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Try this at Home: Scouting local solutions & rapidly scaling what’s working

Innovative local teams in different parts of the country are driving economic growth, economic inclusion, and solving complex challenges. Let’s accelerate what's working.
Local DC community team at a National Day of Civic Hacking kick-off event. (#HackForChange) in June 2016. (Photo by M. Smith)
Local DC community team at a National Day of Civic Hacking kick-off event. (#HackForChange) in June 2016. (Photo by M. Smith)

Our country is full of committed, creative, passionate people who collaboratively solved challenges in their communities – often working together in un-expected and creative partnerships, and often with limited resources. Partial or full solutions to tough problems are out there and discoverable.  This post shares some great work already in progress together with methods used to scout and fast-track local innovation — by engaging private, public and other partners for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to get everyone involved. 

Solutions shared below include a range of initiatives and strategies that are already working to address challenges that fellow Americans are adapting in their local communities.

We hope you will share these solutions, use the Internet, bring teams together, and adapt them to your local context.  Seed, grow, and adapt them to fuel positive change, economic growth, and mobility for all. Help accelerate access to solutions for everyone, in every community.

Megan Smith is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.
Thomas Kalil is the Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Aden van Noppen is a Senior Policy Advisor in the White House of Science and Technology Policy.

President Obama greets Girl Scouts from Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the 2015 White House Science Fair in the Red Room.
President Obama greets Girl Scouts from Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the 2015 White House Science Fair in the Red Room, March 23, 2015. The girls used Lego pieces and designed a battery-powered page turner to help people who are paralyzed or have arthritis. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)




January 2017 | Download "Try This At Home" as a PDF

Over the past several years, the federal government has been working collaboratively with local communities across the country on a wide range of initiatives that support local innovation, opportunity creation, and collaborative solution-making. The following is a list of many of these initiatives. Some are efforts catalyzed locally and accelerated by the federal government that individuals, neighborhoods, or local leaders can participate in—and many have existing communities of practice that are open for new members to join. The list also includes a number of innovative approaches that can be taken and tested directly within your organization or community.  

The solutions shared below are organized into the following domains: 

  • Strengthening Communities through Open Data, Open Government, & Community Engagement, 
  • Adding “TQ”, Open Innovation, and other Collaboration Approaches
  • Increasing Access to STEM Education & Jobs
  • Empowering All Americans to Join the STEM Workforce – Field the Whole Team
  • Accelerating Entrepreneurship & Innovation Everywhere, for Everyone; and 
  • Building Smarter and More Equitable Cities and Region, including Accelerating Connectivity and Digital Access 

We encourage you to explore these areas, determine which initiatives might make sense for your community, and then to build on these ideas and keep sharing what’s working. 



Fifteen-year-old Grace Clark teaches New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison how to write his first line of code.
Fifteen-year-old Grace Clark teaches New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison how to write his first line of code. (Official NOPD photo by Tyler Gamble)

Strengthening Communities through Open Data, Engagement, & Open Government

  • #HackforChange (and other Hackathons): Each year on the National Day of Civic Hacking, technologists, people from Federal and local government, non-profits, designers, civic leaders, students, and other interested members of the public come together to collaborate in small teams and “sprint” for one day hack-a-thons to prototype ideas for solutions to problems in their community. The 2016 national multi-city event, which was a collaborative effort led by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Code for America, and SecondMuse, drew 50,000 participants engaged virtually and in person at 65 events in 53 cities. For more information on this annual day of hacking, visit:
  • Green Button: This industry-led initiative, launched in March 2012 in collaboration with U.S. Department of Energy, enables more than 60 million households to access their own energy-usage data from their local energy utility. For more information:
  • Embedding Ethics into Data-driven Curriculum and Research: More and more parts of our society are leveraging data-driven tools to support—and in some cases: replace—human tasks. Ensuring that the underlying data system allow for ethical outcomes is important. Relevant research and engagement programs, such as that for economomics, mathematics, and computer science, can incorporate data ethics into the curriculum and provide opportunities for public conversations on issues such as discrimination, privacy, and other deeply-held democratic values. 


