Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • An Exciting Day for Service and Social Innovation

    Today is a very exciting day for President Obama’s service and social innovation agendas. It marks the one year anniversary of the President’s signing of the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, and today we are launching the new website for the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (SICP), a first-of-its-kind office within the Domestic Policy Council.

    The Serve America Act marked the boldest expansion of national and community service opportunities in a generation.  It tripled the size of AmeriCorps, targeted that service toward solutions, and created the Social Innovation Fund as an example of how government can more effectively drive resources toward both innovation and results.

    Today, I will be speaking at an event to commemorate the signing and to remember and honor the Serve America Act’s namesake, Senator Kennedy, for whom service was a life calling.  And we felt it fitting to launch our SICP website on this special day.

    When this office was created by the President, he charged it with engaging individuals, nonprofits, the private sector, and government to work together to make lasting progress on our Nation’s most pressing challenges. The Office’s principles and mission reflect the President’s call.

    In that spirit, the Office has been working with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) – the federal agency home of service – to meet the vision championed by Senators Kennedy and Hatch, who worked together to introduce the Act, and the strong bipartisan coalition of Senate and House leaders who came together to support it.

    In addition to its work with CNCS, the Office is working with federal agencies across the government and with partners outside of government to do business differently by promoting service as a solution and a way to develop community leadership; increasing investment in innovative community solutions that demonstrate results; and developing new models of partnership.

    Today marks an important anniversary for the expansion of service and social innovation. There is much more work to be done, and we hope you will continue to stay engaged as we work together to address some of our country’s toughest challenges.

    Melody Barnes is Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy

  • Put Your Finger On the Global Pulse

    The US Government this week launched Global Pulse 2010.  Global Pulse is a way to reach out to those affected by US policies and ask key questions and get ideas that will help us better shape these policies to improve lives around the world. 

    Between now and Wednesday, thousands of people from over 130 countries are participating together virtually  to find shared solutions to common challenges, engage with US foreign policy leadership, and simply connect with each other -- through an online event called Global Pulse 2010. What we hear will help inform how we can fulfill the President’s vision of a foreign policy based on mutual interest and mutual respect, including a more comprehensive engagement with the world around common challenges. Sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the Departments of State, Education, Commerce, and Health and Human Services, Global Pulse will engage participants to collaborate on discussions around pressing societal challenges, build upon each other’s contributions, and identify ways of moving forward. 

    As the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and someone who has worked throughout my career to spur entrepreneurship -- both social and business -- in countries across the world, I am proud to serve as a Jam Host for the forum Advancing Entrepreneurship, Trade and Economic Opportunity. In my first post, I challenged participants to define entrepreneurship and identify which policies best create a supportive environment for entrepreneurship at the national, regional, and local levels.  I look forward to learning from the diverse experiences shared in these conversations -- ranging from academia, government, civil society, non-profits, business and the private sector -- and understanding how to catalyze entrepreneurship and innovation in a way that best works in communities around the world.

    In his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, President Obama stated, “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from one another, and to seek common ground.”  Global Pulse 2010 answers this call to engage and partner with the international community in a meaningful way.  And you can still participate:  I encourage you to visit Global Pulse 2010 and join me and my colleagues from across the government in this conversation over the next few days.  We look forward to hearing from you.

    Sonal Shah is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

  • The Role of Student-Led Innovation in “Killer Apps” for Broadband Networks

    Students have contributed (pdf) some of the most important advances in information and communications technologies—including data compression, interactive computer graphics, Ethernet, Berkeley Unix, the spreadsheet, public key cryptography, speech recognition, Mosaic, and Google.

    Today, with the right kind of support, students can play the role of innovators again—by leading the way in the development of broadband applications. In the same way that Mosaic and Google drove demand for today’s Internet, new applications could drive demand for a gigabit/second Internet and 4G wireless. Indeed, a key component of the Federal Communications Commission’s recently released National Broadband Plan is the development of new broadband applications.

    Now is the time to launch an initiative that would cultivate, with student involvement, such a wave of innovation. Although it’s impossible to predict what the next generation of applications will be, universities, companies, and students could work together under such an initiative, which would serve as a sort of “Petri dish” where new ideas could incubate and grow. This initiative could be led by the private sector, encourage multi-campus and even global collaboration, build on investments already made in high-speed research networks such as Internet2 and National LambdaRail, and take advantage of a growing number of grants from the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

    The initiative could have a number of elements, including:

    • Campus-based incubators for the development of broadband applications, with access to high-speed networks, cutting-edge peripherals, software development kits, and cloud computing services.
    • Relevant courses that encourage multidisciplinary teams of students to design and develop broadband applications.
    • Competitions that recognize compelling applications developed by students. Some existing competitions that could serve as models include Google’s Android Developer Challenge, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, and the FCC-Knight Foundation’s “Apps for Inclusion” competition.

    Let us know what you think of this idea. You can send us e-mail at

    Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Associate Director for Technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Investing in Innovation to Reach "Education's Moonshot"

    Education in FocusIn February 2009, President Obama stood before a joint session of Congress and announced that by 2020 the United States would once again have the highest percentage of college-educated adults in the world. 

