Two Years and 200 Prizes Later


Two years after the Obama Administration created, the first online listing of incentive prizes offered or supported by Federal agencies, the innovative site has hit an impressive milestone: its 200th listing of a challenge in search of a solution by the American public. Launched on September 7, 2010, the site has hosted challenges posted by 45 departments and agencies; more than 16,000 citizen “solvers” have participated in these competitions directly on, with additional entrants joining the competitions through other sources.

This benchmark shows the impact made by the Administration’s efforts to make incentive prizes a tool in Federal agency toolkits for seeking innovative solutions to address agency mission and solve tough problems. Well-designed incentive prizes enable Federal agencies to establish ambitious goals, pay only for success, reach beyond the “usual suspects” to increase the number of minds tackling a problem, and bring out-of-discipline perspectives to bear. New public-sector prizes and challenges continue to be launched.

Last week, the U.S. Department of State launched the $10K Innovation in Arms Control Challenge. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller summarized the goals of the competition: “Through this Challenge, we will collect new ideas about how innovation and technological advancement can affect the implementation of arms control, verification, and nonproliferation treaties and agreements,” and added, “Inspired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emphasis on harnessing new technologies and 21st century statecraft, we have been working to elevate American "civilian power" to advance our national security interests, making partners of the United States government and its citizens.”

Other recently launched competitions include:

  • The My Air, My Health Challenge, with $160K in prizes offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), is a multidisciplinary call to innovators to create a personal, portable, near-real-time, location-specific system to monitor and report air pollutants and potentially related physiological parameters.
  • The National Eye Institute’s Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation offers $100K in prizes for the identification of audacious goals in any area relevant to the National Eye Institute’s mission to stimulate innovation in establishing a national vision research agenda.
  • The Mozilla Ignite Challenge is a multi-stage competition in which Mozilla and the National Science Foundation (NSF) invite designers, developers and everyday people to brainstorm and build applications for the faster, smarter Internet of the future. The initial “Brainstorming Round” of this competition just wrapped up in late August.

Check out these and other incentive prizes and challenges and get involved in solving tough problems at

Cristin Dorgelo is Assistant Director for Grand Challenges in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy


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