A cross-functional team at the UN Solutions Summit discuss how to accelerate local innovator solutions. (Photo by M. Smith)
A cross-functional team at the UN Solutions Summit discuss how to accelerate local innovator solutions. (Photo by M. Smith)

Adding “TQ”, Open Innovation, and other Collaboration Approaches

  • Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing, and Incentive Prizes: The Administration has expanded opportunities for entrepreneurs, researchers, students, teachers, and indeed all American to participate directly in technology development and scientific research. Federal agencies engage in projects such as the FCC Speed Test App that measures the speed and performance of broadband throughout the United States by crowd-sourcing data from volunteers that share information about their handsets and operating systems. is a listing of challenge and prize competitions, all of which have been run by more than 100 agencies across federal government. These include technical, scientific, ideation, and creative competitions where the U.S. government seeks innovative solutions from the public, bringing the best ideas and talent together to solve mission-centric problems. For more information:
  • Open Government Partnership (OGP): OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Since then, OGP has grown from 8 countries to the 74 participating countries. In all of these countries, government and civil society, including civic tech leaders, are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms. OGP is also expanding to cities and other subnational governments around the world through a 15-city pilot program. The United States is represented in this city pilot by Austin, Texas. For more information:
  • UN Solutions Summit at UNGA: The Solutions Summits have served two main purposes: 1) lifting up exceptional innovations technologists, engineers, scientists and others – who are developing solutions that address one of more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and 2) catalyzing a grassroots effort, where communities scout and convene resources around solution-makers. For more information:
  • Tour of Duty in Government: Individuals of all skillsets currently working in the private sector can be encouraged to take a ‘tour of duty’ to lend their expertise to their city, state, or federal government. To strengthen cross-sector innovation, university faculty and staff can often take advantage of the government tour of duty model to spend some time making a difference in government – some can do this while maintaining their positions back home. In the digital technology area, engineers, designers, data scientists, and product managers can sign up as well. At the federal level over the last 8 years, more than 450 individuals have signed on for a tour of duty to serve in over 25 agencies alongside dedicated civil servants to improve how government delivers modern digital services to the American people. For more information:



President Obama sits with young coders at a Computer Science for All event at the White House in January 2016. (Official White House Photo)
President Obama sits with young coders at a Computer Science for All event at the White House in January 2016. (Official White House Photo)

Increasing Access to STEM Education & Jobs 

  • Summer Opportunity Project: In February 2016, the White House launched the Summer Opportunity Project to increase the number of young Americans participating in evidence-based, meaningful, and skills-building summer opportunity programs. The Project includes $21 million in Department of Labor Summer Jobs and Beyond grants and the establishment of 16 Summer Impact Hubs that each receive tailored support to enhance jobs, learning, meals, and violence reduction programs for young people this summer, including young people gaining coding experience. Several cities will be hosting “Impact Fridays” – field trip experiences that expose youth to innovation communities in their city. For more information:
  • Computer Science for All: The Computer Science for All Initiative (CSforAll) has aimed to provide all Pre-K through grade 12 US students with access to high quality computer science education. CSforAll builds on efforts already being led by parents, teachers, school districts, states, and private sector leaders from across the country. More than 500 organizations have made public commitments and actions to support this goal. For more information:
  • STEM for All: The Administration has worked to expand STEM education and employment opportunities to all students. STEM for All emphasizes active learning, which research shows enhance learning and participation for both young people and adults. The Administration has also focused on countering implicit bias, developing positive images of STEM, and convening Federal science and technology agencies to identify steps to mitigate bias in government. For more information:
  • NextGen High Schools: A program that is reinventing the high school experience to better engage students and empower them to seize opportunities in today’s economy, and prepare students for success in college and career. This includes schools that incorporate key elements of redesign like more personalized and active learning, access to real-world and hands-on learning such as “making” experiences, deeper ties to post-secondary institutions, and a focus on expanding STEM opportunities for girls and other groups of students who are underrepresented in these high-growth, well-paying fields. For more information:



President Barack Obama presents former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls).
President Barack Obama presents former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls).

