America COMPETES Act will make it dramatically easier for agencies to use prizes and challenges to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions.”

In the same post, Tom and Robynn referenced a Wall Street Journal article the concluded that:

“These prizes have proliferated because they actually work.” Specifically, well-designed prizes allow the sponsor to dramatically increase the number and diversity of minds tackling a tough problem, to articulate a bold goal without having to predict the team or approach that is most likely to succeed, and to only pay for results. The clear articulation of a challenge, posed in broadly applicable language is a capability we've been refining over with over 1000 examples to date yielding over 600 awarded prizes!

Again, this is fantastic news, not only for fans of Challenges and Prizes, but for all of us who recognize the power of enabling thousands or millions of brilliant people to work on critically important problems to have a real impact. As a taxpayer, I could not be more pleased. Casting the widest net for innovative solutions and paying only for the best solutions simply makes sense. This is good management and fiscally responsible.

And as a citizen, this is Democracy at its finest.

Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

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