U.S. Government Embraces Prize Contests to Meet Challenges

Government contests offer different way to find solutions for problems
The Washington Post

The U.S. government is giving away prizes. In seeking solutions to problems, it has discovered the magic of contests, or challenges — also known as open grant-making or open innovation. Or crowd-sourcing.

Whatever you call this new way of doing business, it represents a dramatic departure from the norm for the bureaucratic, command-and-control federal government. To be sure, the agencies won’t abandon the traditional method of doling out grants to predictable bidders. But in the new era of innovation-by-contest, the government will sometimes identify a specific problem or goal, announce a competition, set some rules and let the game begin.

Anyone can play. The idea is to get better ideas, cheaper, and from more sources, using the Internet and social networking and all the Web 2.0 stuff as a kind of vast global laboratory.

NASA is already doing it — offering prizes for more flexible astronaut gloves, a lunar rover and wireless power transmission. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon think tank, meanwhile, has staged “Grand Challenges” that lured inventors to create self-navigating robotic vehicles. And on Friday, hoping to scatter the concept more broadly throughout the government, the White House and the Case Foundation will team up with federal employees from 35 agencies in an all-day strategy session titled “Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking.”

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