Empowering All Americans to Join the STEM Workforce – Field the Whole Team

  • Tech Inclusion Pledge: In June 2016, over 30 companies joined a new, industry-led Tech Inclusion Pledge. As part of the pledge, companies are committing to take concrete action to make the technology workforce at each of their companies more representative of the American people. Today 79 companies have committed to the pledge, more than 200 universities have committed to building a more diverse student talent pipeline, and over 30 angel investor groups with over $800 million have committed to promoting inclusive entrepreneurship. Some of these actions include: (1) implementing and publishing company-specific goals to recruit, retain, and advance diverse technology talent; (2) annually publishing data and progress metrics on the diversity of our technology workforce; (3) investing in partnerships to build a diverse pipeline of technology talent. For more information:
  • Reducing Bias in the STEM Workforce: Systemic barriers, such as implicit and explicit bias, present challenges to efforts to draw upon a diverse community in building a STEM workforce for the 21st century. OSTP and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) established an Interagency Policy Group (IPG) to identify policies and practices to increase diversity in the STEM workforce by reducing the impact of bias, both in the Federal Government and in local Federally-funded institutions of higher education. The IPG inventoried current policies and practices; identified best, promising, and emerging practices; and developed recommendations for Government-wide and agency-specific policies and practices. The IPG then developed an implementation strategy for moving forward.  For more information:



Participants pose before beginning a hack-a-thon to build the Open Government Plan Toolbox in December 2016. (Photo by M Smith)
Participants pose before beginning a hack-a-thon to build the Open Government Plan Toolbox in December 2016. (Photo by M Smith)

Accelerating Entrepreneurship & Innovation Everywhere, for Everyone

  • Startup in a Day: More than one hundred cities have pledged to build online tools which centralize and streamline the requirements necessary to start a business. Many entrepreneurs have great business ideas but are stifled by redtape, and Startup in a Day has the goal of making it easier for small business owners to get started. For more information:
  • Tech Meetups: In April 2015, the White House brought together Tech Meetup organizers from cities and rural communities in over 40 states who are creating coding boot-camps, running shared working spaces, and holding hundreds of innovation-focused tech meetups every day. They are building local talent ecosystems that help Americans access new skills and networks and collaborate on local solutions. For more information:
  • Nation of Makers: The President hosted the first-ever White House Maker Fair in June 2014 to highlight the growing importance of additive manufacturing (3D printing). The accompanying a call-to-action resulted in commitments to create over 1,000 maker spaces around the country. The third National Week of Making took place on June 17-23, 2016 with events across the U.S. The Maker Movement empowers students and adults to create, innovate, and make their ideas into reality. Responding to President Obama’s call to action, 77 universities and colleges in 32 states representing more than 1.1 million students recently made collective commitments through the higher-ed focused Make Schools Alliance. For more information:
  • Diversifying Access to Investment Capital: In October and November 2016 nearly 50 investors gathered across three convenings to discuss best practices for creating more access to early stage risk capital for science and technology entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. The gatherings were hosted by the White House and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. One of the key findings was that pulling together stakeholders from across the entrepreneurial landscape in a given city can catalyze collaboration that helps move the needle on these issues. Over 30 investors influencing over $800M in capital pledged to update their practices to be more inclusive.  For more information:


An entrepreneur pitches his local solution to a group of investors in New York City, NY. (Photo by M. Smith)
An entrepreneur pitches his local solution to a group of investors in New York City, NY. (Photo by M. Smith)

Building Smarter and More Equitable Cities, including Connectivity and Digital Access

