Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Prizes and Challenges

That’s why today I’m announcing a wonderful contest called the Apps for Healthy Kids challenge.  It’s going to be run through the USDA.  And we’re challenging software and game designers -- both professionals and amateurs -- to come up with games that incorporate nutritional information and make healthy living fun. . . . To select the winners of this contest, we’re putting together an all-star panel of judges that will include leaders in the fields of gaming and technology and nutrition – and even a co-founder of Apple.  And we’re offering tens of thousands of dollars in cash prizes for the winners.

-First Lady Michelle Obama, Remarks at the National PTA Conference, March 10, 2010


Prizes and challenges are competitions between individuals, communities, government entities, businesses, institutions, or non-profit organizations to achieve defined goals in a defined time frame. They can use incentives – which can include monetary rewards or non-cash rewards like recognition – to identify the best models, increase participation, or achieve progress in a certain area of need. They are open to all and generate ideas from a broad cross-section of citizens, including many new entrants or unlikely problem-solvers.  The Office will work closely with other agencies to use prizes and challenges to enlist bottom-up problem solvers in identifying new ways to create progress.


  • The Office of Management & Budget Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government on March 8, 2010.
  • SICP, OSTP, and the Case Foundation co-hosted an interagency conference on using prizes and challenges to spur innovation in government.
  • The Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration announced the i6 Challenge to encourage innovative ideas to drive technology commercialization.
  • Health & Human Services created a PSA contest on flu prevention to inform people about H1N1 and motivate them to take that help prevent the spread of flu
  • First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Apps for Healthy Kids competition as part of her Let’s Move campaign to challenge software developers, game designers, students, and other innovators to develop fun and engaging software tools and games that drive children to eat better and be more physically active
  • NASA announced the Innovation Incubator Initiative -- an online “innovation marketplace” with 180,000 participants to spur solutions to problems such as forecasting solar activity, keeping food fresh in space, and developing a compact aerobic device for astronauts. 

Guiding Principles

Bring New Ideas to the Table from Unlikely Sources

Prizes and Challenges hold great potential for unlocking major breakthroughs on enduring social and technological challenges while underscoring a commitment to fresh approaches, participatory problem solving, leveraging untapped resources, and transformative change.

Help Address Social in Addition to Science and Technology Challenges

While prizes and challenges have traditionally been used within the technology and science sectors, they carry great potential to address society’s pressing social needs.  Prizes and challenges have a long history, and their reemergence as a prominent policy and business tool carries tremendous potential for producing private and social benefit.

Learn more about the Administration’s approach to prizes by reading the Office of Management & Budget Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government.