    We need new solutions to achieve that ambitious goal, and as a nation we cannot afford to fail. Soon, the Department of Education will request applications to the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, which will support the development of path-breaking new ideas, the validation of approaches that have demonstrated promise, and the scale-up of our nation’s most successful and proven education innovations.
    i3 takes a new approach to funding education programs: small grants to develop new ideas; significant money for moderate evidence; and, if you want the biggest dollars, you need to demonstrate not just great results but also prove that those results can scale to benefit large numbers of students. Those working in and around schools know that this work takes place against a backdrop of flat funding (at best) for education at the local and state level. Producing far better outcomes, for many more students, with the same resources as we have today, is a daunting challenge, but one we must accept.
    We know that educators and others are working everyday to meet these needs.  That is why one of the most exciting features of i3 is that it finally provides a way to identify the best ideas and practices from our nation’s teachers, schools, districts, and non-profits; highlight them on a national stage; and provide unprecedented resources for them to expand while we learn whether and how they work at scale. 
    Another new effort with a similar aspiration, the Open Innovation Portal (, provides a public forum for all who wish to participate in creating opportunities for partnership and local private and public funding - potentially multiplying many times over the federal funding opportunity. We are hopeful this community of innovators and supporters will be another way that the best our country and the world has to offer spreads to serve more students.

    Secretary Duncan has called the reform effort “education’s moonshot” a reminder of our nation’s ability to reach higher goals. Surely, with our children’s futures at stake, we can go there again.

    Jim Shelton is the Education Department’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and  Improvement

  • Open Government Laboratories of Democracy

    Cross-posted from the Office of Science and Technology's OSTP Blog 

    "It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system," Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote in 1932, "that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."  The Obama Administration is taking unprecedented strides toward creating the most open and accountable government in history. And in so doing, we’re learning from those states and municipalities, which are undertaking exciting experiments to bring transparency, participation, and collaboration to the way they work as well.

    Inspired by the President’s call for more open government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts launched its data catalogue, following in the footsteps of Washington, DC, San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere around the country (as well as cities in Canada and the UK), to provide public access to information by and about government. What makes this exciting is not merely having transportation information available in machine-readable formats, but that professional and amateur enthusiasts can then get together, as they did last weekend, to create new software applications and data visualizations to better enable public transit riders to track arrival times for the next subway, bus, or ferry. Publishing government information online facilitates this kind of useful collaboration between government and the public that transforms dry data into the tools that improve people’s lives. (For another great example, check out what happened when we published the Federal Register for people to use.)

    The National Association of State CIOs is helping to spur this movement toward greater data transparency at the state level by publishing “Guidance for Opening the Doors to State Data.”

    Just as the federal government is using online brainstorming with government employees and the public to generate ideas for saving money or going green, state and local governments are also using new technology to tap people’s intelligence and expertise. The City of Manor, Texas (pop. 5800) has launched “Manor Labs,” an innovation marketplace for improving city services.  A participant can sign up to suggest “ideas and solutions” for the police department, the municipal court, and everything in between. Each participant’s suggestion is ranked and rewarded with “innobucks.” These innobucks points can be redeemed for prizes: a million innobucks points wins “mayor for the day” while 400,000 points can be traded for a ride-along with the Chief of Police.

    Manor is also one of the few cities currently using bar codes (known as QR or Quick Response Codes) to label physical locations around town. These bar codes can be scanned with a mobile phone to communicate historical and touristic information, data about the cost of a municipal service, or emergency management information. Manor is experimenting with techniques for providing different information to different audiences. If a resident scans a QR code outside a home for sale, she gets the floor plan and purchase price; whereas the building inspector gets the inspection history; and the first responder gets information about the current occupant.

    As more of these innovative projects that foster open government go live and achieve results, we look forward to showcasing some of them on our blog and eventually making details available on the Open Government Innovation Gallery.  Developers with new tools to offer to facilitate open government – including free social media applications -- should also check out and list their products (here’s how) for others to use. Openness and accountability are the responsibility of government at every level.  By getting out the word about innovations that help to realize open government in practice, we can both promote new experiments and help people find and re-use the best ones.

    Visit the OSTP blog to comment on this post.

    Beth Noveck is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government

  • Openness and Patent Reform: USPTO Launches Director’s Blog

    David Kappos, the new Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), has taken on a tough mission that is critically important for the future of American innovation:  fix our broken patent system and reduce the USPTO’s backlog of applications in order to foster job creation and economic growth. Mobilizing the skills and expertise of the USPTO’s staff, he has already begun to make noticeable progress towards reform.

    On the open government front, we’re particularly excited to see Director Kappos’s new blog.  In his first post, he lays out his priorities and goals, presents the results of some early reforms, dives right into the substantive debate around patent reform legislation, and invites input from stakeholders across the spectrum of IP interests. It’s a terrific start to a blog that we’ll be reading avidly.