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Incentivizing Innovation: A New Toolkit for Federal Agencies

OSTP and GSA launch the Challenges and Prizes Toolkit to help Federal employees solve problems by tapping into the ingenuity of the American people.

Since their early use by the Federal Government in the mid-2000s, incentive prizes have evolved from an exotic approach to a regular tool that thousands of Federal employees have used to solve big problems and answer complex questions, spur the creation of new technologies and incentivize the creation of new businesses, and more efficiently use taxpayer dollars to advance agency missions.

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the General Services Administration (GSA) are launching a new Challenges and Prizes Toolkit to help Federal agencies increase the use and sophistication of incentive prizes even further.

As the newest part of the platform, this Toolkit is a resource for Federal employees interested in running prizes and challenges. It is also the second element of a Federal Innovation Toolkit, consisting of high-quality online resources that empower Federal employees to adopt a core set of innovative approaches that can yield important results for the American people.

The core of the Challenges and Prizes Toolkit is a step-by-step guide that breaks down the execution process of using challenges and prizes into five sequential stages: Prepare, Develop, Conduct, Award, and Transition. State-of-the-art Federal knowledge about how to design and execute prize competitions is contained within this toolkit.

Challenges and Prizes Toolkit's execution process.
Challenges and Prizes Toolkit's execution process.

The Challenges and Prizes toolkit identifies common types of challenges and contains case studies that highlight effective challenges that yielded positive outcomes for the Federal Government. These case studies contain practical tips and innovative ideas for how to design world-class challenges. They also provide compelling examples of the types of outcomes challenges can accomplish. Federal employees will also find additional sections listing mentors who can help refine challenges, and resources such as development tools, templates, and examples.

Federal agencies use of prizes and challenges has accelerated since Congress passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which granted all agencies the authority to conduct incentive prizes and directed OSTP and GSA to support the growth of this tool. That same year, GSA launched, a government-wide platform for listing and administering challenges. Since then, more than 100 Federal agencies have conducted more than 700 incentive prizes, tackling a diverse range of issues, from combatting antibiotic resistance to advancing space exploration. Public-sector prizes have, for example, reduced millions of unwanted “robocalls,” strengthened cyber security, and even improved the Nation’s ability to detect asteroids that may pose a threat to humanity.

Incentive prizes are a proven tool to spur innovation, often at a fraction of the cost of more-traditional approaches, because they leverage interagency and private-sector partnerships, and ultimately pay only for results at the end of the challenge. Moreover, competitions such as the NIH Breast Cancer Startup Challenge and the SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund have led to the formation of more than 300 startups.

To continue building on this success, the Challenges and Prizes Toolkit was developed by an interagency team using insights drawn from challenge experts across the Federal Government. The team of project managers, content coordinators, designers, and editors was formed through the Open Opportunities platform to support the creation of the toolkit. With active support from GSA and ongoing contributions from the more than 700 members of the Challenges Federal Community of Practice, the toolkit serves as a knowledge repository that promotes best practices in open innovation.

By utilizing this toolkit to more effectively design and run incentive prizes, Federal employees will be capable of tackling increasingly complex challenges by leveraging open innovation challenges. Moreover, agency leadership will be better positioned to build capacity within their workforce by expanding on this shared resource and creating agency-specific processes, training, and centers of excellence.

Learn More:

Christofer Nelson is Assistant Director for Open Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Jenn Gustetic is the Small Business Innovation Research Program Executive at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Kelly Olson is the Acting Director of the Technology Transformation Service’s Innovation Portfolio at the General Services Administration