  • Manufacturing Innovation Institutes: In June 2016, the Administration launched the ninth Manufacturing Innovation Institute, supported by over $600 million in Federal investment and matched by over $1.2 billion in non-Federal investment—keeping on pace to launch 15 institutes by January 2017. The institutes bridge the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions, and Federal agencies to co-invest in key emerging and pre-competitive technology areas that can encourage additional manufacturing investment and production in the United States. For more information:
  • Expanding Broadband Access and Digital Inclusion:  ConnectED. Responding to the President’s June 2013 commitment to connect 99 percent of students to high-speed Internet through schools and libraries by 2018, over the last three years, 20 million students have become connected to high-speed Internet, the number of schools lacking high-speed connectivity has been cut in half, and 2,200 superintendents, representing 16 million students, have signed the Future Ready Pledge to transform learning at their schools. In addition, over 5 million students are utilizing $2 billion worth of hardware, software, and mobile broadband resources provided by community organizations and the private sector for ConnectED. For more information:
  • Global Connect: The U.S., in coordination with other countries, multilateral institutions, and stakeholders, is working to actively promote global connectivity through Global Connect Initiative, an effort to prioritize Internet access and connect an additional 1.5 billion people by 2020. As part of Global Connect, the U.S. will also champion Internet policies, including openness, transparency, and rule of law, that can encourage investment and create a strong enabling environment for digital growth to ensure these new connections bear fruit. Any communities across the globe, including in the United States are welcome to participate in the Global Connect community. For more information: 


Additional Innovation Agenda Resources

In 2009, President Obama pledged to “restore science to its rightful place.” In June 2016, the Office of Science and Technology Policy released the STEM 100, a report of 100 examples of the impact the President’s leadership has had in building U.S. capacity in science, technology, and innovation. It also includes several grand challenges and initiatives such as the BRAIN Initiative, Cancer Moonshot, Precision Medicine Initiative, ending the waitlist for organ transplants, Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing, the Arctic Science Ministerial and more. This link is included here because many of the topics covered would be useful for local community awareness to drive opportunity. For more information:

Overall: Useful Tactics for Accelerating Local Innovation

In addition to leveraging or building on any of the above efforts, there are a number of great approaches to use to accelerate what’s working in communities, to bring new skills and perspectives to the table, and to more rapidly surface options. Here are a few approaches that are catalyzing significant and lasting change.

  1. Scout and Scale: Creative, committed, passionate people are solving challenges in their local communities. We can accelerate progress in more places by scouting to find these creative solutions or solutions-in-progress to tough problems that already exist. To scale, find, and share solutions with others working on the same challenges, use the Internet, and bring teams together. 
  2. Build Communities of Practice: These are peer-to-peer learning and innovation networks that connect colleagues who work on similar challenges to regularly share what works and collaborate. Find ways to post solutions-in-progress, resources and ideas to each other using blogs, short videos, simple websites to share content, social media, list-serves, and have regular meet-ups (in person or online); 
  3. Sprint, Pilot, Catalyze: Learn how to conduct quick discovery sprints, hack-a-thons, workshops --- these are methods that help teams to understand problems faster, create prototypes to more rapidly test alternatives, identify promising directions through fast, lightweight innovations sprints with small cross-functional teams of people exploring creative approaches and rapidly piloting and building together. Critically important:  Remember the best practice of “designing with,” which means including those you hope to serve as core members of your innovation teams from the outset and throughout. These methods lower the barriers to entry, encourage experimentation and collaboration, and drastically reduce costs while increasing solution quality. 
  4. Don’t forget to include TQ -- and other ”Qs”: “TQ” stands for technical quotient. Cross-functional teams that include a few experienced technical or digital experts from the start will deliver the best results. We need to make sure tech experts are embedded and on the same teams as local and national civic leadership, non-profits, and others who are developing policy, defining best practices, ensuring better service delivery, and developing solutions to social and civic challenges.  Prioritizing inclusion of tech at local police departments, mayor’s offices, school districts, and elsewhere will ensure we unleash all the approaches we have available to us in the 21st Century by leveraging tech and data to make improve lives.  
  5. Engage an Open Ecosystem and Open Data: Use open innovation approaches such as challenge prizes, open data engagement (APIs), and open innovation lab spaces at work, at school, in the community (use libraries and rec centers). These are all tools leaders can use to bring the right people together – often unexpected people can add critical insights. Accelerate innovation by encouraging cross-functional collaborators.

Download "Try This At Home" as a PDF