Prize Platform Invites Citizens to Solve Nation’s Challenges

In search of novel solutions to the tricky problem of how to keep astronauts fit during prolonged periods of weightlessness, NASA found an unlikely ally in Alex Altshuler.  Altshuler works for a mechanical engineering firm in Foxboro, MA. He had never before responded to a formal government Request for Proposal (RFP), let alone worked with NASA.  Yet, the exercise device he designed in response to a NASA challenge constituted a major breakthrough in mitigating the loss of bone and muscle density in astronauts.  NASA dubbed the results “outstanding.”

Citizen solvers like Altshuler are at the heart of the Obama Administration’s commitment (pdf) to increase the use of prizes and challenges to solve tough problems.  Prizes allow the government to articulate bold goals – such as building a super-fuel-efficient car, developing a low-cost launch technology for small satellites, or solving the risks to human health that come with space flight – without having to predict which team or approach is most likely to succeed.  With a strict focus on results, prizes empower new, untapped talent – like Altshuler – to deliver novel solutions that accelerate innovation.

As of today, it is easier than ever for Federal agencies to mobilize American ingenuity to solve our Nation’s most pressing problems.  In a joint keynote presentation at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra unveiled (pdf) Challenge.gov, a one-stop-shop where entrepreneurs, innovators, and citizen solvers can compete for prestige and prizes by providing novel solutions to tough problems, large and small.

Challenge.gov features (pdf) over 35 challenges posed by more than 15 government agencies.  They range from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Game Day Challenge for the university that best reduces and recycles waste at college football games to a $15 million Department of Energy prize for the lighting manufacturer that meets stringent requirements for the next generation of high-quality, high-efficiency light bulbs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack used the platform today to announce a new challenge: USDA’s Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge—part of the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative—which invites school nutrition professionals, chefs, students, and parents to develop nutritious, kid-approved foods for school menus. “The Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge is an important contribution to our overall efforts to combat childhood obesity,” the First Lady said in a statement.  “It’s vital that we provide our children with healthy and nutritious food in school and help them learn healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.”

These challenges are just a handful of those featured on Challenge.gov and just a taste of what’s to come.  By making it simple and free to post challenges, Challenge.gov will accelerate agency adoption of prizes as a means of spurring innovation. 

To share your novel solutions, compete for prizes and prestige, and advance our national priorities, visit www.challenge.gov.

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

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